At Bridgwater Town Council’s Annual General Meeting last night Westover Councillors Brian Smedley and Kathy Pearce were re-elected as Leader and Deputy Leader. Westover’s County Councillor Leigh Redman was elected Mayor and Hamp Town and District Councillor Liz Leavy as Deputy Mayor. Cllr Leavy will become Mayor upon completion of Cllr Redman’s term of office, a move described by Cllr Pearce as “Long overdue as we haven’t had a female Mayor of Bridgwater since 1986!” In an emotional speech to members, (particular after Tory Leader Gill Slocombe attempted to second him, at which point he fell off his chair) Cllr Smedley outlined his plans for the new council along with committee changes, policy priorities and thanks to members and staff for their work during Covid.
For people who would like to add further excitement to their days in lockdown the meeting was recorded and can be listened to in full on youtube. (when it;s available)
Speaking after the meeting Cllr Smedley said “The main thing that struck me during tonight’s event was the unity of the town council and the general support for our policies. The Tories were falling over themselves trying to second our motions and our nominations which is great news as we really do need to speak as one for Bridgwater at this particularly difficult time, but one which also has so many opportunities opening up for us.
I stated at the meeting what our priorities were and these are clear
- In everything we do we need to consider the Climate Emergency. This is why we have a dedicated portfolio to this under Cllr Li Gibson. We welcome the County wide Climate Strategy and we want Bridgwater to be a part of that. Our commitment to tree planting will be a priority for 2021.
- We remain committed to re-energising Bridgwater’s town centre. To this end we welcome the leisure led development at Northgate and the enhancement of the Brewery Field as a Town Centre Park. For this reason we are lucky to have the dynamic Cllr Mick Lerry as our portfolio holder for the Economy and his involvement in the Town Deal Fund will bring massive dividends to Bridgwater through his determination and attention to detail. We will see the realisation of the Celebration Mile and our businesses coming out of Covid stronger.
- With Cllr Kathy Pearce devoting much of her time to a community solution to the future of Bridgwater Docks I am convinced that her hard work will pay off and this heritage zone will be saved and developed for future generations. Bridgwater has a waterways past AND future. Saving Bridgwater Docks is a key priority.
- We welcome Liz Leavy , not just as Deputy Mayor, but as a newly created portfolio for Arts, Culture and Heritage. The Town Council is rightly the frontline of defence for Bridgwater’s heritage and it’s for that reason we took on the Town Hall when Sedgemoor passed it on and the same for the Blake Museum and now the Art Centre. Bridgwater is a creative town and a festival town and so through the Cultural Partnership that has been set up we want to back this to the hilt. Projects such as the Engine Room, Quayside festival and the Seed project are critical to a vibrant future the other side of lockdown. When Covid ends there will be such a massive upturn in the leisure, hospitality and entertainment industries that Bridgwater needs to be at the forefront of this.
- Finally, we still have Hinkley Point 3 on our doorstep and we have long said that EDF needs to be held to account to ensure it provides major and appropriate mitigation for the issues caused in it’s wake and at the same time to ensure that our town gains from it’s presence. There needs to be a Legacy Project coming out of this and we are therefore keeping our ‘nuclear issues’ option as a priority with Cllr Leigh Redman as our spokesman on this.
6. A Transport Strategy not just for Bridgwater but for Somerset is crucial and we need to be thinking outside the box on this. The Transport Portfolio holder will sit with Cllr Glen Burrows who has already presented a major transport plan and whilst rightly emphasising that the recommendations are aspirational because obviously we are not the Transport Authority, we need to have big ideas to tackle the climate emergency and promote walking, cycling and public transport.
7. Youth remains a key issue for us and mustn’t always and only be seen in connection with Police matters! Cllr Julie Cordiner as Youth Portfolio will continue to run the Youth Forum where representatives from all the schools and colleges will meet and take control of our youth funds to allocate them to areas which the young people themselves want them spent.”
The new council structures include an enhancement of the Forum system which involves the wider Community in the decision making process of the Council and also offers an increased role on liaison group for the Conservative opposition including the introduction of Shadow portfolio holders who can work alongside the leaders of the ruling Labour group.
Cllr Smedley concluded “At every annual meeting you thank the people who have worked hard during the previous year and without whose presence and dedication things might have turned out very different. To this end I made the point of thanking the Town Clerk David Mears, whose assumption of near Cromwellian powers during the lockdown have made him lose the last few remaining hairs on his head, the dedicated and hard working staff in the offices and cemeteries and Mayor Tony Heywood who maintained a positive promotion of the Town right through some of it’s darkest hours. There are many changes heading towards Bridgwater, not least the Unitary situation. But this provides a great opportunity for us to increase the role and influence of our town council and take more control of our destiny at the locallest level. This is why we have also stepped up our determination to work as closely as possible with Sedgemoor District Council -who face extinction in whatever unitary solution comes forward but this is also why we strive even harder to revive the ancient powers of a strong, independent and progressive historic borough of Bridgwater.”