…is that there are many problems. Many of which are neatly encapsulated in my former home town of Frome in Somerset. With a population of around 25,000; it is not dissimilar to many other small towns up and down the country that together share many, yet quintessentially British, problems*.
On the plus side – Frome is now hailed as a cultural gold-mine by publications such as The Times, partly because it has retained many of it’s older buildings and therefore retained much of it’s olde worlde charm. Surrounded too by some pretty villages, scenery and attractions also makes it’s location hard to beat, certainly if you’re after a break from the city. But for me that’s where the positives end.
The sad fact is that Frome has been mismanaged for decades. Rarely has anything been done, built or planned for the public good; residential property development, commercial interests and a general NIMBY attitude by those in a position to solve issues have perpetually taken precedence over the actual needs of the town.
These are the things that upset me most about Frome:
- The town’s railway station is a joke. The overgrown platform is too short to accommodate trains of more than six coaches. There are only two direct services to London per day (five days a week) even though Frome is on the mainline into Paddington. The local service to the nearest interchange at Westbury (smaller than Frome!) runs once an hour – with no evening service to speak of. The ticket office has been replaced by a machine. A single taxi firm has a monopoly over the non-existent Taxi rank outside, and they are based out of a neighbouring town – so start walking!
- Frome’s dying town centre is congested, dirty and a nightmare for pedestrians. Attempts to solve this issue have included moving the town’s only source of commerce, it’s farmers market, to an out of town location six miles away; discouraging car use by charging for parking; allowing the construction of two large out-of-town supermarkets out on the by-pass; oh yes – and closing the central Post Office. Recently, a golden opportunity to create a relief road, via Welshmill, when the Singers factory closed, was ignored in favour of a (fast buck) large residential property development. Because of this, the town’s most picturesque street is still not yet pedestrianised.
- Frome used to be able to boast about being home to the biggest one-day farmers show in Britain. The Cheese Show, due to it’s importance to the local community at one time it had it’s own set-aside land near the middle of the town which although standing empty most of the year, was also a great open space facility to the locals. Now of course – a large (fast buck) residential development sits where the show once took place, and the Show itself now takes place in a field four miles out of town – and is now probably the country’s smallest one-day show.
Frome is now simply a large suburb (and property ‘hotspot’ (YAWN!)) serving as a commuter belt to far better managed towns in the vicinity. If the town’s (and Britain’s) masters had ever taken a vaguely socialist leaning towards transport, infrastructure and public facilities – then I might have been tempted back by now.
The contrary is what I love about living in France. All these things are placed above personal ambition and money-making because ultimately what the French value most is, not property or money, but quality of life.
*note to Management consultants – a ‘problem’ is like an ‘issue’ only harder to spell