Somerset this week: 17 November
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Somerset this week: 17 November
Another week goes by and we have another candidate selected for the next General Election. This week it is Claire Sully who has been selected for the LibDems to fight the new constituency seat of Bridgwater.
The selection is an interesting one. Claire Sully is a Somerset Councillor who undoubtedly works hard for her residents and has tried all sorts of innovative ways of communicating with them.
She started out with a series of weekly podcasts to help people get to know more about local politics and the sorts of things that councillors get up to. We have first hand experience of this as our editor featured in one of them.
Cllr Sully is engaging and interested. She would have made an excellent candidate for the Wells and Mendip Hills constituency in which she lives. Unfortunately that gig has already been taken by Tessa Munt, who as a former MP and Cabinet Member on Somerset Councillor will probably have a decent chance of winning.
Instead we have a resident of Croscombe, representing Mendip South on Somerset Council, being parachuted into the Bridgwater constituency. This is not a first. The only other declared candidate for the constituency is the Conservative Sir Ashley Fox who lives in Bristol.
With Greens and Labour still to announce candidates, local residents will no doubt be hoping that they will yet be given a choice of at least one candidate who lives in their constituency.
hoping that at they will be given a choice of at least one candidate who lives in the constituency
It all sounds rather like the way that Labour, for the Somerton & Frome by-election, parachuted Neil Guild in from Taunton. A candidate with no obvious local connection to the constituency. It looked like an unwritten deal between Labour and the LibDems to ensure the left of centre vote would not be split.
Is history now repeating itself? The LibDems are already claiming that they are the only party who can beat the Conservatives in the new constituency. Which begs the question: if Bridgwater is such a LibDem stronghold, why were they unable to identify a prospective parliamentary candidate from, if not the town of Bridgwater, then the constituency at least.
None of which is to say anything against Cllr Sully. She will no doubt work hard as a candidate and she probably has high hopes of winning.
With a new constituency, the facts on the ground are not always as helpful as they could be when trying to second guess the outcome. What we can say is that Bridgwater town is solid Labour and has been for many years. The town council currently has councillors from the following parties:
There isn’t a single LibDem councillor at present.
Recent General Election results have of course been for a different constituency: Bridgwater and West Somerset. In the last two General Elections the Conservatives won, but Labour were second. Each time a long way ahead of the LibDems. But as we have said, that was a different constituency.
The LibDems are basing their hopes on the results of the last Somerset Council elections when they did well. But even that comes with a caveat. Those elections were fought before the spectacular collapse in the new Somerset Council’s finances. Only last month the council, which is less than a year old, had to fess up to the fact it was in danger of going bust.
It may e difficult to predict, but it is certainly going to be an interesting battle. And we’ll be keeping a close eye on it.
Dark mutterings in Bruton
Bruton has been known for many years for its schools. Sexey’s, that rare beast, a state boarding school, dates back to 1889. Bruton School for Girls can trace its origins to 1901 while the elder statesman of them all is King’s Bruton which was founded in 1519.
However in 2022 Bruton School for Girls was “taken over” by King’s Bruton and then just two months later, shut down.
Both schools are owned by companies limited by guarantee and are charitable trusts registered with the charity commission. So one cannot take over the other in the normal way.
Suffice it to say in March 2022 King’s Bruton took on the management of the Girl’s School. The latter had suffered from falling pupil numbers and the hope was that King’s would have ideas for turning the Girl’s School around.
Whatever efforts were made to turn it around, they were not given long to succeed.
Just 2 months later, in May 2022, it was announced that the Girl’s School would close at the end of Summer Term 2022.
This has left the King’s School in effective control of the assets of the Girl’s School. While the Girl’s School and the assets it owns are still a separate trust, the current Trustees are all either employees of King’s School or trustees serving on both the King’s School and the Girl’s School trusts. There are no fully independent trustees.
You may be wondering at this point, who cares? Why are some people in Bruton very unhappy? And there does seem to be an undercurrent of unhappiness in the town about this.
It all comes down to the property. The site of the old Girl’s School is now up for sale with Knight Frank. The asking price is £9m.
Aside from the grounds extending to 34 acres, there are also some excellent school facilities including: a theatre, music school, office space, playing fields, full size Astro and tennis courts. All of which could be available for educational purposes within the town of Bruton.
But that is not how the site is being marketed. Knight Frank say it has: “Potential for redevelopment/alternative uses to residential, senior living and/or hotel.”
If the site is flattened to facilitate any of these possibilities, the proceeds would presumably go ultimately to the King’s School. But the fly in the ointment is that the central part of the site is controlled by a trust deed whose objects are unhelpful.
The objects of the Trust are: “The provision of a day or day and boarding school in or near Bruton for the education of girls and boys (provided that such boys shall not have attained the age of 8 years) and by ancillary or incidental educational activities and other associated activities for the benefit of the community.”
Does that readily encompass the concept of selling the land off for £9m? Especially if they could be put to good educational use as they are? There are some doubts over this.
Which is probably why the Trustees are seeking to change the objects of the Trust. The logical question at this point is “why?” If you read on, the answer will become self evident.
This will enable not only the sale of the land, but the money to be provided for various activities, including bursaries, education and facilities and equipment.
But there is one critical difference.
The current objects are very general, relating only to provision of education and educational activities at a school in and around Bruton. They do not specify any particular school, simply that the community should benefit.
The proposed new objects are for the advancement of education , provision of bursaries and supporting educational activities and facilities. BUT make it clear that the only beneficiary can be either King’s School Bruton, Hazelgrove Preparatory School (part of the same foundation) or the Sunny Hill Nursery. Thereby keeping any assets of the Trust for the use of the institution specifically, not for the community in general. Of course it is true that the King’s School is in the community, but it is only one part of it.
keeping the assets for the institution specifically, not for the community in general
The old objects would for instance, make it possible to sell/gift some of the facilities on the Girl’s School site to Sexey’s. Whether Sexey’s would want them or not is a separate issue. The proposed new objects appear to specifically exclude that possibility.
Somerset Confidential understands that any change to the charity objects will need approval from the Charity Commission.
We put these points to the Trustees who gave us the following statement by way of response: “The Trustees have engaged with the Charities Commission to adapt the objects which can no longer be delivered on the designated land. Trustees have entered a consultation in order to gain the views of interested parties and under the scrutiny of the Charities Commission will determine the future objects of the charity. A public meeting has been arranged by Bruton Town Council and Pitcombe Parish Council with the Trustees later this month, to discuss the Bruton School for Girls consultation.
The Trustees intention is to use the proceeds of the sale to further the objects of the charity which is to promote the education of girls of all school ages and of boys aged under eight in or near Bruton. Regarding the proposed sale of the site, we are extremely mindful of the significance of the site to the local community, and any offers will be considered in this context.
The Trustees would ask the paper to please encourage their readers to engage in the consultation so that the Trustees can take their views into account.”
We absolutely endorse the encouragement of readers to engage with the consultation. The Trustees are undertaking the consultation with the community right now. You are invited to give your thoughts to the Trust on two issues. The two items are:
the proposed disposal of the land and buildings of the old Girl’s School (although Knight Frank have been actively marketing the site since July this year)
The proposed changes to the charitable objects of the Girl’s School
The deadline for responding is 4 December. To give your response of to ask for more information about the changes - please contact: infoBSG@BrutonSchool.com
Villages differ over slag heap
Middlezoy and Westonzoyland are near neighbours. You can see the church tower of each village from the other one.
But they have formed very different views over the creation of what we might call a slag heap but the planners describe as: “a temporary material stockpile to service three reservoirs in the vicinity; Southlake Moor, Curry Moor and Westmoor.” The stockpile will be for the Environment Agency to use as and when necessary to help repair reservoir walls and other similar structures nearby.
The “temporary material stockpile” of “soil and infill” would be just off the A372 near the junction with Oliver’s Road.
What both Parish Councils’ have in common, is that they welcome any action by the Environment Agency to stop flooding. And keeping three local reservoirs in good working order would do just that.
There however the two diverge. Middlezoy Parish Council, which is much closer to the application site were happy to endorse the proposals. They were passed unanimously at their September meeting.
Middlezoy Parish Council, which is much closer to the application site were happy to endorse the proposals
Westonzoyland though were minded to object. Mainly as access from the stockpile onto the A372 would be near the apex of a sharp bend in the road. They added that the applicant’s traffic survey was both estimated and based on our of date information. And for good measure they were not at all sure that a site with lots of anticipated lorry movements was appropriate next to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
As the applicant was the Environment Agency, perhaps we should not be surprised that they had no objections to their own site being near an SSSI. But quite why Natural England were not asked for their opinion on the matter remains a mystery.
Meanwhile the Highways Department decided there was no concern relating to the volume of lorries carrying soil/infill from the site and joining the A372 on a sharp bend.
There were 24 other objections all along similar lines but with one new common theme being the visual impact on the landscape. That concern was waved away by the planners because the application was a temporary one for just 2 years.
The view of Middlezoy Parish Council prevailed. The concerns of Westonzoyland were batted away.
In the end the councillors voted the application through. However noting that the slag heap would indeed be unsightly, they agreed a condition that insists the Environment Agency restore the land to the state it is today within 2 years of the application being approved.
Whether Somerset Council actually have enough enforcement officers to make sure the condition is adhered to or not - that’s for another day.
School under termination warning
Hannah Woodhouse, the Regional Director of Schools, South West has issued a termination warning to Pen Mill Infant and Nursery School in Yeovil.
The letter was actually sent on 11 September but has only recently been publicised by the government.
It does not appear to have been published on the school’s own website. Nor is there any sign of two previous letters from the Regional Director to the school. Either the first issued on 23 February 2023 to the school demanding improvements or the update letter issued on 29 June 2023.
They are not listed under “News” or Letters Home”. One might have hoped that parents and guardians were being kept up to date on the issues at the school.
In her latest letter Ms Woodhouse notes that: “I must be confident, based on the information available and evidence provided, that the trust can deliver rapid and sustained improvements at the Academy. Currently I am not satisfied this is the case and believe being part of a strong multi-academy trust (MAT) is the best way to deliver improvements at your Academy.”
She goes on to express further concerns noting: “I continue to be concerned that the necessary improvements in the quality of education and early years provision will not be achieved at pace or to the level required to address sustained improvements at the Academy.”
the necessary improvements in the quality of education and early years provision will not be achieved at pace or to the level required
Somerset Council have not commented on the letters. They point out that Penn Mill is a stand alone academy and as such is not under their control.
We understand that the school is now working with the Preston Primary Academy Trust (PPAT), at the direction of the Regional Director. The plan is that it will the join the PPAT in due course.
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