Sedgemoor District Council is Tory controlled but you might have thought that in the run up to Christmas they could have given a little hope to the homeless or a spot of consideration to those caught up in the worsening transport situation around their district by supporting two charitable Labour motions submitted this week by Group leader Cllr Mick Lerry and Deputy Leader Cllr Julian Taylor to try to tackle these issues. However, they didn’t. They chose to simply close ranks. Both motions were backed by Labour,Lib Dem and Independent councilors and opposed by Tory councilors. The result has caused anger and frustration around the district.
Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour Bridgwater Victoria) argued the case for a ‘genuinely affordable, flourishing and fair social housing sector’, to ‘maximise the supply of affordable housing’ and to ‘use housing supply to stimulate economic growth and jobs’.
Cllr Lerry said “ The affordable rent model of 80% average market rent should be wound down in favour of social housing rent at 60% of the average market rent as Housing Benefit is used to prop up high market rents, rather than money being used to build the much, needed houses. Many working families were using over 30% of their net income to pay rent for there accommodation. Housing Benefit was now being used to subsidise employers of low paid employees”
An angry negative outburst from Cllr Nobby Turner (Conservative ,Kings isle) led the unmovable ruling group response and he was backed up by his Leader Cllr Duncan McGinty (Con, East Polden).
Cllr Lerry said in reply “Cllr Turner has failed to understand the business case for building new homes, for example SDC are paying back the self financing debt of over 50 million in 15 years, while charging rent at 60% of the market price. He also confused building homes with the living wage.“
Torie’s reject bid to tackle transport chaos
A second motion put to the Christmas Council meeting by Labour called for Sedgemoor to set up a Local Transport Forum which would work to deliver an integrated Transport system for Sedgemoor. This again was met by a wall of Tory arms outstretched negatively – although with a few abstentions this time. Still the united votes of the Labour, Lib Dem and Independent members failed to topple the Tory majority.
Cllr Lerry said “ At the moment there was no Transport Forum operating in Somerset and that there was a need for Sedgemoor District Council to set up a Transport Forum of Councillors and users to map out a strategy for an integrated transport system for the District, which should integrate travel for pedestrians, cyclist, buses and trains. At the moment such a strategy does not exist and therefore the Council is unable to say what they want in terms of bus and train services and consequently are unable to engage with Bus companies, NetworkRail and Train providers. An integrated transport services would also reduce carbon omissions, which is a Council priority”.
Duncan McGinty, Tory leader, said in rejecting the motion, “SDC did not have the expertise or money to set up a Forum and that it would be duplicating the role of Somerset County Council and the Transport Forum on Hinkley C“.
But Cllr Lerry refuted this saying “That is only discussing road changes and HGV movement, rather than public transport. However, South Somerset were able to set up a Transport Forum to produce a strategy and the Transport Forum at SCC is not meeting but just trying to sort out Terms of Reference.“
Bridgwater Senior Citizens ‘Shocked’
Members of Bridgwater Senior Citizens Forum expressed their shock at the council’s decision. Their Chair, Glen Burrows said “Bridgwater Senior Citizens Forum repeatedly raise concerns with Sedgemoor District Council about local pubic transport on behalf of elderly and disabled people. Here are just a few examples:
* two of our members recently compiled a report on bus stops and bus shelters, showing where repairs, renovation or new installations are needed – in their own time, and at no cost to the council, of course! These are vital facilities, particularly on cold and wet days!
* there is currently no bus service, nor any transport information at the railway station, to transport people into the town centre. What a welcome to our town for the traveller arriving by train!
* deregulation of bus services means that operators are more interested in competing with each other than supplying a service to meet public needs. This leaves many locations not served by public transport and restricts freedom of movement, especially in the evenings
* carbon reduction is a stated priority for Sedgemoor District Council, so we need to consider ways to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport.
There are many.many more examples of ways in which the authority could work with users and providers to learn about problems and consider ways to improve our transport infrastructure
Imagine our delight, therefore, when Councillor Mick Lerry (Labour Group Leader) proposed that Sedgemoor DC set up a Local Transport Forum, where councillors, officers, transport providers and members of the public would be able to exchange views, develop ideas for integrated transport, and also link with the Somerset County Council Transport Forum (currently dormant!), to ensure Bridgwater gets fair consideration when public transport initiatives are considered.
Such forums are not costly to operate, and can themselves lead to cost benefits, in terms of reducing time spent dealing with complaints, and also in developing bids for grants and other investment.
Imagine our shock when the controlling Conservative group voted against this eminently sensible proposal on 10th December! Is this a case of party politics operating against the interests of the community? Or is it another case of councillors who neither live in Bridgwater nor use public transport simply not caring?
Can I suggest that everyone who reads this and who feels as angry as I and my members do, contact their local councillors to ask how they voted at the Full Council Meeting on 10th December on this important proposal, and to ask them to justify their decision.”