Councillor Mandy Willis ran for council in April of this year and won the election in the Ferndown Town Council ward of Longham and Hampreston. She is a member of Ferndown Town council’s Traffic Working Party. She also sits on the Planning Committee and the Natural Environment Committee.
[Q] Hi Mandy. How long have you lived in the area and what is your connection with it?
[A] My husband and I moved to Longham 4 years ago. I became involved in fighting for local issues and in 2016 successfully campaigned for the resurfacing of the Longham section of Ringwood Road.
[Q] What was the trigger that made you run for office?
[A] My experience as a resident trying to gain support and action from our Councillors inspired no confidence and left me feeling ignored.
It became clear that campaigning as residents is not enough if we don’t have Councillors who listen and who have the determination and ability to make things happen.
We deserve Councillors who understand and care about the area in which we live so I decided the only way to make a difference was to get a seat at the table.
[Q] Is the job roughly what you expected?
[A] Yes, I would say it is.
[Q] What stands out as a surprise in the way the council is run?
[A] The biggest surprise has been how fragmented the council is. In business there are usually regular meetings where everyone discusses how things are going, what projects are happening and how they are progressing, what objectives everyone is working to etc. In council there is virtually none of that.
The only time the council are together is at formal meetings which I’m afraid to say I don’t feel add any value or serve any purpose whatsoever.
[Q] How do you find working with the other Councillors?
[A] I have found some good to work with. They have good intentions and a desire to make things happen but I have not found this the case with everyone. As per the previous question in my experience to date there is very little, if any, collaboration.
[Q] Do you feel there is enough leadership and direction in the council?
[A] Definitely not.
[Q] When you look at the many facets of Ferndown what do you see as areas of unused potential which could make things better?
[A] I think there is great potential to make the Barrington a more valuable resource for residents and visitors. We also have huge potential to improve our natural environment, both for our wildlife and for ourselves.
Above all I believe the biggest potential is simply to be a town that is not blighted with such a huge volume of through traffic. Imagine how much better a place we would all be sharing if we resolved the traffic issue.
I want to hash tag ‘#Notjustaroad’ because I feel that’s all we are right now. There’s no pleasure in driving into town. There is certainly no pleasure in taking a stroll or a bike ride anywhere in the area.
In Longham as we almost all live on the main road, any sense of community is virtually non-existent due to the road. There was a radical change here the week the road was closed for resurfacing, everyone came out of their houses, walked up and down, openly tended their front gardens and did a lot of nattering with neighbours.
However, the change was all too brief and once the road reopened everyone hid away again.
Traffic pollution is threatening the health of all residents but particularly those close to the main road, the potential and the urgency to change this should be absolutely top of every Councillors agenda.
[Q] Along with that question of course lies its opposite. What areas do you see as particularly problematic?
[A] That’s easy, sorting the traffic problem! The Town Council have no power over roads, we need Dorset Council to sit up and take notice but of course any effective solution will be costly and so they in turn will need central government funding.
In the meantime, we must continue to drive small changes and gradually chip away at the issue. Of course, I would also like to see everyone resisting things that would only serve to make things worse, like development.
[Q] Most people running for office have, if not an agenda, at least a target or two which they would particularly like to address. What do you see as your goals?
[A] At the risk of repeating myself, sorting out the through traffic is my number one goal.
I would also like to see far better infrastructure for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
I’m passionate about nature and our ability to enjoy the great outdoors so improving habitats and enhancing our natural spaces for our pleasure is something I am working towards.
[Q] Do you feel the council is approachable enough? If not how do you think it could be improved?
[A] No, definitely not. I would like to see an embracing of modern technology such as Facebook etc to make it easier for people to communicate with their council. This is something I am discussing with other members.
[Q] There is a great deal of public apathy if not antipathy towards local councils. How do you feel this could be addressed?
[A] It doesn’t surprise me, I’m one of them and yet I still feel that way.
I think there is a lack of understanding about what powers Town Councils have, or rather don’t have. It’s Dorset Council who are responsible for most of the big things we care about such as roads, planning and the environment.
Planning is a classic example. The Town Council only get to comment on planning applications. They have no powers to approve or reject them.
I sit on the Town Council Planning Committee and have seen that committee justifiably object to applications that Dorset Planning Officers promptly approve.
I would like to see Dorset Council Officers working more closely with all Town Councils. Let’s remember the new Dorset Council is in its infancy and is still organising itself and its people. Once the pieces are in place, I intend to work on forging better 360-degree communication channels.
[Q] From experience I know you are committed to many environmental projects within the Ferndown area. Do you have a favourite?
[A] That would be our section of the Stour Valley Way, it’s so beautiful and has so much potential.
[Q] What do you perceive to be the biggest issues from the resident’s perspective?
[A] Here I go repeating myself again, traffic! But then I’ve probably said enough on that subject.
The fear of housing development is high on the list also. The development already happening in Wimborne, Parley, Magna Road and Canford will all directly impact Ferndown, we can’t keep on building without adequate infrastructure.
Protecting our Green Belt and our wildlife from development is also important to many as is protecting existing properties from the flood risk posed by higher rainfalls and rising sea levels.
[Q] What frustrates you the most and gets in the way of what you want to achieve?
[A] Firstly I would say the bureaucracy,. If they are ever to be truly effective the council have to find a productive way to operate beyond the pomp and ceremony of formal council meetings.
Secondly, I would say it frustrates me that some Councillors don’t even live here and have absolutely no clue about our issues or empathy for how residents are feeling.
[Q] If people want to contact you about their concerns for Ferndown what is the best way?
[A] Definitely email: email@example.com
[Q] Thanks for your time. I am sure residents will find this interesting. Let’s hope we can get some other Councillors to participate too!
[A] I hope so, people should know who their Councillors are and what they stand for.
South Ferndown Residents Association (SFRA) is a non-political body. However the SFRA is very keen to support and enhance local democracy.
Consequently we hope to interview all Ferndown Town Councillors and West Parley Parish Councillors as time goes on. We want to find out what their concerns are and what motivates them in their quest to improve the area.
Councillor Mandy Willis has kindly allowed herself to be our first interviewee. We would like to express out thanks to her for allowing herself to be out interview guinea-pig.