Bill Batty-Smith | 30th March 1929 – 30th March 2024

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Remembering a steadfast leader and community champion in North Dorset

William (Bill) Batty-Smith died on his 95th birthday, 30th March 2024. Familiar to many as a North Dorset councillor, Bill was particularly known locally for his ability to chair the Planning Committee with a rod of iron.
I first encountered Bill Batty-Smith at one of “his” North Dorset planning meetings. The air was tense as the room filled with local residents determined to give opinions on why affordable housing developments in Blandford and surrounding villages should not go ahead. What struck me was not only how Bill remained impassive and calm throughout the fiery debate, but also how he ensured council officers were protected from the wrath of the public gallery.
It is testament to Bill’s leadership that those affordable homes are today full of young families and Dorset’s key workers.

Bill Batty-Smith, centre, with his family

A life in the East
Bill Batty-Smith was born in 1929 and was educated at Sandhurst Military Academy and the Royal Military College of Science. He did his National Service in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, then was commissioned into the Corps of Royal Engineers, ending up with the rank of Captain.
He spent much of the 1950s in Singapore, Malaya and Sarawak before a posting as aide-de-camp to the Commander of the British Forces in Hong Kong. Then he returned to the UK.
After leaving the army, Bill worked extensively in the Middle East, specialising in oil and petrochemical health and safety. In 1977 he was awarded an MBE for services to the British community in Lebanon during the civil war. He was in Iran during the 1980 Revolution, and also in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, at the outbreak of the First Gulf War. From 1972 right up until he retired in 1995, he worked in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Iran and Kuwait, plus another stint in the Far East in the northern province of North Sumatra in the early 80s. His work in Kuwait during and after the First Gulf War was mainly co-ordination, command and control of emergency services cover for the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) and oil fire-fighting teams, to ensure their safe passage in and out and to ensure effective casualty evacuation cover in the case of an incident.

Bill spent much of the 1950s in Singapore, Malaya and Sarawak

A tireless community manIn 1996 he found a new and very active role in local politics. He was elected to North Dorset District Council (NDDC) in 1999 as the representative for Stalbridge, and was twice re-elected. He also served on the Dorset County Council Health Scrutiny committee for ten years, and worked as an independent chairman dealing with complaints against the NHS. Bill was also a member of the council of governors at University NHS Foundation Trust.Victor Fox, former chairman of NDDC, worked with him for many years: ‘I first met Bill in 1999, when he and Ron Ash were Conservative candidates for Stalbridge in the North Dorset District Council elections. They won, and we went on to form a new ruling team with help from two independent candidates. Bill quickly became a member of the Planning Committee, where his wide experience of the construction industry was much appreciated by the other members … if not always by the planning officers or developers! ‘I well remember being a member of the committee with Bill as chairman: he would deal with crowded meetings over many a difficult decision with resolute firmness. But he was always polite to everyone.’Graham Carr-Jones also worked with Bill as a district councillor representing Stalbridge.‘He knocked on my door one day and said “I need a running mate. What do you think?” Unfortunately I didn’t say no fast enough! ‘We worked the patch together as a partnership in Stalbridge and we got a lot done. We achieved free car parking, and we got The Hub for the village. We also got the library and kept the public toilets open when Dorset Council was trying to close them. Bill got some affordable housing passed as well.’

Bill with two of his sons

Bill was invited to the Council cabinet, but declined the position, feeling he could be of more use in Planning: “Over the years I have served on almost every committee, and as chairman or vice chairman of most of them, but my main emphasis has been on Planning. This has had its amusing moments, such as the person who put in an application to divide a curtilage and then when it came before committee, spoke eloquently against the division. There were also times when the agenda at full council was sleep-inducing. In my
early days, I could rely on Angus Campbell to dig me in the ribs, but when this service was no longer available there was one occasion when Michael Oliver, in the chair, had to use his
gavel to wake me up.”
When Bill stepped down from NDDC in 2019, just before his 90th birthday, his work was recognised with the title of Honorary Alderman. Bill was proud of the council’s work, and in his letter of thanks, he said “North Dorset has, I think, set a standard for not only the county of Dorset but for how local government should operate. Controversial items have been resolved by sensible discussion between members of all parties and there has been none of the childish and immature ‘slanging’ which seems to be fashionable in the higher levels of what passes for Government these days.”
It was acknowledged at the time that he had chaired the most difficult committee in the council – that of planning.

Bill with his daughter, Jules

Daughter Jules Batty-Smith paid tribute to her father: ‘Dad was the wisest and most knowledgeable man I have ever known, my idol and navigator in life. I miss him daily and the house is so quiet without him. He had such a hard time over the past eight months, but it has been my pleasure to spend every single day with him. He was a great distraction while I went through chemo – he waited until I got the all-clear from cancer, just two days before he passed, and until my daughter Georgia returned from university, before he asked to go. For him to leave this world on his 95th birthday, which was also his wedding anniversary, at home and surrounded by family … it is just how he would have wanted it. On his terms, as always.
‘He married mum, Anne Buck, at St Mary The Boltons, London, on 30th March 1957. He met her in Borneo, while he was serving, and asked for her hand two weeks later. She said no, and he pursued her for two years before she gave in. Typical dad, always getting what he wanted in life.’
Bill is survived by four of his five children, and five grandchildren. Graham Carr-Jones summed up his friend: ‘Bill Batty-Smith was a proper action man. He was a professional engineer and an old school do-er. The Bills of this world are a generation we are losing. He was a proper bloke – The Chairman to the last.’

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