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Frome’s Strategy for Success, one year on

A YEAR after setting out its ‘Strategy for Success’, the Frome Town Council’s vision to transform the town is making good progress.
That’s the view of leader of the council, councillor Mel Usher, who says plans for making the Market Place more friendly for pedestrians are emerging; savings on town council staffing costs have been made; and several exciting green initiatives are being followed.
However, he admits that other ambitions – such as bringing services down to a local level and rethinking how Frome presents itself to the world – still need addressing.
Ten members of the Independents for Frome group became councillors during the local elections in May 2011. In October, they set out one of their election promises, a ‘radical approach’ to ‘transform Frome’ in their Strategy for Success. Now, the Frome Times has been asking how far they have progressed towards the strategy’s vision for 2015.

Aims and ambitions

Plans to make the Market Place a more friendly space for pedestrians, whilst allowing traffic to flow, are emerging. Councillor Usher told Frome Times, “Consultations about how to achieve this are now well on their way and a preferred option is beginning to emerge. We are now getting the technical details checked out, the design is being worked on and there will be more detailed consultations. It’s unlikely that we are going to get much help from other tiers of local government on this, so Frome may be on its own on this one – but I think we might be up for the challenge.”
“There was a review of the council’s staffing to ensure we were fit as an organisation to represent Frome in the future. We have done that and anticipate a saving of £17,000 on staffing costs this year.  The changes mean that we now have a new town clerk, Paul Wynne (dropping the role of chief executive); an economic development manager; a town centre manager; a member of staff dedicated to keeping the town clean, as well as another apprentice. In parallel, the council simplified and opened up many of the proceedings of meetings – reducing the numbers of committees and making those that remain much more open to the public.”

Delights of Frome

The strategy also wants to see a rethink on how the town portrays itself to the outside world. “Progress has been slow on this, there have been just been too many balls in the air,” he continued. “However the new once-a-month  ‘supermarket’ is bringing in many new people who are learning about the delights of Frome. That, plus a rethink around the Wednesday and Saturday markets, point to a way forward.
“We haven’t had much luck in bringing more services down to a local level. We thought we would do something about the ‘easy to solve’ problems such as the derelict toilets in town, the renovation of The Dippy and improvements to the cattle market car park. The district council seems to be dragging its feet on all of these matters, despite our willingness to take on responsibility.  It’s an odd world sometimes.
“On economic development our new manager is making major inroads into putting together a green strategy and determining trends which will help us to make some major decisions next year.”
The council leader adds that other improvements have included the Welshmill Pump Track and playground improvement, and new skatepark in the Mary Bailey Playing Fields.
“On the ‘green’ front, we  purchased a new electric vehicle which has proved to be a boom in getting quickly to those small jobs in out of the way places,” he continued. “It’s cheaper to run and maintain and vastly less polluting than a traditional vehicle. Photovoltaic cells went on the roof of the Cheese and Grain just before the government’s deadline and have provided around £5,000 for the town, as well as free electricity during the day – a huge improvement on the income our reserves used to earn, as well as a big environmental gain.
“We upped the grants we give to voluntary bodies by 50% to around £100,000. We have made the grant process more transparent and introduced some new categories, very small ones that could be approved almost immediately and a large one of £10,000 voted on by the people of Frome. Keeping local groups afloat in these difficult economic times is essential.  Running with this, we put on a networking event for voluntary organisations and are now also providing some fundraising support.”
“We have produced, with others, an open space strategy for play across the town and are beginning to get to grips with the first priorities; we have started on a sports strategy, although the arts strategy has stalled a bit.
“The council is one of the few in Somerset preparing a Neighbourhood Plan and we secured funding from the government to get started. It’s proving a bit more complex and time-consuming than we thought, but we are well advanced and the plan will belong to the town and will determine development for many years to come. We are well advanced and there will be a referendum on its content in 2013. We have also finished the design guide and this has been lodged with Mendip for quite a few months, waiting their approval.”
• What do you think of the council’s progress? Email or write to us c/o 20 Bath Street, Frome. BA11 1DJ.