Local Community Networks ‘Looking Good’ for Bridgwater

The proposed geography of Somerset’s LCNs

At the Somerset County Council Executive of January 2023, Bridgwater Town Council Leader Brian Smedley, Unitary Councillor for Bridgwater South welcomed the County Council’s geographical solution to the creation of the long thought about ‘Local Community Networks’. The proposals see the Bridgwater LCN as the smallest in the county comprising of the current Town Council boundary plus the parish of Bridgwater Without. Cllr Smedley said “The County had produced 3 options, all of which showed Bridgwater lost in too large a hinterland of outlying rural communities, which probably didn’t want to be lumped in with a major urban town anyway. We made a 4th option proposal which stressed the need for Parishes and communities to decide what was best for themselves and who they wanted to work with and in Bridgwater’s case it has worked out fine so I congratulate the ruling group on taking that decision. If places like Bridgwater are to take back control of their own destinies than these kind of outcomes are crucial to show the county is serious about localism.”

County Leader Cllr Bill Revans and his Lib Dem Executive firm up the geography of the Local Community Networks for the ‘Brave New Somerset’

County Portfolio for LGR, Cllr Val Keitch said “We have honoured the desire of the parishes where possible. LCNs are to ensure links with local communities. Yes. they will have some decision making powers – mainly green priorities and local area action plans. Might be more later. The paper is proposing 18 LCNs . But these are not carved in stone. Boundaries not walls. And flexible. The ‘Draft terms of reference’ reflect the feedback from towns and parishes and need testing.”

Jan Stafford, one of the County officers which have been working hard on these proposals amidst a mass of conflicting ideas from 200+ parishes said “The maps are based 100% on feedback plus our 5 guiding principles. They are the best fit possible.. Actually, we  just need to have some aspects in place for vesting day not all. So its ready for day 1. This is the start of the journey and LCNs will evolve over time “

Labour Bridgwater ‘happy at the outcome’

Sara Skirton, her co worker, added “The Governance of LCNs,  terms of reference etc are set out and pilots are in place. This means that LCNs will be  classed as area boards not full committees, although there is potential for this later. But the feedback from smaller groups showed that they were not happy with the committee version.  £900k per annum has been set aside in operating costs. Some of this comes from the existing base budgets of the 5 councils. We are requesting an earmarked reserve of £300k. The Question for the future is how to make them sustainable and value for money. So by 1st of April we will have in place 1. Purpose 2 Governance 3. Geographical clarity. Plus staffing structure and the link officers. It also went to LGR scrutiny who  wanted more not fewer LCNs.”

Cllr Ros Henley (Lib Dem) called it a ‘ginormous piece of work’ and ‘so far so good’

Council Leader Bill Revans (Lib Dem, North Petherton) making a welcome return from a serious illness, accepted that there was a query about ‘names’  but said “They can be changed too. They’re evolutionary not revolutionary.”   

Tories ‘Not Happy’

But while most were in favour of the democratically reached solution this wasn’t good enough for  councillor Diogo Rodrigues  (Con, Bridgwater East & Bawdrip) who could see Tory influence slipping away from Bridgwater and that his own part urban part rural ward would  cover 3 different LCNs  saying “Bridgwater LCN is just an extension of Bridgwater Town Council! What’s the reason behind the small size of Bridgwater? Maybe others might want a small boundary and so why just Bridgwater!” 

Town Council Leader Brian Smedley “Bridgwater finally getting what it wants”

Cllr Revans said that they had “responded to feedback from the town council”

Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour, Bridgwater South) spoke up for Bridgwater saying ” Bridgwater Town Council has engaged with this process throughout and talked to ALL Parish councils around us.  Especially, we have engaged through the Devolution pilot. I want to make it absolutely clear that Bridgwater supports and welcomes the proposed boundaries. We submitted a specific paper as option 4 and we recognise at least the spirit of that approach within these outcomes. Getting these LCNs right is crucial for localism.  It reflects population, parish boundaries and our aspirations in Bridgwater for a realignment of control  following the demise of Sedgemoor. We’re glad to finally be listened to. The principle of parishes being listened to and preserved intact is crucial. This is really good work in listening and responding. The challenge for the future will be when parish and ward boundaries are reviewed to reflect the growth of Bridgwater and other towns. I’m not criticising these proposals and I’m thanking the officers for their hard work and the executive for supporting local solutions.”

The proposed geography of Somerset’s LCNs


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