REPRESENTATIVES from local Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty held an “open and positive” discussion with Somerset County Council to discuss budget cuts which would hit the rural area.

Cllr David Hall, cabinet member for business, inward investment and policy at Somerset County Council, met officers from the Quantock Hills, Mendip Hills, Blackdown Hills and Cranborne Chase AONBs at County Hall on Thursday to discuss how partners can work together to deliver services.

The meeting heard that no clear-cut decision has been made on any savings and that an agreement would be made between officers from funding partners and AONB managers to come up with ideas for how the teams can work productively together to secure a sustainable future for the services over the next few years.

The council is reportedly slashing the original budget of £45,000 to just £5,000; roughly 90% less than expected.

Drastic cuts could also see a reduction in the number of Quantock rangers employed ... to possibly none at all.

Cllr Hall said: “We had an open and positive discussion about the challenges we all face and about planning for the sustainable future of our AONBs. They are important assets that contribute towards many environmental, economic and social objectives, and it was heartening that partners are committed to working together constructively to plan for their future so that they continue their good work.” 

Mick Lerry, prospective parliamentary candidate for West Somerset and Bridgwater, said: “Somerset County Council is failing to understand that by spending £20,000, the council accrues £80,000 growth in their budget for an Area of Outstanding Beauty.

“Unfortunately the council is more concerned about cutting budgets.”

Alan Hughes from Friends of the Quantocks said: “The hills are vital to the health and wellbeing of people in Somerset.