REPRESENTATIVES from Somerset’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty held “open and positive” talks with the county council to fight budget cuts which would hit the rural area.

Cllr David Hall, cabinet member for business, inward investment and policy at County Hall, met officers from the Quantock Hills, Mendip Hills, Blackdown Hills and Cranborne Chase AONBs in Taunton last Thursday to discuss how the partners can work together to deliver services.

The meeting heard no clear-cut decision has been made on any savings, and an agreement would be made between officers from funding partners and AONB managers to come up with ideas on how the teams can work productively together to secure a sustainable future for the services over the next few years.

The council is reportedly slashing its original budget of £45,000 to just £5,000 – 90% less than expected.

Drastic cuts could also see a reduction in the number of Quantock rangers in the area or possibly none at all.

Cllr Hall said: “We had an open and positive discussion about the challenges we all face and about planning for the sustainable future of our AONBs.

“They’re important assets that contribute towards many environmental, economic and social objectives, and it was heartening that partners are committed to working together constructively to plan for their future so they continue their good work.”

Mick Lerry, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for West Somerset and Bridgwater, said: “Somerset County Council is failing to understand that by spending £20,000 the council accrues £80,000 growth in their budget for an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“Unfortunately, the council is more concerned about cutting budgets.”

Friends of Quantocks’ Alan Hughes said: “The hills are vital to the health and well-being of people in Somerset.

“The relatively small loss in fact means a huge loss for the AONBs because it’s such a core part of the funding.”