Weymouth Council Cock-ups Survey Draws a Line Under Negativity (We Hope)

Weymouth Council Cock-up Survey Distribution

(to see comments on our Facebook page click HERE)

#Weyforward really thinks that the people of Weymouth & Portland should now move on from moaning about the way the council is run and what it has done in the past and instead focus on the fact that it has new senior executive management and some new and more progressive councillors who want the best for the borough.

Our justification for the words above is that we deliberately took a risk by asking the followers of #Weyforward and their friends to send us their favourite council cock-ups. The private emails we received from various interested parties proved just how uncomfortable the concept was. We think it was worth it and will explain why below but first, here are the results.

1. The image above shows how many people in Weymouth & Portland saw the post and clicked on it. We boosted the post (like an ad) and targeted just the local area. Our audience is active and connected. The post was seen by our supporters (who are interested in the improvement of the borough) and their local friends. 6000 local people is equivalent to about 10% of the local population. So quite a good representative sample size. Over 70% of UK adults are on Facebook and that is no different here.

2. We had 14 contributions, just 14, from almost 6000 views. Many of the gripes were about non-Weymouth & Portland Borough Council matters (e.g. the roads). These are the things that concern people sufficiently to motivate them to complete a short online survey (they have not been edited):

In less than 400 words tell us your favourite Weymouth & Portland Council Cock-up?

- Not supporting the call for a Western route to Portland and allowing the land which could have been used, to be built on.
Weymouth Harbour repairs just before the hosting of the Olympic games.
- The Olympics. Quite possibly the greatest opportunity that the borough had ever had nicely wrapped up into a neat little parcel. Completely scuppered by lack of vision and poor organisation. Marketing of our product (The other things we have to offer) also very poor.
- Repairs to Berth 3, for Condor Ferries – It turned out it was not needed, by Condor anyway, since it is likely they had already agreed purchase of the new larger vessel. Repairs required extended pile-driving – which caused many cracks to open in nearby Council-owned guesthouses. Council claimed our photos showed cracks that did not exist! We spent over £5,000 repairing 3 squ.m of external brickwork that had crumbled to dust since 2012, causing extensive internal plaster damage via dampness – and the Buildings Insurance did not actually insure the buildings! The pile driving went on longer than expected cos they “forgot” there was a huge concrete matress where they were working put there to prevent Ferry steering-jet erosion!!! (previous Dorset Echo story!) Exchange of emails with Council’s Chief Engineer revealed I probably knew more about buildings damage from pile driving than he did! – And he refused to respond to complaints.
- The loss of the seafront fairy lights replaced with lacklustre laser lights. Weymouth went from picture pretty to a sad attempt at sci-fi. BRING BACK THE FAIRY LIGHTS!
- The fairy lights on the esplanade. They could have been kept and converted to LED lights. My family really miss them.
- My no. 1 cock-up is the removal of the roundabouts. They were simple but efficient means of keeping traffic moving. They also looked amazing with palms, shrubs and rocks. When I first moved to Weymouth, I could not believe prickly pear was growing outside in the UK on a roundabout. It all looked rather exotic. They should have kept them but created filter lanes or part time signals.
- Closing Brewers Quay down before having developers sign a contract. Positive side effect is that it is now thriving community area. BRING BACK TIME WALK THOUGH! ( this approach also applies to the Pavillion).
- Putting up the car park charges and driving people out of town… Yes that’s got to help the towns economy
- The worst one has to be the catastrophic treatment of the Old Brewery. Booting out all the shopkeepers in Olympic year when they were ideally placed to make millions from the sailing spectators and leaving us with a derelict building which, only now, is starting to be put to partial use again. This was incompetence and stupidity to the nth degree.
- I’m afraid it has to be removing the fairy lights. They were so beautiful and ephemeral. The curve of the bay looked stunning.
- When the council decided to close up the Brewers Quay, with the idea to build a Posh Hotel, leaving lots of people jobless, and Weymouth without the nicest shopping center
- The removal of the fairy lights , and replacing them with the useless lasers.
- ASDA TRAFFIC LIGHTS. need I say more. Like most locals I would rather go up Abbotsbury Road and get to ASDA the back way than use those traffic lights to turn right against the very determined traffic coming down Boot Hill. Have you seen the car stickers that read “ I survived the ASDA lights “. Please change them before they kill someone.

In less than 400 words tell us your second favourite Weymouth & Portland Council Cock-up?

- The decision to not allow Butlins to be built in the Osmington area. The reason given that Weymouth did not want to be a bucket and spade town.
- Traffic management – the “grand plan” – results – Kamikazi junction near Asda, more traffic jams than ever along Esplanade – due mainly to the increased number and proximity of stopping points on King Street, – the prevention of right turns onto the main part of Esplanade from King Street – which is exactly where the majority of visitors to Weymouth want to go !!!!!! – They want to get to their hotels and shops, Pavilion, Beach, harbour, Pubs, etc – but now they have to drive back out of town again – A “master-stroke” in peeing off visitors!
- The loss of Brewers Quay as a quaint shopping/indoor area, a ‘jewel in the crown’ for Weymouth, now a flea pit….
- Removal of the fairy lights, following the beauty of the curve of Weymouth Bay and replacing them with pin pricks of coloured light about as powerful as a kids torch with a low battery. They have no relation to Weymouth, it’s history, achieve nothing and are pretty boring. Bring back the lights!
- Not investing in long term maintenance of its assets when receiving an income from them (Greenhill beach huts and the harbour wall with Condor).
paying out to fix up the ferry dock for condor while not having a contract with them
- The farcical underpass which never fails to produce looks of astonishment on the faces of tourists as they come up on the same side of the road they went down on. I remember there was even talk of moving the Jubilee Clock. Embarrassing to say the least.
- This is going back a bit, but the underpass on the front….why?
- When council closed the promenade for the olympics
- The high rent they take from small businesses in town causing a huge amount of empty shops .leaving a charity shop town behind.

In less than 400 words tell us your third favourite Weymouth & Portland Council Cock-up?

- When a Sustainable Developer and a Yale architect were interested in the sustainable development of the Weymouth & Portland Pavilion peninsula area. The council were offered an opportunity to have £200 million raised yet completely ignored it. In my opinion due to lack of communication a handful of people within the council were to blame for this blatant disregard for viable funding.
- Fairy lights – taken down without any warning or consultation that anyone can recall! Huge petition to reinstate BUT council meeting ignored complaints and insisted it was “fait accompli”, too expensive etc – while refusing to listen to proof it was actually cheaper than the laser lights (which cost Art Council upwards of £420,000 for a handful of £20 green lasers on swivel monunts!!) The lasers are fine but the time-switches constantly malfunction and they are only effective in heavy rain and stormy conditions (when people do not want to be outside looking at damn lights!)
- Not keeping the ferry port / harbour area/ pavilion up to scratch and losing the business….
- Park and Ride. A scheme that encourages people to drive across town to park their car on the edge if town, to get a bus back into town then to return no later than 6pm to pick up the car. If you wanted to eat in town, you would need to get in your car and then drive back in. No wonder it’s so popular.
- Not being more imaginative with the assets and planning powers they have poor developments in prime areas (Debenham, Old fire station. – Could the Greenhill beach huts be community run or look at other areas such as Shaldon with its luxury beach huts and allow people to use as accommodation?
- The Olympic road changes taking out 3 roundabouts and stopping cars turning right out the station, putting all the bus stops by the Kings statue to really clog things up
- The pathetically weak yet astronomically expensive laser lights which can only be seen from out of town and replaced the much-loved strings of coloured bulbs which served the town so well for decades. A close run for third place between this and those revolting flats near Asda which look like a toilet block and should have resulted in some form of corporal punishment for the guilty architect.
- The very scary lights near Asda. I have been nearly killed in my car and walking across the road. On each occasion, I was in the right!
- The lack of information about what’s going on at the Olympics.
- The bin service is now atrocious since it changed hands , what do we pay our council tax for !!!

So, there you have it, these are the things that really bother people in Weymouth & Portland. It seems that bringing back the fairy lights might relieve most of the pressure (!) and in that one glib remark there lies some truth…small things, cosmetic things, are important to people and how they feel about the place they live. These days there are lots of imaginative and inspiring ‘soft’ design changes that can be made in public spaces in towns and cities. They make a difference. a big one, and don’t cost a lot of money because they are often organised and run by local people. The other ‘cock-ups’ are fairly well known. No surprises and need to be addressed for once and for all to help the building of trust and collaboration.

Was it a worthwhile exercise?

Absolutely. Because it shows that when actively encouraged to complain people aren’t too bothered and have regular well documented issues in mind.

Absolutely, because many of the issues were/are not the direct responsibility of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council (although, even if we know this, it seems we might expect the borough council to talk to and influence Dorset County Council).

Absolutely, because some of these things are easy to fix and will produce a real feel good factor and increased trust (e.g. putting some fairy lights back on the Esplanade).

Absolutely, because things aren’t terrible and we can go forward from here with the expectation that our new councillors and executive can respond (as they have asked to do here) and then physically act in a way that supports the development of the borough to make sure it is fit for the 21st century.

Absolutely, because now the councillors and officers can point people to the link to this web page and say “Look, someone asked the difficult questions to a lot of local people and this is what we got!”.

Yes, there are still people in the borough in positions of power and responsibility who put party politics and the status quo before the needs of the people. We all need to feel that we live in a place that is run by people who listen to people of all ages and all backgrounds equally and that our council is determined to go somewhere truly positive (maybe even exciting!).

This page will be updated with the council’s responses as soon as possible….

(10 Nov 2015)

And here it is, the response from the council’s CEO Matt Prosser. It took a while because the original was stopped by the chair of the management committee who asked me to call him. When we did he then asked us to issue a press release to the Echo about our conversation. Effectively making that conversation “on the record”. Obviously we don’t respond to commands of that nature, why would we? Then the council sent over a response that was, in our opinion, not very helpful to anyone because it didn’t really say anything and had obviously been heavily edited to be as bland as possible. Finally, Matt sent this revised response over which doesn’t really fit with how we wanted to embed the response into the article, but it does read better and contain more specific (and positive) information than the previous one. It all only took one month and four days :-)

Is this not an object lesson in how relatively simple dialogues become complicated, protracted and ultimately, diluted? As a group #Weyforward supports the council, the CEO and senior officers in their duty to try and modernise and improve Weymouth & Portland for everyone but will always campaign for more open and transparent discussions. ‘Private’ phone calls and dictats don’t cut it with us and they shouldn’t with the electorate in 2015.

Weymouth & Portland Borough Council Chief Executive, Matt Prosser said:

“I would like to thank #weyforward for conducting this survey and the positive intent behind it.

I agree it’s time to move on together. We’ve got lots to celebrate in our borough and it’s encouraging to know that so many people want to make a positive difference.

We are already responding to some of the concerns that our residents and local businesses have, with the launch of a ‘Pride in the Borough’ initiative that will look to clean up the town and make it a place that people feel proud to live, work and visit.

We have also reopened the conversation about reinstating the fairy lights and are currently investigating the feasibility of doing this.

We are aware that the cost of parking is another concern for the community, so have worked in partnership with the Weymouth BID to launch a special parking rate beginning on 5 December to help support the town’s shops and businesses in the lead up to Christmas.

The council is ambitious for the future and wants to understand the aspirations of the community. That’s why we encouraged as many people as possible to have their say on the draft town centre masterplan, which has supported significant proposals for the redevelopment of the North Quay site. This will be an on-going conversation as development sites are brought forward.

This is not just about bricks and mortar though – we need to build capacity and a consensus across the private sector and community groups to move the borough forward in line with the wishes of the majority.

That way, we can deliver the best possible outcomes for our towns within the very real challenges brought about by the current financial constraints placed on all public services.

Notes:

Issues raised which are the responsibilities of others:

DCC (highways authority)
Traffic system and roads planning
Underpass
Park and ride
Private companies
Brewers Quay
High rents for small businesses – these are not controlled by the Borough, in the same way that the local council does not set or retain local business rates. The Borough only collects the levy that the Government set at present. There may be changes to this in the future that means we have more local control.”

Thanks to those dedicated souls who contributed to the survey, #Weyforward salutes you! Thanks also to Matt from the council for sending us a response. Is this going to help Weymouth & Portland to move on from the past and become what it could (should!) be in a fast changing world? Not if the elected leadership of the council doesn’t improve its act. This whole episode and how it was handled, in our opinion, has served to underline the problem with how this community has been and is still being led. Whether Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, the leadership of the council has been stuck in a self-defeating cycle for 30 years of no overall control. The council constitution has entrenched it. We flip-flop from one to the other and any ambition that might exist gets mashed by short term party politics and the associated fear of doing anything truly regenerative for the community as a whole.

Weymouth Council Cock-ups Survey Draws a Line Under Negativity (We Hope)
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