Saxonvale site plans: Your views on town council's bid to buy land
We know that Frome Town Council increased its budget by £180,000 in April. This increase of 23 per cent leaves the long suffering people of Frome paying more in council tax than any other residents in Mendip.
What we do not know is why the chief executive was paid a figure rumoured to be in the region of £30,000 when he left after only 14 months service.Nor do we know why he received this payment which he would not have been entitled to had he resigned, been dismissed or made redundant.
Likewise we are not being told exactly how much the town council intends to spend on buying land at Saxonvale in what one councillor has described as a "speculative land grab" and "ill conceived". He has also explained that this is not necessary to safeguard the important work of FETE.
A figure of £300,000 has been quoted to be financed by borrowing. It is not clear whether this includes all of the many costs of purchasing, owning, maintaining and then later selling the land.
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The Saxonvale centre/FETE is housed in temporary buildings which were never intended to be permanent on a largely derelict, decaying site. It seems it was not at any greater risk than of being relocated to a permanent building, probably a new one on the Saxonvale site.
Many people do not realise that the St James Investments proposal that prompted the "anti-supermarket" campaign included a new building for FETE alongside a mixed-use development that would also have included a supermarket, a range of other shops, free parking, leisure uses and local artisan studios.
I also understand that Frontier, which is now looking to bring forward a development at Saxonvale, is willing to include a new building for FETE without the town council needing to borrow large amounts of money at the expense of Frome council tax payers.
I just hope that our councillors will take a more careful approach to spending tax payers' money and a more positive and open minded approach to commercial investment in our town.
As a newcomer to Frome I am delighted to find myself living in one of the few towns in England to be run by an independent council.
Therefore I was surprised to see three letters in last week's Somerset Standard attacking the IFF, ostensibly over plans to purchase land in the Saxonvale area. I was less surprised to see that two of those letters were by Conservative councillors, ie the opposition.
Having just moved from the Tory-run council of Hammersmith, I have witnessed in recent years arrogant councillors again and again overriding the wishes of the community by closing a law centre, closing an information centre, withdrawing funding from an Irish centre, selling prime riverside plots to developers to build luxury flats for the super-rich, giving an ethnic minorities meeting house over to Toby Young for his Free School, attempting to sell off the public library, social cleansing of council tenants, and much much more.
Thousand-strong campaigns and petitions have been ignored in the pursuit of a rampantly capitalist agenda that puts big business first, local people second. Asset-stripping, cronyism and class war are now the order of the day in Hammersmith, where David Cameron frequently puts in appearances to cheer the process on.
It's clear to me that – by comparison with such a council (and such a party) – the Frome Town Council and IfF are pursuing policies that really do care about the community, and not just in the short term. Let us hope that by having to work in close quarters with surly Tory councillors who do nothing but oppose and obstruct, the IfF do not become contaminated with the cynicism of their rivals.
Councillor Carolle Bullen foresees a day when "the IfFs have been thrown out of office by the voters". I hope it does not happen. I hope I do not live to see in Frome what I saw in Hammersmith.
I was saddened by last week's well orchestrated trio of Saxonvale letters.
They perfectly illustrate why it was correct for a group of independents – whose primary concern is the benefit of Frome – to stand as councillors 18 months ago.
It must have taken hours to put together such a well crafted mix of half truths, slurs and innuendo – time and energy that could have been put to good use.
But ultimately Frome loses out because there is a constant need for more people to take key civic roles and this petty politicking puts off many who would otherwise come forward.
COUNCILLOR PETER MACFADYEN
When I read in the Somerset Standard about the town council's plans to safeguard the Somerset Skills and Learning provision on the Saxonvale site I was both delighted and apprehensive.
Delighted, because the town council is clearly trying to do something imaginative and significant to preserve services for those who need help to find or prepare for work, at a time when the economy is in the doldrums and good jobs are hard to find.
Apprehensive, because it was totally predictable that the concept of spending public money to support those on the margins of society would provoke a Conservative backlash, as it indeed did in the letters page the following week. And how!
Urbane armchair pundit he may appear now, but I remember the huge cheer that went up when Michael Portillo lost his seat in the 1997 election, for he somehow epitomised what we'd come to regard as the nasty party.
Conservatism had become synonymous with meanness. That version of Conservatism seems alive and well in Frome.
The letters from councillors Carole Bullen and JamesGodman in last week's paper should be archived. Were some people really so narrow-minded in 2012 future historians will wonder?
Frome is a creative go-ahead place with an imaginative independent town council that is really trying hard to reform outmoded procedures and do something positive for the town.
Given a choice between a non-party political independent town council, such as we have now, and one dominated by traditional three-party squabbles I know which is more likely to achieve progress.
My dictionary includes the following definitions for the word "Conservative": "...opposing innovation ...conventional in style ...reluctant to change or consider new ideas...". Thank goodness that the Independents for Frome have a healthy majority on the town council and are in a position to take innovative, unconventional and novel approaches.
Let us celebrate Frome's long history of being different, non-conformist and independent. Long may this last.
If the town council is negotiating to secure provision in Frome of Skills for Life programmes, further education courses, apprenticeships, Foundation Learning, help with employability, work-based learning and all the other stuff they do at the Saxonvale base of Frome Education and Training Enterprise/Somerset Skills and Learning then all power to their elbows. Nobody else is providing these opportunities to young people and adults in Frome who could so easily fall off the edge (and cost tax payers much more in the long run). As for the suggestion that they could relocate to the Cheese and Grain – please!
Little Keyford, Frome
It was a great relief to hear that the town council had managed to rescue the Frome Education and Training Enterprise in this paper last week.
My involvement with FETE goes back a long way and I would like to correct some inaccuracies contained in last week's letters page.
A broad group of trainers, educators and local government agencies were involved in finding funding to build the £440,000 Saxonvale Centre in 2008. Four years of complex fundraising secured funding to build the training centre from six different sources.
The centre comprises six training rooms, an ICT suite, a large office and other facilities. It has a garden for produce grown by the young trainees, plenty of parking and the room to expand into the adjacent warehouse. Car maintenance and woodwork training was always on the list of desired facilities for the future.
The original owner, the RDA (Regional Development Agency), had been keen to negotiate with the final developer of Saxonvale to ensure that FETE were accommodated elsewhere in the development in the long term.
In February 2012 I was called to a meeting with the landowner, council representatives and others. We were informed by the HCA (Homes and Communities Agency, the successor to the RDA), that they intended to sell the land without the burden of the Training Centre and tenants and that the site would be put on the market in March 2012. They said that they "might be in a position to contribute to re-locating the FETE buildings from the proceeds of the sale" but needed to have it vacant by March 2013.
I immediately looked at options to relocate FETE's building around Frome, identifying and appraising 15 possible sites. The study concluded that the existing site was by far the most suitable. Other options included the land behind the Youth Centre, the Abattoir site and the rear of the Cheese and Grain. The latter is totally unsuitable as a replacement facility, with a floor area in the rear part less than half that required and the front "mezzanine" is less than a third.
Action by the town council, far from being a "land grab", will now enable FETE to continue with security and time to find a permanent home in the future, perhaps as originally hoped in the converted "Notts Mill" building adjacent to the Silk Mill.
For more background, see bit.ly/FETEnews.
The town council seem to be working hard for the future of our children in Frome. If you haven't seen the excellent facilities available at the Saxonvale Centre then I'm sure you would be welcome to look around by arrangement. The next FTC External Affairs meeting will be held there on Wednesday, November 21.
Recently one of your regular contributors informed me that he wrote letters to the paper in order to keep his name on the forefront of the public's mind, especially at election time.
That might suddenly explain the rash of correspondence as the traditional parties gear up for the county elections in May.
Today the town council is the target through a mix of innuendos and half truths. No doubt they will turn on one another soon.
When 17 citizens stood as Independents in May 2011 one of the things we agreed on was that we wouldn't trade insults about others and we wouldn't get involved in the fruitless point scoring so beloved of old-school politics. We would concentrate on improving the town and getting things done.
That's why this is only my third letter to your paper in 18 months. Why am I writing now? Well, while its heartening to see the optimism of councillor Derek Tanswell, the contrast with the mean-spirited and defeatist attitudes from our Conservative colleagues in last week's letters page reluctantly demands some comment.
They complain about a lack of transparency and consultation, conveniently forgetting that at the last council meeting their leader, councillor James Godman admitted that he had not replied to my three emails asking that we meet. Even this week, after a fourth request, our arranged meeting was cancelled at short notice.
Your readers need to know that the Conservatives vote against all significant proposals, waiting in the wings to pounce when just one fails, as it surely will, so that they can cry "we told you so, now elect us."
Saxonvale? Well, we issue no apologies. Of course due diligence has been undertaken and we are certainly not rushing on this deal, it was first suggested some months ago and has been discussed twice at council meetings. The future use of the centre has been assured and the 1,500 youngsters who use it every year in their quest for a job will all benefit.
Let me predict some future claims as the election hots up. Spending money! Going so fast! Overambitious! Overstretching themselves and the staff! Too focused! They make mistakes! And you know what? There is truth in all of them and when have you ever heard an elected councillor admit to that?
Now is the time to invest in the town instead of squirrelling away funds for a rainy day: its pouring outside. Now is the time to help youngsters into desperately needed employment. Now is the time to take calculated risks to make things happen, at Saxonvale and elsewhere. Now is the time for some of us as civic leaders to show some optimism and to get behind those organisations that make Frome such a great place to live.
We don't intend to be a supine council bemoaning our fate and hiding behind a smokescreen of austerity, we intend to make a difference and that's why this council was elected.
COUNCILLOR MEL USHER
Leader of Frome Town Council
As a resident of Frome very much involved in the town both as a parent helping out at school, a Trustee of the Millennium Green and a volunteer in many other organisations, I feel justly proud of the town and our IfF council.
Doom and gloom may be ever present in our national press and on TV but here we have a very positive attitude reflected in our forward-looking council actively doing their best to see the bigger picture with Frome at the very centre.
So much good stuff has happened since they've been elected, it's brilliant!
Yes, they've made some tough decisions but only with Frome's best interest at the heart of any those, which I'm sure is the case with the Saxonvale Centre.
Having attended many public consultation meetings, I think they've been incredibly open and as a family we look forward to seeing the shared space initiative happen in the town centre, and the prospect of the enhancement of the river corridor.
All of this is good for Frome and good for our future prosperity.
Keep up the good work IfFs!
Willow Vale, Frome
So the IfF-controlled council wants to burden our town with around £300,000 of debt to buy part of the Saxonvale site.
The intention it seems is to buy the site from the Homes and Communities Agency and then sell it on again to a developer in the hope of making a profit.
This in turn it is claimed would be used to help fund the relocation of the training centre currently on the old Western Woodcraft site in a temporary classroom type building.
However, as councillor James Godman and others have pointed out, the future of the training centre can be secured without the town council getting involved in speculative land deals with borrowed money. Indeed the developers have said they will build new premises to house the education and training organisation, thus getting rid of their temporary hut.
As the purchase price is said to be based on an independent valuation, where is the profit going to come from? Any credible valuation would already have taken into account future developments in the area.
This could all go horribly wrong. One of the things we should have learnt over recent years is that property deals can lead to big losses. Profits are by no means guaranteed, especially once all the costs are added up, including of course the unexpected ones.
If the transfer does go ahead, Frome town council will be the third public body in two years to own this land.
Instead of getting developed for the benefit of Frome this land just seems to pass from one public body to another. No doubt each transfer costing us taxpayers thousands of pounds in administration and legal costs.
If the site is going to be sold on to a developer, why doesn't the HCA just sell it directly themselves on the open market? That is certainly what they said they would do earlier this year.
It is difficult not to question whether this plan has more to do with the council trying to play power games with potential developers. Surely a questionable reason for the town council to borrow £300,000.
Lets hope it's the Fall of the House of Usher.
A voice of sanity from Mendip District Council over the tree planting scheme proposed for the car park by Frome (loads o' money) town council. These are austere times everywhere but in Frome it seems.
Trees cost money, trees need maintaining, trees make a mess, trees get vandalised.
I was also as concerned as others over the proposal to purchase part of the Saxonvale site.
I was originally a supporter of the IFF candidates at the last election but I have now become totally disillusioned at the apparent ease at which they seem to spend money whilst the electorate tighten their belts.
No doubt they plan to clobber us with another huge council tax rise in April to meet their aspirations. They won't be getting my vote again.
This week, Mendip district councillors meet to approve the Tory Cabinet's Local Plan.
In lawmaking, there is nothing else more important for a local council than sketching its core strategy because it guides planners when deciding every planning application for the next 30 years.
In many ways, the Local Plan affects how we reflect our community soul in stone and brick, greenfield or tarmac, throughout the countryside and towns.
The new lassaiz fare Local Plan replaces the old flawed Saved Local Development Plan, which has not served us very well since 2006.
The new is virtually a copy of the old version: Not enough houses, failure to control heavy traffic on the roads, loss of trees and natural habitat, big developers given favourable treatment, and death of the high street.
Frome is the fastest growing economy in the district yet the council has neglected its once proud villages and town centres and starved Frome and hinterland of resources for its businesses to keep up with trends.
The new plan reduces the amount of retail streets in the town centre, and avoids the shock of high-speed broadband when remote Somerset County Council Tories eventually decide to roll out high-speed connections in Frome and hinterland.
At the same time, Mendip is deciding on Asda's proposed extension and delivery hub (with a massive increase of huge lorries), out-of-town commercial centres (with no public transport), and condemns Frome Town Council for trying to get the Saxonvale approved plan constructed by spending £300,000 on speculatively buying the FETE site. Reason? The Iffies can get themselves a seat at the developer's table (a sort of ransom strip).
I understand the former chief executive warned of overspends of taxpayers' resources, then suddenly he was gone; I was shocked to learn a sometime colleague was secretly instrumental in the going, and I disassociate my work kick-starting the Super-Market from any similar wrongdoing.
The council has new powers that can adopt the Saxonvale plan by popular referendum, which would give them a free seat at the developer's table so, why borrow then lose £300,000 on Monopoly foolishness?
I ask the Frome and Somerton MP in the Commons to ask the Secretary of State to call in the proposed purchase of the FETE site because we cannot afford political adventures. In addition, I am joining the campaign to stop the FETE land purchase and ask Somerset Standard readers to email me with their considered opinion at Adrian@Dobinson.info.
COUNCILLOR ADRIAN DOBINSON
Frome Town & Mendip District Councillor