A weekly column is written by the Leader of Mendip District Council, Cllr Ros Wyke, and contains her personal views.
This weekly column is written by Cllr Ros Wyke and contains her personal views.
The columns are published every Thursday in the Mid-Somerset Series newspaper group.
The columns are also placed here on the Council's website for information.
The content is not written by or on behalf of Mendip District Council.
Cllr Wyke welcomes your views. If there is something you'd like her to cover in her column please email.
Please email email@example.com
With local property prices rising, limited new housing, and a low wage economy, affordable housing is a serious issue facing communities, and in particular, our young people.
The thought and sight of raw sewage being pumped into our rivers rightly horrifies us. And yet in our beautiful district there are many such incidents recorded each and every year.
I believe many of us realise that we can't leave it to others, we all have a part to play to improve our environment.
So it's farewell to another year, but not alas the pandemic. COVID is still circulating in our communities, putting pressure on an already-stretched NHS, disrupting schools, delaying our refuse collections, impacting our businesses. Keeping a sense of perspective and positivity is important though, and I find it heartening to witness the energy and achievements of our communities, councillors and Council staff.
One of the best things about living in this part of Somerset is the variety of countryside we can enjoy close to home. Of course, it's nothing new for human beings to travel by walking, cycling or on a horse, but what we need now is greater access to routes that are both enjoyable and safe. That's one of the priorities for Mendip, your local council.
It seems remarkable that another year has nearly gone, and sad that we are once again in the midst of yet another phase of Covid at a time when we should all be enjoying Christmas festivities. It's been a frightening and challenging time for many, and in Mendip we will continue to try to do all we can to support our residents through these difficult times.
As many of us rush around getting ready for the Christmas holidays, buying last minute gifts and making preparations to spend time with loved ones, I know others will be struggling to cope when it comes to their mental and emotional health.
One of the Council's key priorities is to help make Mendip greener and cleaner. It runs through everything we do. But we know it's not enough just to say it. We must also take action. We must 'walk the talk'.
As Storm Arwen raged across the country at the weekend, causing the worst storm damage in 20 years, we have been relatively lucky in Mendip to have escaped the heavy snow and damaging winds. However, temperatures have most certainly dropped - which has sparked our Severe Weather Emergency Provision, known as SWEP.
Is seems that the countdown to Christmas has already started! Judging by the twinkling trees, decorations and festive music already playing in most shops (and in many TV ads), it appears as if the big day is just around the corner.
Finding time to pause and reflect seems to be a rare luxury these days. We lead busy lives, and have many distractions and demands. But on Armistice Day, and at the service of Remembrance, we still find time to come together as a nation to observe two-minute's silence, to commemorate those who lost their lives in conflict.
Before COVID-19 became a global preoccupation, the climate and ecological emergency was probably our biggest threat, and concern. Post-pandemic, it's in sharp focus again, as the COP26 summit has demonstrated during the past fortnight.
I make no apologies for an overtly political column this week. But I do need to put on record what is happening with local government in Somerset.
Fire and re-hire are words that you may have seen in the news recently. The practice of 'firing' a workforce only to re-hire the same people on new contracts is a dubious way to renegotiate terms of employment and pay.
We seem to be facing the winter months with much uncertainty when it comes to covid and the ramifications of Brexit. One thing seems to be inevitable, however - we will be facing a winter with rising fuel costs.
Mendip District Councillors come from many different walks of life and political persuasions. But there is one thing that unites us all - we all want to see more trees planted!
As we emerge - hopefully - from Covid, there are long standing issues which are putting pressure on people, and on local services.
Barack Obama famously said, "You get the politicians you deserve," and whilst there is a lot of truth in that statement, I would add onto the end - "but let's be kind."
We live in a most beautiful part of the world - you have heard me say that many times! Little wonder people want to visit Mendip. We have so much to shout about. The rich, unique, natural landscapes of the Mendip Hills and all they have to offer, is just one example. A delight for walkers, cavers and climbers. Our main towns too of course, offer diverse attractions.
When it comes to how local governments work for their residents in Somerset in the coming years, there are changes afoot. The four district councils and the county council will be abolished, and a new unitary authority will be set up to cover the whole of the county in April 2023.
The Covid pandemic brought residents and local organisations closer. People reached out, and pulled together. Something seemed to switch. No longer was there a focus on 'individuals'. It was all about 'community'. I witnessed that first-hand.
The Covid crisis during the past year or so has seen us spending more time at home. Kitchens have doubled-up as offices, living rooms have become 'zoom rooms' for many. It's not just where we live - it's where we make a living.
From time to time I'm asked, 'what's the purpose of Mendip District Council?' In response I say, 'to protect the vulnerable, and keep our communities safe.' Because that's it, in a nutshell.
As we enjoy the holiday weeks this summer, I'm sure you'll be thinking the same as me - that when we are through the Covid pandemic and all its associated restrictions and concerns, we'll be wanting to get together again and enjoy each other's company as we used to.
With dangerous wildfires raging in Greece and the US, and after the devastating floods in Germany and Belgium last month, the impacts of climate change have never been more apparent.
The past 18 months have brought into sharp focus two things to me - the need to take better care of our environment, and our reliance on essential services and those people who deliver them. Recycling and waste services in Somerset touch on both these priorities.
Last week the Government ignored the voices of Somerset people by choosing to replace the four district councils and the county council with a single unitary council for the whole county.
At the time of writing this column, the Met Office has issued its first ever extreme heat warning as temperatures rise across the country, including the South West. I know some people love the heat, but for others, especially the older generation, it's very uncomfortable. It makes everyday tasks very challenging indeed. Do look after your elderly neighbours as best you can.
The answer is 'just about everything that keeps communities safe, protects the vulnerable, and helps economic recovery.'
I've always admired the role farmers play in caring for the countryside and environment.
I've always found that when there are extremes on emerging issues, the centre-ground tends to shift a little.
However difficult the past 12 months or so have been, hopefully we can take some positive learnings forward.
One of the ongoing challenges we face at Mendip is making sure we support and represent the differing needs of our communities across the district.
Change is coming to local government. And during the past few weeks, the people of Somerset have taken the opportunity to vote for their preferred path for change - the District Councils commissioned a poll which enabled this democratic act to happen.
Those of you who were out and about at the weekend would have seen how many people were enjoying Mendip - the blossoming countryside and bustling towns and villages.
You will have seen that it was Mental Health Awareness Week a couple of weeks ago - the theme was 'nature.'
This week, voters across Somerset will get the chance to choose the option for change they would prefer to see for local councils.
Following the local, mayoral and Police & Crime commissioner elections last Thursday across the country, there will be a chance for the people of Somerset to make their voices heard in the coming weeks.
When this column goes to print on Thursday, it will be election day for much of the UK. For voters in Mendip, we are choosing a new Police & Crime Commissioner for Avon & Somerset, and many other areas will go about electing local councillors and mayors. Election campaigns, and the moment when you finally put a cross in a box highlight our democratic rights, to have our say and play our part in how we are governed.
Over the past five weeks I've been covering our five distinct towns within Mendip. This week, I wanted to focus on our area's rural communities. Mendip is, after all, a largely rural district, and 4 in 10 of us live in villages, small hamlets and nestled in the countryside off the beaten track.
The final leg of my tour of the Mendip towns brings me to our cathedral city of Wells. With its population of just 12,000 it is often cited as being the smallest city in England, although technically the City of London with fewer than 9,000 residents is smaller in terms of population and geographical size.
As I continue with my tour of the towns, this week I am going to talk about a Mendip town which is regularly featured in the national press. It was cited as being one of the best places to live outside of London by The Times a few years back, and named 'most stylish place to live in the UK' by glossy magazine Harpers Bazaar!
It's hard to imagine that large areas of Somerset were once covered in water - most of the Somerset moors are below sea level, hence why they are so prone to flooding. It wasn't until Dutch engineers drained the levels back in the 17th century that we were able to farm the land as we do today.
This week I am dedicating the column to Shepton Mallet. In many ways the town is in the process of a successful transformation. The centre is in the midst of major resurfacing works and the Town Council is leading on a rebranding and updating of town signage. Even its own logo has changed which now includes the Glastonbury Festival Pyramid, which of course is just on Shepton's doorstep.
We are lucky in Mendip to have five distinct settlements - Wells, the smallest city in England, the village of Street, and three very different towns of Glastonbury, Frome and Shepton Mallet.
You may know that on May 6th in Mendip you will be able to vote for who represents you as Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner, or PCC. There will be some local bi-elections taking place too.
For this week's column, I want to talk about the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, (AONB), one of 46 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There was a packed agenda at Mendip's Full Council meeting, with financial business dominating matters. We may be dealing with a national pandemic, but your District Council is getting lots of business done! I thought I'd take this opportunity to share some of the highlights.
We all recognise the enormous pressure the NHS and care system have been under during the past 12 months. There's been much praise, appreciation and love for these critical workers. And rightly so. But this week I wanted to dedicate the column to the unsung heroes of the pandemic who've made our daily lives that little bit better.
It would have been hard for you to miss the recording from Handforth Parish Council's zoom meeting that went viral a week or so ago. I was sent the link many times, and there has been widespread coverage of the somewhat chaotic meeting across the national daily newspapers and social media.
There seems to be an increase in the amount of litter around at the moment, cluttering and damaging our wonderful landscapes and countryside. I witness the evidence myself when I go walking in the Mendip Hills. And on returning home, I see debates unfold on social media.
Sustaining our economy and supporting local people are key priorities for your District Council. When this Covid crises ends - and it will - we'll need to work with our communities, to build back better, one street at a time, one family at a time, one place at a time.
The Covid crisis continues to impact our communities. No sooner did I hear the wonderful news that more than 4,000 people had now been vaccinated at our council offices in Shepton Mallet, when word came out that Glastonbury Festival was cancelled, for the second year running. Both stark reminders of the highs and lows we are experiencing at the moment.
It was lovely to see the Mendips featured on this week's Countryfile on BBC1. What a beautiful part of the world we are lucky enough to live in! The downside of this of course is that so many people (and their cars!) are attracted to these beauty spots, posing a significant threat to the delicate ecosystems and ecologies.
I don't want to spend too long dwelling on what I know are such challenging and worrying times for all of us, but rather take the opportunity to signpost you to different sources of guidance, support and information. There's lots of help out there.
No doubt this week you'll have been busy boxing up the decorations and storing them away for another year. Let's hope next time we dust off those baubles and tinsel, and put up a Christmas tree, we'll be in a much happier place.
I recently heard a great term to describe the days between Christmas and New Year - Chrimbo Limbo. If you're struggling to know what day it is, this will probably resonate with you! I hope you had a good Christmas and managed to see loved ones, even if it was at a distance.
With the news of more government restrictions upon us, many are understandably upset that they might not be able to spend Christmas with their loved ones. The festive holiday season can be an extremely difficult time for people who fall on harder times or who don't have family or a support network close by to them.
It's been such a tough year for everyone so we are trying to help where we can. Starting from today, Thursday 17th December, all Mendip-owned car parks will be free up to, and including, Christmas Eve.
Those of you who regularly read this column, will know how important protecting our natural environment is to me and to Mendip District Council. I know it concerns many of you too as I frequently receive emails and phone calls about it. Indeed, one of our major priorities at Mendip is to deliver on our climate and ecological commitments.
I am a firm believer that in order to get stuff done - whether that's to improve the energy efficiency of our homes to reduce climate change, or to support our communities during this global pandemic - we need to work together.
The pandemic has meant many of you will have been spending more time in the home or garden. As a consequence, you may have caught the DIY bug, or tackled that long list of jobs you've been putting off.
As we find ourselves in the middle of another national lockdown, this week I wanted to make sure that all local businesses know that there is financial support available. Central government has again given district councils the responsibility to issue new national grants to support local businesses.
As the evenings draw in and the days and nights get decidedly chillier, we were pleased to launch a 'warmer homes' initiative to tackle fuel poverty in Mendip.
Every time I drive through Rodney Stoke - the neighbouring village to where I live in Westbury-sub-Mendip - I am reminded of the notion of a 'Thankful Village.' You can't miss it. They proudly state this on the signage.
With the children off school this week for half-term, Halloween and firework season is upon us already.
Many people are surprised to learn that nearly 40 percent of Mendip residents live in a rural setting. With this in mind, I wanted to talk to you about parish councils and the important role they play serving their local - and rural - communities.
I know many of you are watching the increasing rates of covid infections across the UK. The cases are rising locally in Mendip too unfortunately. We're all, understandably, concerned for what the coming weeks and months could bring.
Last week at a meeting of the Mendip District Full Council, we gave an update on our actions to combat climate change. Since taking over the administration, in May 2019, fighting climate change is something we've been taking very seriously.
Those of you who are interested in all things planning-related will have seen that central government is set to bring in changes to the planning system over the coming months. From what I understand, the main aim of these changes is to support developers and to increase housing stock.
Across our district, for a variety of different reasons, there are people who live on the roadside in vans and caravans. These communities occupy County Council-owned land and roads, and so it is Somerset County Council are responsible for any enforcement action.
I know many of you are keen recyclers and will be glad to hear that as of next month, the variety of items collected from our houses for recycling will be increased. Plastic pots, tubs and trays, food and drink cartons and small household electricals and batteries will now be collected.
As the season changes and autumn evenings draw in, what better time to start thinking about how to make our homes more energy efficient?
Today I am covering an item many of you may have heard or read about - the future of local government in Somerset.
Ask any Councillor what topic has featured heavily in their inboxes in recent weeks, and they'll most likely reply 're-wilding'. Re-wilding is when you leave areas of land to grow unmanaged in order to allow wildlife, especially bees and other pollinators, to flourish.
Hello, I'm Ros Wyke and I'm the leader of Mendip District Council. I'm really happy to have been invited to write a weekly column in this paper as I'll be able to keep you up to date with current news, issues and developments facing Mendip as a district.