11 March 2009

A casual conversation...........

Last evening I attended the first Somerton Town Council meeting to be held up at the 'Dunny'. It was an interesting meeting, not for what actually happened but for what didn't happen. But I'll get to that on another day. For me, what was interesting was the opportunity, after the meeting, to speak with an ex-councillor and have an exchange of views. That's what I want to write about now but a bit of context would be useful.

Last year, around June I remember, I received a rather nasty letter from lawyers acting for Somerton's Town Council. The lawyers proposed that, in the view of their client who, I assume, was Somerton's Town Council, I had libeled their client. As a result of that view, they required me to retract unreservedly and, furthermore, they required me to disclose to their client the identity of every person with whom I had shared this supposed 'libel'.

Well, like most people, I don't like being threatened but I decided to take this approach seriously and I passed the letters on to my own lawyer whose opinion was that there was no libel. I had not said that, for example, Councillor X is accepting bribes or that Councillor Z was having an affair with a donkey. Had I said anything like that, then there would have been a case to answer. Had I accused a Councillor of counterfeiting documents with the intention of 'passing off', then that would also have been libel. No, what I had done, and continue to do today, was to comment on the 'culture' of Somerton's Town Council as well as commenting upon the statements and actions of its councillors. I see this as part of the democratic process but it would seem that my actions, now represented by this blog, are seen as being antagonistic or at least that is how this ex-councillor, who I'll call Cllr. Blue, that is how they saw my views.

Blue was at last evening's meeting to celebrate the first official function of the 'Dunny' and, for Blue, the 'Dunny' represents 'success' and 'the future'. The Town Council has managed to pull it together and now everyone else has to pull together to make it a success. Blue is right in that there is no point in shunning the 'Dunny' because it exists and, most importantly, it has to be paid for so making it a success is in the best interests of the local taxpayer (who will pay for, used or not).

During our conversation, I made many of the points that I have already expressed in this blog and Blue dismissed them all. From Blue's viewpoint, all critiscism is negative and obstructive and the only reality that Blue would recognise was the need to move forward, no matter what. And I assume that Somerton's current councillors share that view.

But for me, the 'Dunny' typefies the failings of Somerton's Town Council. The 'Dunny' has been foisted upon the ratepayers of Somerton with no consultation, engagement, thought or consideration. The greatest loss symbolised by the 'Dunny' is the lost opportunity to build or to strengthen the community. If you look at a little village like Leigh (in Dorset, a handful of miles from the centre of Yeovil) you see how a community hall can draw the whole of the community together. The community of Leigh did the fund-raising and quite a bit of the construction and, as a result, the community has a very real investment in the resultant building. The community of Somerton has no such investment in the 'Dunny'.

I don't know whose vision is represented by the 'Dunny' but I'd hazard a guess that, for the most part, it represents Cllr Tony Canvin's vision. Afterall, it is built on land bought from Tony Canvin by members of the local development community. It is located on an industrial estate that is, as I understand it, owned or controlled by Tony Canvin. And for the most part, it is being fitted out by Tony Canvin or on his instruction so maybe rather than calling it the 'Tin Dunny' maybe it should be called the 'Tony Canvin Memorial Hall'. What it will never be, irrespective of what it is called, is the beating heart of Somerton's Community. And the reason for that is because Somerton's Town Council refused to allow the community to become stakeholders in the project, leaving them, instead, to pick up the tab for the whole sorry tale.

For me, the 'Dunny' will never be free of taint. It will always represent a convenient deal, a swap of assets. How different things might have been had the opportunity that was Etsome Terrace been allowed to blossom. Some indication of what could have been is described in the planning file for Etsome Terrace. But, however it was achieved, Etsome is now a residential development and the community of Somerton ends up with the 'Dunny' and the bill.

Till next time.