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'Desperate need' for special school places

A Weston-super-Mare special school has been given the go-ahead to expand to meet a "desperate" need in North Somerset.

Westhaven is the only school in the south of the district for children with complex learning difficulties and currently takes 120 pupils aged seven to 16.

Finding somewhere for the first three years of education causes real struggles for parents so the Ellesmere Road school will swell to 138 spaces and start taking children as young as four.

Councillor Catherine Gibbons, who is responsible for children’s services and lifelong learning, told Wednesday’s executive meeting there was a shortage of SEND provision in North Somerset.

“This school has worked tirelessly to offer an excellent provision for our children," she said.

“They have identified the need to extend the age range. It will provide 12 new key stage one places.

"This has been a problem for parents with younger children. It’s been a considerable difficulty.

“Demand is increasing. The cohort has grown by 40 per cent since 2015. We have an ongoing need.”

EU rights group raises concerns about Settled Status for EU workers

Maike Bohn
Maike Bohn says people are struggling to understand the implications of Settled Status

Just under half of Bristol's 21,000 EU citizens have applied to try and secure their rights after Brexit.

EU citizens in the city are being offered free help and are being encouraged to apply for Settled Status.

But the government's scheme has been criticised by a campaign group called the 3million, who fight for EU citizens rights. They say people are struggling.

Co-founder of 3million, Maike Bohn said: "Settled status is neither secure nor permanent, nor that easy to understand or maintain.

"There's so much uncertainty and confusion and that's why people panic and that's why people are deeply worried for one reason or another."

Home Office MP Brandon Lewis, says the system is "working very well" and thousands of people are applying to gain this status.

More than 130 council jobs lost over past year

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Protesters outside the meeting in 2018

More than 130 county council staff have lost their jobs since last September.

It’s one year on since Somerset County Council held an emergency budget meeting, where £15m of cuts of services up to April 2020 were approved despite strong public criticism.

The council began a consultation with staff in August 2018 about possible redundancies, indicating that around 130 jobs could go.

The authority has now revealed a total of 134 staff have left the organisation since September 1, 2018 – though not all may have directly left as a result of the cuts.

The cuts were agreed by the council’s cabinet at Shire Hall in September 2018 – a meeting which lasted all day and was attended by vocal protesters.

Delays to superfast broadband 'short-changing' rural Devon

BBC Spotlight

Campaigners are reacting angrily to further delays in bringing superfast broadband to the most rural parts of Devon and Somerset.

The company responsible for the publicly funded roll-out, Gigaclear has lost its contract.

The Connecting Devon and Somerset Partnership says it will now start the process of finding a new provider.

It means the scheme is potentially four years behind schedule.

In a statement, it said it was working hard to agree a revised plan and it was "disappointed" not to be able to progress.

Graham Long

For businesses to do things like tax returns, VAT etc - the government expects it to be done online these days. Again, it's this dichotomy between rural and urban areas where rural areas are being short-changed."

Graham LongBroadband campaigner

Funding available for young people's campaigns

Somerset County Council logo
Somerset County Council

Charities and community groups in Somerset are being invited to bid for a share of £50,000 for projects that inspire young people into social action.

Somerset County Council says it will also invest £25,000 from its prevention fund into projects chosen by the Somerset Youth Parliament.

Councillor Frances Nicholson, the County Council’s Lead Member for Children’s Services, said: "It’s fantastic that children and young people will have the chance to take part in campaigns and projects or volunteer to help improve the lives of others.”

The fund is open to applications on Monday 16 September and the closing date is Friday 25 October.

Seven people rescued from two 'deliberate' fires

Fire engine

Seven people have been rescued from two fires in Yeovil, which are both believed to have been started deliberately.

The first blaze broke out shortly after midnight in a stairwell at a block of flats.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said three fire engines attended and four people were led to safety.

Two of them were treated for smoke inhalation, and one of them was taken to hospital.

The second fire happened shortly before 4am at a property in Houndstone, Yeovil.

Three fire engines attended and three people were assessed by paramedics at the scene.

The fire service said the ground floor front door was completely destroyed, and the front hallway and first floor living room were damaged.

A spokesperson said a fire investigation officer attended both incidents, and police were asked to attend, as the cause of both fires was believed to be deliberate.

Father 'delighted' Batten disease drug made available

Max and Simon Sewart

The father of a Somerset boy with Batten disease says he's delighted NHS England has announced it will offer a drug to treat it.

Eight-year-old Max Sewart moved to the Netherlands with his dad Simon to get treatment - because it wasn't available here.

Now NHS England has announced it will offer a drug - which slows the progress of the rare incurable condition - after it agreed a deal with the company that manufactures it.

New homes on former caravan park in Weston set to be approved

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Homes in Weston

Amended plans to build 125 homes at a former Weston caravan park could be approved before some residents have their chance to comment.

Councillors called for a number of changes to the application when they visited West Acres Farm last month and Bloor Homes submitted a revised application on 4 September.

Nearly 40 residents objected to the original scheme. They should have until September 23 to comment but the new plans will come before North Somerset Council’s planning and regulatory committee on 18 September.

The 4.5-hectare site off Wolvershill Road was used for storing caravans as long ago as 1982, and then as a touring caravan site from 1997.

The developer, Bloor Homes said: “The proposed development would provide a range of high quality housing enabling North Somerset Council to meet the local need and improving the immediate context.

“The green infrastructure will deliver an open space and landscaped areas that are accessible to the wider community.

The site is at risk of flooding but the plans measures that have satisfied the Environment Agency.

The application was met with 38 objections, prompting town councillors to call for it to be considered by North Somerset councillors.

Residents said the access from Wolvershill Road was inadequate, patient safety would be compromised and the development would be too close to existing homes.

They also pointed to a lack of spaces in schools, at GP surgeries and on the roads.

Recommending approval, officers said the site has been allocated for housing since at least 2007 and the homes would “create a good quality living environment for residents whilst protecting biodiversity and the living conditions of neighbours”.

RSPCA investigates dumped bodies of seven hares

Somerset Wildlife Crime

The RSPCA is investigating after the bodies of seven hares were found dumped near Langport.

The charity says it's worried the animals could be the victims of coursing in the area - which involves dogs being set upon them.

It was banned under the Hunting Act in 2004. One hare had injuries thought to have been caused by a dog.

It's thought they were left at some point overnight last Thursday into Friday.

Fire on industrial estate causes building to collapse


Firefighters say there has been significant internal collapse at a commercial building on the Poole Industrial Estate in Wellington.

They were called out early this morning and have been trying to stop the fire spreading to neighbouring properties.

It means the recycling centre can't be accessed - Somerset Waste Partnership is asking people to use other centres instead.

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South West unemployment drops 2.5%

BBC Business News

Unemployment in the South West has continued to fall to a low of less than 2.5%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The latest 2.4% figure of people aged 16-64 unemployed between May and July 2019 is lower than the UK-wide figure of just under 3.8%.

The official figures also showed earnings nationally grew at an annual pace of 3.8%.

The ONS said rising employment was being driven mainly by more women in work, partly due to the rise in the state pension age.

South West unemployment

BBC local radio headlines across the West

Radio presenter
  • BBC Radio Bristol: A 17-year-old boy is due before magistrates this morning - in connection with the stabbing of a Bristol newsagent.
  • BBC Gloucestershire: Plans for a new early morning train serving Cam and Dursley station have been welcomed by transport campaigners.
  • BBC Somerset: Over the past four years more than 160 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset.
  • BBC Wiltshire: The parents of a Calne teenager who was murdered are meeting the home secretary later. Ellie Gould died of stab wounds in May.

Fire station closure 'could be death of local service'

John Ayres

BBC Spotlight


Protesters took to the streets in a Devon town to oppose proposed cuts to the fire service on Saturday.

At Colyton Carnival, campaigners marched behind the town's fire engine to protest against the plans to close fire stations across Devon and Somerset.

Colyton residents said they believed the cuts would be the death of the fire service locally. The town's station is one of the eight earmarked for closure.

The fire service said there had been a big decrease in incidents and it needed to focus more on fire prevention, and also needed to save money.

It is encouraging members of the public to take part in a consultation until 22 September about its future.

Brexit EU settled status scheme: 'What will happen to me?'
Lily has lived near Bristol for 16 years, with a family and a job, but she's worried about what Brexit means for her.

First test of a £1bn health contract begins

BNSSG CCG and Sirona chief executives Julia Ross and Janet Rowse signing the contract with Sirona chairman Simon Knighton and Dr Jon Hayes, clinical chair of the CCG
BNSSG CCG and Sirona chief executives Julia Ross and Janet Rowse signing the contract with Sirona chairman Simon Knighton and Dr Jon Hayes, clinical chair of the CCG

The first test of a £1bn contract providing “joined up” community health services across the West of England will be ensuring no one “falls through the cracks”.

Sirona care & health will be paid £100million a year for the next decade for services ranging from diabetes support to physiotherapy that are currently delivered by a wide range of organisations.

It was announced as the highest scoring bidder for the contract in July and was confirmed this week after checks of its business case and references.

Julia Ross, chief executive of NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG said: “Sirona has a strong focus on quality and innovation, both of which were emphasised in an excellent bid.

“Their track record of working closely with people who use services was also really well demonstrated.

“We’ve been through a thorough due diligence process since July to test the plans, and we are really excited to be talking this long-term partnership forward.

“Our vision, alongside Sirona’s, is to develop services that will give our skilled community workforce the opportunity to provide much more joined-up care for everyone using them.

“That means better experiences and better health outcomes for everyone in the future.”

Police stations may be sold off in Somerset and Bristol to save cash

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Chard police station
Chard police station may go as part of the plans to save on running costs

Police stations across Avon and Somerset that are too big for the force could be sold off to free up resources for frontline policing.

A Freedom of Information request revealed the following:

  • Minehead station could go as early as next year, and the force is already exploring alternative premises
  • Chard and Radstock could go "post 2020" as they are both “too big for our requirements”, while Somerton’s is “earmarked” for sale in the same timeframe. Relocations are being considered from each site
  • Williton Police Station no longer meets the requirements of the force. It is looking at sharing a space, with a decision expected in 2020/21
  • Wincanton - there could be a possible move in 2020/21 as the local council is looking to sell its building which houses the police enquiry office
  • Officers could leave Burnham-on-Sea police station in 2021/22, as again it is too big
  • The police are looking to leave Broadbury Road station in Knowle West and relocate “in the immediate vicinity”, or stay there and sublet some of the space. A decision is expected in 2021/22.

Police and crime commissioner Sue Mountstevens said in the estate strategy for 2016 to 2020: "I reiterate my commitment that the local communities of Avon and Somerset will have a defined policing footprint and advances in technology and more strategic bases will support this.

“When we talk about selling police stations it’s understandable that local people have concerns.

“It’s important to remember why we continually review the police estate; and that any decision is made with complete consideration for the communities of Avon and Somerset.

“We must also remember that it is not the bricks and mortar that keep us safe but the people within them. “Freeing up resources from oversized and costly buildings is essential in order to support frontline policing.”

Chief constable Andy Marsh said in the strategy he would “rather invest in frontline officers than continue to run outdated and expensive buildings”.

Christmas market could return to this Bath street

Local Democracy Reporting Service

A map of Bath's Christmas market in 2018
Visit Bath
A map of Bath's Christmas market in 2018

Christmas market vendors could return to a Bath street after a successful experiment last year.

Construction work around the Abbey forced Visit Bath to look further afield in 2018 and it set its sights on Milsom Street, which was transformed for the 18-day event.

It now wants permission to install 26 chalets and three mobile catering pitches in the road, and spill out into New Bond Street and Bond Street in order to “maximise public safety and improve crowd flow”.

Some 404,000 people visited Bath’s Christmas market last year, down from 409,000 in 2017, mirroring a national trend.

A Visit Bath spokesperson said: “Bath Christmas Market delivers in excess of £30million into the city – which shows that the event continues to be of huge economic benefit to Bath.

“We consider the market’s extension into Milsom Street a great success and we received lots of positive feedback from residents, visitors, stallholders and local retailers.

“The footprint had a very positive impact on Christmas sales and footfall figures for businesses in this area.

“Subject to planning, we aim to return to Orange Grove, once the Abbey’s Footprint project is complete, as well as continue to have chalets in Milsom Street.”

Road closures will be in place Milsom Street, Quiet Street, New Bond Street and Green Street before, during and after the event, and parking will be restricted in George Street.

The chalets will be positioned in the road so pavements, business doorways or window displays will not be obstructed or restricted in any way. There will also be sufficient space for emergency vehicles requiring access to the area.

Security will be on site 24 hours a day.

The Christmas market will run from November 28 to December 15. Bath and North East Somerset Council will decide the fate of the planning application.

Assaulted police officer: 'People want to hurt us'

Watch: Bodycam footage of attack on officer

A police officer has spoken out about life in her role after being attacked in the street.

A national review into the safety of officers is to be carried out after a rise in assaults on officers.

Avon and Somerset police officer Anna Hall who was attacked, bitten and kicked in an incident caught on her bodycam in June said "people want to hurt us".

PC Hall's attacker Daniel Stadon admitted assault and was sentenced to six months in prison.

Police chief backs officer safety review

The Police Federation's Andy Roebuck said attacks on officers must be taken seriously

An urgent national review into the safety of police officers is to be carried out after a rise in assaults on officers.

Avon and Somerset Police Federation chair Andy Roebuck said attacks on officers must be taken seriously.

Air ambulance team stars in new Haynes manual

Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance team members with Peggy the AW169 air ambulance helicopter

Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance plays a starring role in a new Haynes Air Ambulance Manual.

The book, published ahead of national air ambulance week which starts on 10 September, offers an insight into the role and operation of helicopter air ambulances in the UK.

It also looks at the operation of the AW169 air ambulance helicopter used by the DSAA which is affectionately known to the crews as Peggy.

The registered charity receives no direct funding from the government or the National Lottery.

DSAA's operational costs are more than £4 million a year and the approximate cost per mission is £3,000.

Being based at Henstridge Airfield on the Dorset/Somerset border means the team can be at any point in the two counties in less than 20 minutes.

Each time Peggy goes up to respond to a call, the critical care team on board consists of at least a doctor and specialist practitioner.

Busy railway path to get £1.1m boost

Railway path start in Bristol

A busy section of the Bristol to Bath railway path is to have £1.1m spent on it to make it "a more enjoyable place to be for everyone".

At peak times more than 1,000 cyclists and walkers use the section, per hour, through the Whitehall area of Bristol.

But the path's popularity has led to "conflict" between some users "and a number of accidents being reported", according to the charity Sustrans.

Sustrans, which helped create the path 40 years ago, said the money would be used for "physical improvements" to ensure "no one is excluded from this amazing path".

And deputy mayor of Bristol, Councillor Asher Craig, said she was delighted the funding who would help make improvements "on one of the city’s most important commuter routes".

The aim is that any improvements to the route will benefit both pedestrians and cyclists and allow everyone to share the path and feel safe while using it

Asher Craig

DIY SOS celebrates 20 years

The DIY SOS team

It's been 20 years since Nick Knowles and the team first issued a call to arms and recruited friends, family and local trades to help transform the homes of families across Britain.

In a special programme tonight Nick takes to the road to catch up with families and communities featured over the past two decades and to find out what happened after the cameras left.

BBC local radio headlines

Radio studio

BBC Radio Bristol: A review into the clean air zone for Bath has been published by the local council - with another round of consultation starting later this month.

BBC Wiltshire: Swindon's Prospect Hospice still 'Requires Improvement' - but things have got better, according to a Care Quality Commission report out this morning.

BBC Radio Gloucestershire: Severn Trent has brought in temporary traffic lights to try to reduce delays on the A40 at Highnam.

BBC Somerset: Plans for nuclear waste from power stations around the country to be brought to Hinkley Point in Somerset could be approved later.

New swimming pool and leisure centre approved

Plans for the pool
Chard Regeneration

Plans for a new swimming pool and leisure centre in Chard have been approved by South Somerset District Councillors.

The proposals were put forward by the Council and mark the first phase of the redevelopment of the old Boden Mill site near the town centre.

Chard has been without its own swimming pool since last summer - after the Cresta Pool closed when the County Council said it couldn't afford to run it anymore.

Urgent call for vaccine check to prevent mumps

Public Health England South West is urging freshers and returning university students to check they’re up to date with student vaccines before the start of the university term.

This follows an increase in mumps cases driven by outbreaks at universities across the country earlier this year.

Latest figures show that 227 cases of mumps were confirmed in the South West between April and June 2019 with 2,028 cases of mumps confirmed across England within the same time frame.

This compares to 795 cases confirmed in England last quarter, continuing the increase seen during the first quarter of 2019.

Animal rescue and rehoming charity jobs 'at risk'

Heaven’s Gate Farm, near Langport in Somerset,

More than 30 people could lose their jobs as a charity looks to balance its books.

On Monday staff at the National Animal Welfare Trust's Heaven’s Gate Farm, near Langport in Somerset, were told the centre was at risk

Trustees said it faced a number of financial challenges, including the impact of the National Living Wage, a downturn in legacy income and the difficulties of raising money in the uncertain climate over Brexit.

A formal consultation process is now underway for the 31 employees who are at risk of redundancy.

During this period any reasonable proposals to avoid closing the centre will be considered by the trustees.

The charity also operates rescue and re-homing centres for domestic pets across Berkshire,Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Essex, and Hertfordshire

Council leases fleet of buses to cut school bus transport costs

John Woodman outside the school bus
Somerset County Council

A fleet of five environmentally-friendly buses have been leased by Somerset County Council to cut the costs of school transport.

The local authority says it wanted to help address a lack of competition in the market and reduce costs.

Over the past few years, several coach operators have closed down or lost their licences in Somerset.

The council will run the school bus routes for Hugh Sexey's Middle School, the Kings of Wessex Academy, and Wedmore First School.

They will also be made available for private hire outside of school transport times.

Cabinet member for Highways, John Woodman, said: “It is fantastic that local children will be travelling to school on these low emission, more environmentally friendly vehicles, contributing to the Council’s commitments on climate change.

“We work with a number of operators across the county to provide a safe and reliable bus network while ensuring the best value for taxpayers.

“It was clear that running these particular routes ourselves was the way to achieve best value.”