“We will protect our unique environment” is the proud boast of Somerset County Council Leader John Osman in the County Plan. But as with so much from Mr Osman in his short tenure as Leader, the words do not match the action. In the latest example of environmental vandalism, Somerset County Council is proposing to become the first rural county in England with no Countryside Service. Plans before the Council propose the total abolition of the much-respected Countryside Service, which is already tiny compared with many other Counties. Hampshire considers that its countryside warrants the protection afforded by 120 staff, Dorset has 60 and Devon 31. But John Osman thinks he can protect our unique environment with precisely ZERO countryside staff. How on earth does he propose to do this? Following hard on the heels of the ideologically-driven give-away of land on the Quantocks, I think the only conclusion that the public can sensibly draw is that Osman and Co don’t give a toss about the beautiful Somerset countryside and that the County Plan is just a load of old flannel. What’s most disappointing is that many of us have grown up with the impression that the Conservative Party are the natural protectors of our green and pleasant land. But the continued failure of the national economic strategy to deliver the growth required to cut the deficit and reverse the ballooning national debt seems to be leading to a development free-for-all. We’ve seen the planning rulebook torn up, the imposition of huge numbers of planned new homes on communities and and now the loss of all the staff that have worked hard to conserve our natural environment in Somerset. That hard-won reputation as the defender of the countryside is now entirely lost to the Conservative Party.
We all understand that Somerset County Council budgets have been cut by central government but rather than just rolling over like a compliant puppy, how about pushing back and explaining that the Council cannot provide a meaningful service on the basis of the existing funding formula? Even the shambolic Conservative group at Cornwall Council have started doing this, why not Somerset? There is no fight in Osman and Co. They are fond of telling you of the advantages of voting in an administration of the same colour as the national Government. We hear things like “We have a direct line to Government. I know David Cameron, etc” While we might think this gets them special access, the reverse appears to be the case. Because they don’t want to rock the boat with the national party (no party advancement in doing that), they just suck up whatever awful financial settlement is tossed their way, without complaint and we, the residents, just have to accept whatever poor service they then offer us. Time to say ‘Enough’ and elect new Councillors who will stand up for Somerset and the ‘unique environment’ that Osman and Co clearly care so little for. I will be one such Councillor. Help me make it happen in May.