by Mike Bird
When I first became a town councillor for Nailsea a few years ago, I was surprised to find out quite how few powers the town council has – particularly in the realm of local town planning. But there is hope.
In 2017 I was invited to a small conference at Frome, a town about 50% bigger than Nailsea. The locals, fed up with the Tory autocracy, got together in 2015 and fielded 17 independent council candidates. Every single one got elected, instantly removing party politics from the town council. Since then the positive progress they have made is inspiring, especially in their interactions with the local community and businesses.
Also present at the conference were representatives from Falmouth Town Council, a town of similar size to Frome. Falmouth has been proactive in tackling district services and found it could provide them directly at 25% of the current cost. The town council now has 42 employees and has set up a local business initiative to boost the town’s economy.
Encouraged by this, Nailsea’s council has begun to move forward, taking control as best it can and realising it can do a lot to help the town. For example, I’ve been responsible for renewing the website into a Nailsea promoting hub. We’ve also bought the old youth centre - closed from lack of funding - off the district council. It’s now a successful health and wellbeing hub. Next, we would like to buy the library and a redundant building in the town centre to create a new business centre for Nailsea.
The point is: being involved in your local council is not just something for retired people with nothing else to do. Anyone can and should do it.
Our latest challenge has been the dreaded JSP national housing plans. Being a Tory autocracy, North Somerset has refused to engage with a coordinated local area review and will not review any greenbelt boundaries – boundaries that have been in place for 65 years. It plans to build 3,500 homes at the far end of our town, rather than a suburban development on the edge of Bristol, which would have all the necessary infrastructure. However, being on the edge of a city, it would have a majority Labour-voting population – so the Tories don’t want to back it.
In Nailsea, we would like coordinated development of the town. With a chronically ageing population in Nailsea, we need affordable housing for the young, built close to existing businesses and infrastructure. Party politics shouldn’t play a part in people’s needs.
One initiative we are planning is to give any first-time buyer who was born in Nailsea, or has lived there for a while, three-month priority access to new houses built on council land before they go onto the market. Such regulation is proactive, engaging the local community and coming from citizen proposals developed with professional advice. Because our solutions are based on local expertise, we use finer brush strokes than the marker pens of North Somerset autocrats.
In Nailsea we still have a way to go, but removing historical party politics from local councils has to be a priority for Renew. Every independent councillor is a friend of Renew’s aims.
Get involved in your local community!