We have waited to bring our news report from the Weymouth Town Council meeting on Wednesday. Allowing time to digest its full three hours of meeting and reflect a little on the discussions.
This is our first council meeting for the station, and the full meeting can be seen and/or heard on social media or YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/live/BPI-L20HLoA?feature=share
Unusually, I am writing this to bring the highlights of the meeting, this is not to be a definitive review of the meeting and at times in this blog I will express my views and as we say the views of the author may not necessarily be that of the station, on this occasion.
It was a really cold night and we arrive to find ourselves locked out of the building. The town clerk apologised for the access issues and it was a packed council chamber, however many left after the Funfairs debate.
I was welcomed by Sarah Hudspith, Communications Officer, and offered a space at the press table, it looked a bit of a squeeze, so opted to join the general public.
Looking around the room I was surprised by the number of councillors I have had dealing with over the years I have with local radio. And one that was not aware of my presence, wanted to make a quote to the press, and turned to me and said I could quote them, but sadly its content was not family friendly, but has since apologised for his emotional outburst
I had selected to attend this meeting as the Funfair issue, had been widely been reported across local media as a done and dusted decision, but at this meeting there was a compromise to the decision to be re-heard, and further compromises added and removed content by other councillors. Also there was a vote on Weymouth Bid ballot to be had and the Littlemoor boundaries, which we have discussed in some detail in previous blogs.
The meeting started we the standard accepting the minutes and any declarations of interest being stated, which were many relating to the Funfair and Bid points.
The funfair was the hot topic for many attending, we heard from the fairground owners, the hoteliers, Weymouth Carnival, Weymouth Pavilion, Youth Council, local businesses and one individual who visited Weymouth regularly and had travelled over 40 miles to attend the meeting.
The fairground owner was happy to make compromises to avoid the funfairs complete cancellation, he offered alternative dates to the proposal that was initially offered to cut the dates of the fair, bring in security, lower noise levels, etc. He was praised for the way he run his fairs, but we were to discover that other operators also used this area for their fairs too. He pointed out that post Covid, there was a bit of a rally in business, but this had dropped off this year.
The Hoteliers Association, who had taken the brunt of a lot of criticism from the keyboard warriors, pointed out they didn’t want it cancelled completely, just wanted some compromise on dates and general day-to-day running and responsibility. However, they were quick to ask if the councillors would like it every day during the Summer on their doorstep. My thought on this is that they moved to an area of Weymouth, that has tourists and have known the fairs are part of Weymouth’s heritage and it’s nothing new. Yes, they had a break during Covid, but that should not mean that now a new way should be set after 100 years.
The Weymouth Carnival spoke about their plans for 2024, and how the rides are part of their plans, they talked about the possible income for the town next year. But they were talking about this year’s plans and one of the councillors was quick to add that the Carnival has not been held for many years and it was uncertain in current times, whether the attendance and income would be that of previous Carnivals.
The Weymouth Pavilion were talking about the facts that when the fair is on the car park at the front attendance is down by 25%, they also have to hire additional security for their staff and patrons. They talked about groups of 30-50 people hanging around and would support a greener option there in the summer months. Once again, delay in writing this story has allowed me to talk to local night time business owners since the meeting, and these groups are hanging around even the opposite end of town to the Pavilion, so although the fair rides may attract them to group there, it is a year round problem for Weymouth, particularly since Lockdown.
The Youth Council members as you would expect supported the funfairs to stay where they were for the current duration.
Weymouth Rotary were very supportive of the fairground owners, and their involvement in fairs elsewhere in the town, including Fayre In The Square. They commented that the few in the town are causing the trouble and the fairground is taking the blame for their stupid behaviour.
The next two contributors, I apologise for not capturing their names, but the first asked why the rules about fair rides were different on different parts of the seafront. The original amendment suggested rides being moved further along to the Clock Tower and they were concerned the problem was only being moved to other hoteliers and residents.
The next was a local businessman in the town, who said the fairs brought footfall to the town and was a vital element to bringing in potential customers and businesses to the town.
Frank, a regular visitor to the town, who made it clear he was too old to ride the rides, but still wanted the fair to remain. He did drift a little off topic and the public seating area erupted into giggles on a couple of occasions, not in disrespect, but in the humour of his comments
A former port authority employee and former CCTV operator, talked about the problem not being isolated to the times of the fair rides visits, as we mentioned before, at the opposite end of town just last week there was a group of approximately 30 people, who were just hanging around, with nothing to do. This gentleman’s concern was the activities that the groups behind the Pavilion and on the Pleasure Pier were up to with drinking and canisters.
A couple of ladies stepped forward, one local to Weymouth and one from Bridport, to say they had started a petition to save the funfairs. One pointed out that they had hearing problems and although she could hear other events, the funfair rides were not an issue, but she enjoyed the rides with her own children.
Another Weymouth born and bred resident shared her concerns about what the local young people had to look forward to and the money it brought into Weymouth’s community.
Final public member was from Alexandra Gardens, they pointed out that family also operated the rides on the beach and the family had been there with their rides for 60 years, himself for 40 years, he admitted that the Guest Houses may be inconvenienced, but it was more the issue of the young people hanging around the outside, not using the rides themselves, which led to anti-social behaviour in the area.
The councillors then joined in with their comments after this, they pointed out that for every £3 in council tax, etc, the council spends £4 and that money had to come from somewhere. The funfair had been coming to Weymouth since 1790s and were part of Weymouth’s furniture and the reason many people choose visit.
Since the bowling alley closed, there is little left for young people and a minority spoil the town for others and should not be a reason for the funfair to stop.
Many of the councillors had been sent videos of anti-social behaviour, and loud music, however they were quick to point out many of the laughter and screams of fun overpowered the music and ride noises. There was a call for a balance for all and those were not explored in detail at the last meeting on funfairs.
The impact on the Pavilion should not be ignored and a less problematic event or activity should be looked at. There was a mention of toilet facilities, which Weymouth is lacking and many businesses mark their toilets for customers only. Although, drifting a little off topic at this stage, it was made a requirement for toilets to be provided by the ride operators as part of the compromise for the fairs to stay.
One part of some confusion for myself is they talked about anti-social behaviour, but there was no one from the Dorset Police or even a statement about anti-social behaviour, and I will be following this up in a later blog, as we plan to contact them on this matter. As we know the police take time to attend Littlemoor Community Meetings, on their anti-social behaviour issues.
The various options were passed around, with minor tweaks here and there, but were voted down very clearly each time.
One of the councillors, who had been subject to some aggressive and incorrect information published about them on social media, passionately commented about how she felt and how she represented her ward’s feelings about the subject, ending with a request from the person who had written about her in such a way to offer an apology, the author of this malicious content was in the public seating at the time and heard loud and clear how she was feeling on the matter.
Other councillors talked about alternative solutions to the location, one that was explored was Lodmoor Country Park, but it was pointed out on the impact of the animals at the Sealife Centre nearby. Personally, the small kids rides that occupy the land there I can hear in Lodmoor Hill, so it is just moving the problem to us.
One councillor pointed out that between April and November that 40% of the time the dates it was occupied by a funfair in the town.
Other options looked at was The Swanery car park, and that had been ruled out due to the concrete potentially being damaged.
The number of days in a week that rides opened was explored for less local resident disturbance. Sympathy was given to the ride operators how this would impact and also that the land as it would be Dorset Council land, that the fact the rides were there would have to be paid for by the Town Council and would have to pass this charge on.
Other councillors wanted to know why Weymouth couldn’t just be known for its buckets and spades and did the larger rides need to come to the town, which were noisier and less green.
The question about the Police presence was debated as they paid for some services and expectations and many councillors were upset that they had not attended, it was unclear if they had been invited or not.
It was clear that anti-social reports were not being made to encourage the Police to this hot spot at any time of the year. Police surely would have been in attendance if they had any major concerns that needed to be voiced about the removal of the fair. A reference was made to the Young Farmers visit that had caused a large police presence, but the majority had behaved and many wanted to know why they didn’t feel the need to police this area and it was pointed out that people needed to report anti-social behaviour.
Behind the Pavilion had also been explored as a site, but the loss of parking income against the rides had been weighed up for this.
There were many minor amendments and compromises, but the fair is to stay with the current dates, although with some minor conditions, it was almost unanimous vote in favour.
The chamber then took a break for those who wanted to leave to do so, and they moved onto Weymouth Bid Ballot. There were 8 votes, that the town clerk had recommended to move that everyone accepted to support. Many councillors spoke in support of the work they had done over the years and although one wanted to split the vote 4 votes for and 4 against, they were overruled and their votes carry forward as the Town Council for the Weymouth Bid to continue.
Community Governance Review was really left with little time to debate, I had an interest in this as I have heard in person the thoughts and feelings of these changes by Littlemoor residents, who are those who are impacted by this the most.
Louie O’Leary was allowed to speak and clearly his frustration of the time taken to reach this point in the agenda and some personal animosity from some councillors made it a difficult listen. As you would expect Louie expressed passionately the Littlemoor residents view of these changes, that would see a split between two Littlemoor areas. A councillor joined by phone after technical glitches on zoom, in support of Louie’s view. “If it works, why change it!” and he credited Louie on his hard work for Littlemoor.
There is a blog from the last community meeting, which we felt the residents of Littlemoor, hoped to get their voices heard, but the Weymouth Town councillors for the area did not attend, although invited. One of the Weymouth Town councillors had done a lot of work to bring the two options to the table to send to Dorset Council to debate, but neither is what Littlemoor residents themselves want. It was put forward that a campaign to make the local community more aware of these changes, even to the fact that local residents shouldn’t be given a choice at one point between the two hard worked on options.
One of the councillors, became very passionate about the way that they felt Weymouth Town council had been treated over these decisions that are likely to not go any of the ways that the town council would like, or prefer of the options, and were hoping a local residents letter campaign would be the way forward. Personally, I felt this was passing the buck to the residents rather than listening to the resident opinions in the first place and putting that forward for consideration.
There was a couple of other matters of finance and admin that went through quickly, but not without some discussion of why they needed to be actioned.
On a personal note, the amount of time spent of the Funfair should have also been devoted to the important once in a lifetime boundary decision for the area.
At the end of the meeting, Louie was clearly not happy with the decision and I spoke to him subsequently on the matter, he said: “Once again Weymouth Town votes to ignore the residents of Littlemoor and vote for a plan that stretches our community over boundary after boundary and leaves us under represented. I will continue to advocate my alternative proposal.
The maps of the two Weymouth Town council proposals can be found on the councils website along side the original minutes of the meeting.
It was good to see first hand the workings of Weymouth Town council. It was a long meeting and a couple of pints were much needed afterwards. I hope that we will be welcomed to attend again.