Should this be City Hall?

Should this be City Hall?

Should Bath get back its city council status and the North East Somerset part of B&NES merge with North Somerset?

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Should this be City Hall?

That’s a suggestion being put forward in an article from guest contributor and journalist Simon Hancock – which l am happy to print in full. Do have your say.

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Journalist, Simon Hancock.

“Making councils smaller is nothing new. Aside from the fact that local authorities, including Bath and North East Somerset, have, and are still, seeing their budgets slashed year after year, in the past, council wards have not altogether been very equal when it comes to the number of constituents.

It’s no-one’s fault, but a councilor in one ward may have hundreds, even thousands more constituents, than others in the council chamber. So every now and then, there is the need for a boundary review, to try to make the wards more evenly distributed. And now it’s the turn of Bath and North East Somerset.

“Slimmed Down Council” was how http://www.Bathnewseum.com headlined the latest story about the Boundary Commission which is asking for the views of those who live in the district, before they make any recommendations.

Let’s be clear, this is something that the council has no control over. A boundary review is separate to the running of the council, but a “slimmed down council” got me thinking.

We all know what happened in the autumn of 2010, but for those who need reminding, it was the much talked about Comprehensive Spending Review. Remember, when the government announced that all councils were to have their budgets slashed to the tune of millions. The then Chancellor, George Osborne, was going to reduce the country’s deficit, so that by 2015, the country was not over-spending.

I don’t really need to remind you of what has happened since then, apart from the fact; the country is still spending more than it receives in taxes.

Since the financial crash of 2008, more and more people have had to access council services, for a whole host of reasons, but since April 2011, the very same councils have had to cut back on services, lay-off staff, ask the voluntary sector to pick up some of the slack, and do “more with less”.

A “slimmed down council” I hear you say. Well yes, less money, more people needing help, and running along in the background, boundary commission reviews into the number of councillors.

Bristol went through a review a couple of years ago. It managed to retain the number of councillors. North Somerset was not so fortunate in its last boundary review, when it lost 11 councillors.

We know that councillors are usually the first port of call for many people who find themselves in financial or welfare difficulties, and as we know, councillors give of their time without much financial reward. Yes, they receive some expenses, but on the whole, they do it because they want to make a difference, campaign for change, and make the lives of their constituents, better.

Some would argue that a council that has to do “more with less” needs more councillors, not fewer of them.

Of course, a boundary review is not to save money.  Professor Colin Mellors, Chair of the Boundary Commission, said the review aimed to “deliver electoral equality for local voters” and that the Commission wants to ensure that their “proposals reflect the interests and identities of local communities” in B&NES.

That said, a reduction in the number of councillors at the Guildhall would save some money, obviously. The proposal is for six members to leave the chamber.

And if you are going to redraw the council map of Bath and North East Somerset, then why not redraw an even larger map. The, dare I say it, old Avon area. After more than two decades, perhaps it’s time to have another look at the region.

Local authorities could be slimmed down, top-down, rather than bottom-up. There could be the return of Bath City Council, and the North East Somerset part of the district, the old Wansdyke, merged with neighbouring North Somerset.

Back in 1996, when Avon was carved up into four unitary authorities, the proposal was for a North West Somerset council (Woodspring) and Wansdyke joining Bath. North (West) Somerset never saw the light of day, with the new authority deciding to rename itself “North”.

So, let east meet west, and become a super-council. A truly geographical “North” Somerset unitary authority. Why have two chief executives, when you can have one. Or two chief financial officers, when there is only the need for one. It’s a numbers game. And they understand numbers.

I have always had some sympathy for the residents of North East Somerset. They used to have their own district council. Their very own identity; Wansdyke. Then in 1996, all that changed when it was effectively tagged-on to Bath. And of course, Bath lost its right to call itself a City Council. While just down the A4, Bristol not only kept its right to call itself a City Council, but it was also handed back its county status.

Slimmed down. More with less. Cut your cloth accordingly. Whatever you call it. However you see it. Is this the time for a radical re-think and shake-up of the political map of the Georgian City of Bath and the surrounding towns and villages?”

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Local journalist, Simon Hancock.

Simon sent his own CV:

“Simon Hancock has been a journalist for 14 years, and worked as a freelance newsreader and reporter at Bath FM

Brought up between Bath and Bristol, he had a keen interest in politics and local government from an early age. His mother would take him to district council meetings when he was younger.

Born a year before the ill-fated Avon County Council was created, Simon can remember the disdain that people accorded to that local government structure, and their relief when, in 1996, it was abolished.

You can find Simon tweeting as @newsmansimon”

Choosing a site to remember.

Choosing a site to remember.

Well, it’s not a statue in our city – but we helped raise the money for its creation – so you may be interested to know that Avon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) is seeking the views of staff and local people on where a much-loved firefighter memorial statue should be moved to.

Statue at Headquarters

The memorial to firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty has stood at the Avon Fire & Rescue Service Headquarters at Temple Back in Bristol since 2003.

The statue was commissioned following a fundraising campaign in the wake of 9/11 attack in New York in 2001 in which 343 firefighters died. More than £19,000 was donated by staff, businesses and members of the public across the four unitary authorities served by Avon Fire Authority.

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Since 2003 it has been a focal point for significant dates of remembrance during the year including Firefighters’ Memorial Day and Armistice Day.

In September 2017 the Avon Fire & Rescue Service Headquarters was relocated from Temple Back to the Police and Fire Headquarters in Portishead. With the former site due to be sold, there is a risk the statue could be lost if it remains in its current location. As a result the Fire Authority plans to move the memorial to a new home where it can continue to serve as a reminder of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In recognition of the importance of the statue to the Authority, one option being considered is moving it to the new Headquarters where it would remain at the heart of the organisation.

As the statue was funded by donations by people from Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset AF&RS is also asking for the views of others before making a final decision.

To access the survey visit https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/FMRRTBN

Bath Spa’s platform extensions

Bath Spa’s platform extensions

Well the Government may have slowed things down on the electrification front but that hasn’t stopped Network Rail engineers getting on with the job of lengthening and re-building platforms at Bath Spa station.

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Work underway to extend the up platform out over the Skew Bridge.

Regardless of absent pylons and overhead wires, the new Hitachi bi-mode trains GWR have bought for their fleet upgrade will be coming into action in a month or so.

They can switch from electricity to diesel – so can still come into service. The trains are due to run with up to ten carriages – so Bath Spa needs longer platforms.

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A closer view of the work underway.

 

A spokesperson for Network Rail told Bath Newseum: ‘ We are undertaking an 80m extension on the up platform and 4m on the down platform will be demolished and reconstructed; hoping to complete both by the end of the year.’

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What the new trains will look like.

If the new ten-carriage trains pass through Bath before the work on the up line is finished they will no doubt have to lock the the doors on the last two!

Meanwhile travellers going towards Bristol will know there has been no cafe facility at all.

GWR’s press office spokesperson told me: ‘It’s my understanding is that the vendor has decided to close this facility, not us, and we will be offering the opportunity for other businesses.’

 

Stepping up to the flag

Stepping up to the flag

Don’t worry. Bath Abbey wasn’t in the process of installing an aerial for a mobile ‘phone company.

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The scaffolding was in place to enable the flagpole – on top of the tower – to be repaired.

Though l didn’t envy conservators from Sally Strachey Conservation being on that platform. At 49 meters, this is the tallest structure of its kind in Bath.

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The tower of Bath Abbey

The Abbey flag is now flying again after an unofficial flag-raising ceremony took place at the top of the Tower earlier today.

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The flag bears the arms of the Diocese of Bath & Wells shown in the top left-hand canton of the St George flag. If you’re a history fan, here’s a fun fact…In 1938, the Earl Marshal of England laid down that the proper flag to be flown on any church in England is the Cross of St George with the arms of the see in the first quarter.

The Bath & Wells Diocesan flag is flown from the top of the Abbey Tower every day come wind, rain or shine.

Scaffold Tower flag pole 11 July

An Abbey spokesperson told Bath Newseum: ‘Unfortunately our flagpole takes quite a bit of battering from Mother Nature so has been out of action for a while.

Thank you to Sally Strachey Historic Conservation who did a great job of fixing the broken finial and rope on our flagpole and allowing us to proudly fly our flag once more!’

It’s effort enough for me climbing the 212 on a tower tour without then having to go on to the finial at the top of the flagpole! You would certainly need a head for heights!

Joking aside, l do know some churches with spires do make a little extra income renting out space to mobile ‘phone companies.

I remember seeing an aerial inside the spire of St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. It’s not so bad when you can hide the mast inside.

Down to business for new Metro Mayor.

Down to business for new Metro Mayor.

The region’s newly elected Metro Mayor doesn’t intend spending much time behind a desk following his ‘swearing in’ at Bristol’s Engine Shed today (Monday, May 8th).

Metro Mayor 1 - CB Bristol Design 2017.

Tim Bowles said he was very proud to be elected as the very first West of England Mayor: “This is an exciting time for our region as the West of England Combined Authority takes on new powers, funding and responsibilities from central Government.

“This means that as a region we can be much more ambitious – we can make decisions here in the West of England about things that affect our residents every day – decisions about homes, transport, skills for jobs and how we support business to ensure our economy continues to grow.

“Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be going out and about to meet as many people as I can. I’ll be talking to businesses of all sizes, transport operators, our local colleges and universities and community groups, to talk about the challenges we face and how we can work together to benefit everyone across our region.

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L to R. Cllr Matthew Riddle, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council; Metro Mayor, Tim Bowles; Cllr Tim Warren, Leader of B&NES; and Mervyn Rees who is the Mayor of Bristol.

Mayor Bowles said he would work collaboratively and constructively with his colleagues in the Combined Authority: Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, Cllr Tim Warren, Leader of  B&NES and Cllr Matthew Riddle, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council.

“I know the three councils have worked together very successfully over many years – I want to build on that track record. Together we will make decisions about what is best for our region, cutting across the divides of council boundaries.

Whilst we appreciate that North Somerset Council is not part of the Combined Authority at this stage, we will continue to work closely with them to ensure we can deliver economic growth for the wider region.

I will (also) work closely with the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership LEP’s new interim chair, Steve West, and look forward to him attending the Combined Authority meetings to represent the views of the Local Enterprise Partnership and its members”.

A new focus for Bath Abbey

A new focus for Bath Abbey

Change is afoot at Bath Abbey and it’s getting mixed reviews.

The church’s Footprint Project – which will use Heritage Lottery money to fund stabilising the floor, provide new heating and extra space for church activities – could mean saying goodbye to the Victorian pews in the nave.

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During the work it will also involve bringing the altar activities – at the east end – down into the body of the Abbey.

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The temporary dais on ‘trial’ at Bath Abbey.

Though this might be seen as a temporary feature, the church is trying various arrangements of staging blocks – in the centre of the Abbey – to lead services on a more permanent level.

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An artist’s impression of the possible new elliptical dais.

Currently, architects have produced an elliptical shaped dais which is two steps  high. I hear it might even be pneumatically operated to rise up out of the otherwise level floor when needed. Two pews have been temporarily lifted which will be put back when the trial is finished.

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Pews removed to make way for the trial dais. In a few years time all of the nave pews are due to be taken out.

The Abbey is asking for comments and it is my understanding they are getting plenty.

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Looking towards the temporary dais and the nave beyond.

I cannot help but think of the layout of Clifton Cathedral in Bristol. It’s obviously a more contemporary take on a congregational gathering for worship, but the spiritual ‘stage’ for church ritual is slap bang in the middle.

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Clifton Cathedral in Bristol.

So l welcome any move to bring things down to the people so worship can be truly shared. The  proposed eventual removal of the pews gives the Abbey a real opportunity of  finding a new focus.

Traditionally, before the Reformation, the Abbey would have been an empty space. Pews have been gradually introduced over the centuries and, in the Abbey’s case, reached their pinnacle under Sir George Gilbert Scott during Victorian times.

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One of those side benches you still find in churches like Bath Abbey. Once the only seating the congregational space would have offered.

Did you know the saying ‘Going to the wall’ refers to the fact that centuries ago the elderly or disabled could find little resting benches lining the walls of the otherwise empty church.

Meanwhile, the church is hosting a touring exhibition of ‘Via Crucis’, a series of 14 new images for the Stations of the Cross by Bath artist Caroline Waterlow.

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More of Caroline Waterlow’s designs.

‘Via Crucis’ is described by the artist as “a culmination of three years’ of research and work into the meaning and significance of Lent, and how it can relate in our lives today.”

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Another design by Caroline Waterlow.

Through these images, you are invited to follow the final events of Jesus’ life as he goes to the place of his crucifixion and death.

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You can follow the ‘stations’ around the church.

To complement the exhibition, there will be an opportunity to look at the Stations in more detail, using scripture, poetry, song, prayer and meditation, on Wednesdays 22th, 29th March & 5th April, 7.30-9pm and on Good Friday 14th April, 12 noon.

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A crown of thorns design by local artist Caroline Waterlow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lin steals the show at Combined Authority’s first meeting.

Lin steals the show at Combined Authority’s first meeting.

Congratulations to B&NES Councillor Lin Patterson for stealing the limelight at the first meeting of the West of England Combined Authority – held today (Wednesday, March lst) at the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol.

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The new authority swings into action after May 4th when people from B&NES, Bristol and South Gloucestershire go to the polls to elect a Metro Mayor.

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Council leaders gathered for their first meeting at the Bristol Watershed.

The three council leaders were gathered to elect a Chair and Vice Chair and take submissions from the public.

Lin, who is the Green Party member for the Lambridge Ward in Bath, was straight on her feet to tell the leaders and council officials about the petition-backed campaign to save a modest little circular bus route which linked Larkhall and Fairfield Park with the town centre.

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Cllr Lin Patterson tells the council leaders about her local buses!

The 6 and 7 routes have been reduced following the withdrawal of a council bus subsidy.

Lin said campaigners would not let the new combined authority forget their campaign and hoped WECA would come up with a franchise package to get the bus route back.

The meeting was broadcast live as a webcast.

Here’s a flavour of proceedings including an opening statement from Cllr Matthew Riddle – Leader of South Gloucestershire – and from Cllr Tim Warren the Leader of B&NES.

The meeting agreed the constitution for the new authority and appointed interim statutory officers. The constitution sets out the governance arrangements and establishes three advisory boards, for skills, infrastructure and business. 

These will be chaired by the West of England Mayor and attended by the relevant members from the councils and business members of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) board. 

The constitution also sets out the plans for scrutiny by councillors, to be selected on a politically-proportionate basis, from the constituent members of the Combined Authority.

Patricia Greer was appointed as interim Chief Executive/head of paid service; Tim Richens has been appointed as interim Chief Finance Office and John McCormack as interim Monitoring Officer.

Cllr Tim Warren, Leader of B&NES Council, Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol and Cllr Matthew Riddle, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council, said:  “Today is a key milestone in the evolution of the effective joint working across the West of England, and builds on the work we’ve been doing in partnership for many years.

“The creation of the West of England Combined Authority brings decision-making powers on issues that were previously held in Westminster closer to local communities. This devolution deal unlocks a billion pounds of funding for our area and the opportunity to attract further funding and powers for the region to improve transport infrastructure, deliver affordable homes and invest in skills and training.”

The West of England Combined Authority will work closely with North Somerset Council, building on a legacy of successful joint working between the four authorities. This will include the establishment of a Joint Committee between the constituent councils of the Combined Authority and North Somerset Council, and scrutiny arrangements for that Joint Committee by councillors of the four authorities.

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L to R. Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol; Cllr Tim Warren, Leader of B&NES Council, and Cllr Matthew Riddle, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council.

WECA will be chaired by a new West of England Mayor. Elections will take place on Thursday 4 May 2017, when the electorate of Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire Councils will have their say on the candidates. 

Other members of the Combined Authority are Cllr Tim Warren, Leader of B&NES Council; Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, and Cllr Matthew Riddle, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council. The Chair of the LEP, Stephen Robertson, will also attend the meetings.

Minutes from the meeting, which was webcast live, will be published online at www.westofengland-ca.org.uk

The West of England Combined Authority will meet hold its second meeting in public on Wednesday March 15 at Armada House, Bristol. Papers for this meeting will be available on the website on March 7.