On being a councillor…

I am truly proud to represent Yatton ward as one of its two district councillors, but I’m going to be very honest with you: right now, it is hard.

I am not a professional politician and I am truly independent. I am passionate about making a positive difference and while I have a thick skin, criticism I feel is unjustified still hurts. I have a supportive family but they are hurting, too. They know how hard I work for individual residents and for the community.

I was elected with a mandate to “get serious about making our villages safer places to walk and cycle around”. I also campaigned for the return of an accessible and reliable bus service to Clevedon.

As it happens, just before 8 o’clock this morning I eagerly hopped onto the first Route 54 service that left Yatton for Clevedon. I was the only passenger on the bus all the way to Clevedon. Today it feels like I am being judged on something I haven’t done (closed the moor roads), rather than something I have done – helped to deliver a new bus service.

North Somerset Council has received ring-fenced funding from the Government to bring forward “transformational” active travel schemes for new safe routes for people to walk and cycle safely. Council officers briefed councillors on some possible measures we might want to consider. There was enough data and interest for us to collectively give officers the nod to work up some ideas we might then ask residents to comment on.

The publication of a rather procedural and technical Traffic Regulation Order earlier this week – without context or any detail at all on what a possible scheme might look like – started hares running. I perfectly understand some of the reaction.

Regrettably, Facebook just does not allow for nuanced argument and civilised discussion. It very quickly becomes about ‘absolutes’ and toxic – and perhaps because I ‘work-out-loud’ and am visible (unlike others) – it leads to personal attacks. One asked “what does our councillor actually do?” Others suggested I “do not represent Yatton”, I’m “acting like God”, that people “should knock on my door”… “bye bye, Steve”; and worse.

So, yesterday – in real time – I witnessed any hopeful promise of some measure of change seemingly snuffed out.

For simply entertaining the idea of change, it feels like I’ve been thrown under the bus.

Some residents have emailed me directly – both for and against – even though no actual scheme has been presented for comment. All these emails (bar one) have been courteous and well argued. I welcome this kind of engagement and challenge. Good things often come from this. When compared to Facebook, the difference in tone is marked. Challenge, yes… abuse, no.

In a day or two I will dust off my scuffed knees. I pledge to carry on working hard for our community for as long as I have the support of residents.

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