FLOODING, NHS dentistry and affordable housing are among the priorities agreed for new bodies designed to boost communities across Somerset.

When Somerset Council was officially created on April 1, part of the new council’s business case was the creation of 18 new local community networks (LCNs), which were designed to bring elected councillors, public services and voluntary organisations together to shape local decisions.

A total of £300,000 was set aside within the council’s first budget to set up and run the LCNs, the majority of which have already held their first meetings.

The council is now seeking to support the LCNs in delivering and overseeing local projects based on the initial priorities they have identified.

The LCNs are designed to be “the focus for community development, engagement and partnership working at a local level; improving outcomes for residents and establishing strong connections between the council, local communities and partners.”

The LCNs can inform and influence policy and the delivery of services, as well as develop bespoke solutions to local problems (such as flooding or traffic).

However, they lack the legal teeth of the council’s own committees – meaning they cannot determine planning or licensing applications, or provide grant funding directly to local organisations or clubs.

Somerset County Gazette: Map showing the 18 Local Community Networks (Lcns) being created in Somerset.Map showing the 18 Local Community Networks (Lcns) being created in Somerset. (Image: Somerset County Council)

The LCNs have been named and grouped as follows:

  1. Exmoor: the entire Dulverton and Exmoor division, including Brompton Regis, Porlock, Selworthy and the outskirts of Minehead
  2. Frome: the town of Frome and surrounding villages, including Beckington, Mells, Norton St. Philip, Nunney and Rode
  3. Shepton: Shepton Mallet and nearby villages – including Chilcompton, East Pennard, Evercreech, Leigh-upon-Mendip and Pilton
  4. Wells & Rural: Wells and the surrounding villages, such as Emborough, Godney, Priddy, Wookey and Westbury-sub-Mendip
  5. Cheddar & Axbridge: Axbridge and Cheddar along with the neighbouring villages – including Mark, Shipham and Wedmore
  6. Burnham: Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge, plus the surrounding villages – including Berrow, Brean, Brent Knoll, Puriton, West Huntspill and Woolavington
  7. Taunton: Taunton and several villages to the north, west and south – including Bishop’s Lydeard, Cothelstone, Cotford St. Luke, Norton Fitzwarren and Trull
  8. Bridgwater: Bridgwater on its own
  9. Yeovil: Yeovil and the surrounding villages, including Chilthorne Domer, East Coker, Ilchester, Marston Magna, Mudford, Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Tintinhull and West Coker
  10. Wincanton: the towns of Bruton, Castle Cary and Wincanton, plus numerous villages within or near the Blackmore Vale – including Henstridge, Milborne Port, Sparkford and Templecombe
  11. Crewkerne & Ilminster: Crewkerne and Ilminster plus the villages of Cricket St. Thomas, Donyatt, East Chinnock, Haselbury Plucknett, Norton-sub-Hamdon and South Petherton
  12. Wellington & Wiveliscombe: Wellington and Wiveliscombe along with the neighbouring villages, including Bradford-on-Tone, Milverton, Oake and West Buckland
  13. Minehead & Watchet: Minehead and Watchet plus the surrounding villages, including East Quantoxhead, Old Cleeve, West Quantoxhead and Williton
  14. Dowsborough: Villages to the west of Bridgwater, including Cannington, Kilve, Nether Stowey, Over Stowey, Stogursey and Wembdon
  15. Hestercombe: North Petherton and the villages north-east of Taunton, including Cheddon Fitzpaine, Creech St. Michael, Kingston St. Mary and West Monkton
  16. Levels & Moors: Somerton and Langport plus the surrounding villages, including Curry Rivel and Martock
  17. Avalon & Poldens: Glastonbury and the neigbouring villages, including Bawdrip, Keinton Mandeville, Meare, Shapwick, Street and West Pennard
  18. Chard & Blackdowns: Chard and the surrounding villages, including Combe St. Nicholas, Corfe, Hatch Beauchamp and Tatworth.

A report on the LCNs’ progress came before the council’s corporate and resources scrutiny committee in Taunton on Tuesday (August 8), with the following areas being identified as priorities for the different networks:

  • Mitigating the impact of flooding
  • Tackling antisocial behaviour
  • Improving access to education and employment
  • Increasing provision of affordable housing
  • Increasing access to NHS dentistry
  • Improving response to road maintenance issues (e.g. fixing potholes quicker)
  • Influencing the review of the Local Plan and Section 106 requests to better meet local infrastructure needs (e.g. money for new schools, footpaths and play areas)
  • Expanding community transport options and develop local walking and
  • cycling infrastructure routes
  • Creating green corridors and implementing dark skies policies

Councillor Val Keitch, assistant portfolio holder for localities and public health, said she was delighted with how the initial meetings had gone.

She said: “I am delighted to be going to Burnham-on-Sea tomorrow, because that is 18 of 18 set up.

“The first meetings have been incredibly well-attended – the engagement from parish, town and city councils has been immense.

“Generally speaking, there are been quite a buzz in the room. We’ve been going through sheets and sheets of paper about the emerging issues for people.

“We’ve taken out a whole tier of local government. LCNs can fill that gap but only if we are properly resourced and we are open to support them.”

Councillor Richard Wilkins – who sets on the Levels and Moors LCN, including his home village of Curry Rivel – said that a permanent allocation of council officers was needed to ensure the LCNs served their purpose.

He said: “I fear the enthusiasm for LCNs will wane, especially as the officer positions within each LCN have not been put in place yet.

“My worry is that these need to be in place by their next meetings.”

Councillor Dawn Johnson (who chairs the Taunton LCN) said the bodies would avoid becoming talking shops if they were properly resourced.

She said: “There is a great deal of energy and forward-looking ideas.

“With the right attitude, I think these can be very successful vehicles for supporting communities.”

The dates of future meetings of all 18 LCNs can be found by visiting www.democracy.somerset.gov.uk/mgCalendarMonthView.aspx?GL=1&bcr=1.