At the Annual Town Meeting, Leader of the Council Cllr Andy Palmer gave his review of the year. You can read in full below:
2021/22 really marked the beginning of our first steps out of ‘pandemic life’ and multiple lockdowns, returning to a much more normal way of life. This presented both challenges and opportunities for all areas of Frome Town Council’s work.
This has been one of the busier years for our Planning Manager, co-ordinating with the Chair of our Planning Committee, and the committee itself, in order to provide our Statutory responses to a high volume of planning applications, as well as working on some of the biggest single applications the town has seen in many years. Such as the proposed development under the working title of Selwood Garden Community & associated Solar Park.
Pre-application discussions with the developers and public engagement events for this development started in 2020 and were a major area of work. The planning applications were formally submitted in August 2021. Our aim throughout the process is to ensure that stakeholders and residents are fully informed about the proposals and have the opportunity to engage with the town council and the developers. A series of Stakeholder workshops took place in November 2021, together with public engagement events. These events were held online due to Covid restrictions at the time.
As a result of those workshops and engagement events and the feedback received, amended plans will be submitted shortly for the residential development and the Solar Park application has been withdrawn. A further round of workshops and public engagement will then take place.
The Community Team have led, developed and delivered a new play strategy for Frome which sets out ambitious aspirations to create a playful town for adults and children alike, coordinated and enabled a place based approach to the development of mental health services for children and young people. They have supported the development of the Neighbourhood Network, The Restorative group and the new Wild Bunch focusing on support street level ecology. The Year 8 Make It Happen conference took place recently and 350 young people participated in a series of practical workshops enabling them to use their voices to feed into a number of topics, including placing their votes for the People Budgets events.
Over the last year we have continued to support community organisations through one-to-one support and strategic development days for boards of trustees. Alongside this we have administered £70,473 in Community Grants, £63,000 in Substantial Grants and £3,690 of Mayors Grants to many local community groups and organisations.
Over the past 9-months the Resilience Team has been working with Somerset County Council and Sustrans (a cycling and walking charity) to design a School Streets scheme around Trinity, Critchill, Oakfield and Avanti schools. The aim of the project is to make the roads safer for active travel- walking, cycling and wheeling- to create positive health and environmental outcomes.
This will be the first School Streets scheme in Somerset and will provide a blueprint for other schemes across the county. An inclusive approach has been taken to designing the scheme, with Sustrans running 6 community co-design sessions across September and October last year, supported by the team at FTC. The feedback received in these sessions has informed the draft design which is now out for public consultation. We expect the scheme to be installed for an 18-month trial period no later than Spring 2023. There have been significant delays and challenges associated with the project which the team has worked hard to resolve, and we’re pleased to now be able to present a design to the public.
This year the Ranger Team have been supporting the climate change and ecological emergency initiative by facilitating the Wild About Trees project whereby FTC have planted hundreds of trees and hedging plants around our green spaces including, Packsaddle, Chapmans Close, Egford, New Road, Weylands and the Old Showfield.
The team have also continued to change our work strategy to promote wildlife habitat creation and protection, this includes leaving more of our lawn areas to grow into wild meadow, being sensitive in completing tree works by leaving wood stacks for habitat and hedge laying at the Muriel Jones/Birch Hill allotment site, which greatly improves the biodiversity of the hedgerow.
This year Rangers installed a pond at the Otherside area of Welshmill to increase diversity in open spaces and we are looking to expand on this by installing one in Rodden Meadow. In our beds and planters, they have planted pollenating perennials to create a rich environment that supports the wildlife of Frome.
Local businesses have been through a difficult time with various external events disrupting trade. However, the Economic Development and Regeneration team have worked hard to support the business community and those seeking employment and training as part of the local recovery effort. They have ensured that businesses have had the latest information on Government grants and how they can apply, signposted to sources of advice and have worked with the Chamber to lay on events at which business owners can obtain the support they need from either specialist advisers or fellow business operators.
Many lost their jobs through the pandemic and our economic recovery work has extended to supporting those that need to get back into training or work. In September, the Council worked with Jobcentre Plus and local training providers to coordinate the Spring Forward event to showcase training opportunities in and around Frome at the Frome Carnival Fun Day and the work continues through the Vocational Training Group led by the Council.
Underpinning all of the aforementioned areas, is how we communicate what we are doing, and plan to do. Frome Town Council would be unable to achieve any of the things we do, without a professional, agile and dedicated Marketing & Communications Team.
As well as spreading the word around all things Frome and the Town Hall the team have been super busy delivering and promoting over 85 events. There have been workshops, conferences and information evenings. Alongside larger events – the picnics highlighting our green spaces, the We Feed Frome event, the ever-popular Frome Busks, the lantern parade signalling the Christmas Light Switch On and very importantly, a presence at other people’s events.
However, the jewel in the crown of this year was the production of the first live audience drone show in the country – an extraordinary effort by the team for a truly impactful and accessible event. As ever, it was designed to deliver across our strategic objectives: supporting the community to come together, showcase our amazing public open spaces, working with partners to produce exceptional work and highlighting the town in a way that the whole of Frome can be proud of.
Apart from maintaining strong financial controls and stability throughout another unpredictable year, the Business team have supported flexibility and co-operation between budget holders. They have also enabled FTC and the Town Hall to offer high quality hybrid meetings so that Councillors, staff and residents alike can attend more meetings either in person or remotely, at a variety of times throughout the day and evenings, from a variety of locations. Access, openness and opportunity have been our goals.
After what seemed like an age, the Government decided in Somerset to merge the county and the district councils and to create a new Somerset Unitary Council. For us in Frome that means Mendip District Council and Somerset County Council will become Somerset Unitary Council with the elections for Somerset Council taking place on 5th May.
We have positioned ourselves well in the unitary debate and the Business Plan that the Unitary project team are following used virtually all of our recommendations about what the relationship between us in the town and parish council sector should be like. We were asked to pull together one of four pilot Local Community Networks (LCN) to explore this relationship. The Frome Area LCN covers Frome and the surrounding parishes and we are working together to address issues around children and families. The other area that we have been working on is to decide whether to expand the role of FTC by taking on assets and services from the unitary council. We’ve had some very useful help from two senior ex-district council employees on which to base a discussion following the elections at the town level.
There has been much going on over the last 12-months and what makes the areas highlighted so much more impressive is that it shows just how much Frome Town Council punches above its weight. It’s a very much-repeated point, but as a Parish Council, Frome Town Council’s statutory responsibilities are actually only to provide allotments and hold an Annual Town Meeting.
But, as you can see, Frome Town Council provides, and enables and encourages, so much more than that. Due to the combination of a little-known clause of the Localism Act, known as the general ‘Power of Competence’; whereby a Parish Council is able to do anything an individual can, as long as it is legal, and a highly professional Staff and dedicated Councillor Team, we have been able to deliver so much more for the people of Frome.
As we move into a new Council year – 2022/23, and the prospect of a new Council Administration, and Local Government Reorganisation, we must remember the difficulties that people will face ahead. A cost-of-living crisis is before us, and the work of our Community Team, our Resilience Team, our Economic Team and our Marketing and Comms Team will be even more important; helping those who are in need, signposting people to services and help that they require, assisting local businesses to stay in business, and making sure we get the messages out there that the people of Frome need to see.
So the hard work begins again!