In the second world war the River Parrett was going to be Churchill’s ‘stop line’ if Hitler had invaded from the south west. That’s why there’s pill boxes everywhere. Today the major issue along the banks of our river is stopping any tidal invasion of Bridgwater and so that’s why they’re going to build a Tidal Barrier here.
This week Sedgemoor District Council and the Environment Agency confirmed that their preferred location for the Barrier would be the ‘option 5’ one, just south of Express Park on the Bristol road and that their preferred model of Barrier would be the ‘Vertical lift one’. Bridgwater Town Council had urged option 4 and the ‘rising sector’ option which they believe would be the best combination for future regeneration of the waterways. Town Council Leader Brian Smedley (Lab,Westover) raised the issue immediately at this weeks Full Council Meeting of Sedgemoor District Council.
Cllr Smedley challenged SDC Portfolio holder Cllr Ann Fraser (Con,North Petherton) saying “The Town Council and others have presumed the site for the construction of the Tidal Barrier and the type of gate system chosen could be used to create a ‘penning’ of the water on the Parrett which would lead to economic regeneration and tourism possibilities through the re-opening of our waterways. Re-opening the barge lock into the dock, access to the canal and facilitating waterborne craft through the town centre and out into the Sedgemoor Countryside. We ask now for reassurances that the 2 options you have chosen will still allow that to happen, that water can be penned at levels to allow adequate height under the fixed bridges, and in this way we can be guaranteed of ‘futureproofing’ for regeneration as Option 4 and ‘Rising sector’ would have.”
Cllr Fraser replied “There was a £20 million difference between option 4 and option 5 and so unless someone comes along with very deep pockets we weren’t going to choose that one. The model chosen is a guillotine style and has got 2 gates. This is important to help with the silting issue. We have the greatest confidence of achieving the permissions for construction at this location and it is the least cost site. The width of the river is narrower at Site 5, meaning the structure will be smaller requiring less maintenance costs. However, the 2 gate option will allow for water penning for future amenity use and there will be further public consultation”
Once in a lifetime chance
Cllr Smedley commented afterwards “When David Cameron came to Sedgemoor – and he did because I bumped into him in Bridgwater House and nearly accidentally headbutted him on the stairs – he promised that money would be available . The truth is that flood provision is being added to the rates bill and these major infrastructure costs are being brought in at the lowest possible cost. That doesn’t sound like futureproofing to me it sounds like cost cutting. This is a once in a lifetime chance to get the right barrier that we can use to get our waterways open again , regenerate the town and boost tourism by turning our face once again towards our river our dock and our canal-one of the most eco friendly roads we could have.”
Cllr Smedley and Town Council Deputy Leader, Cllr Kathy Pearce, are Sedgemoor delegates to the newly set up Somerset Rivers Authority Scrutiny Panel. Cllr Smedley has asked it’s chairman Julian Taylor to consider raising this issue on that Panel.
Potential future amenity uses
Ray Alexander of the Inland Waterways Association said “From a navigation viewpoint we had previously said that we were in favour of site 4 as 2 gates would be required but would also support site 5 should the proposed single gate be changed to 2 gates, which has now happened. As regards the gate type we had promoted the benefits of the Rising Sector Gate and whilst this was one of the shortlisted options the proposal is to go for a Vertical Life Gate which will be modified through the addition of penstocks to enable penning to be achieved.The critical thing from IWA’s perspective is the inclusion of the 4th bullet point under Gate Type on the second page which reads “Ability to be used to pen water for potential future amenity uses”. We have arranged a meeting with SDC and the EA to discuss the implications of this in more detail and we anticipate having a follow up meeting thereafter with Bridgwater Town Council”
Is there a Plan B?
Steve Trowbridge, a civil and structural engineer, said “This is a site selected on the basis of the cost of the barrier and there appears to be no Plan B. Perhaps Bridgwater should have a Plan B.”
Mr Trowbridge keeps a blog in which he has indeed produced a plan B. That can be accessed here.
How does SDC see the future of Tourism for Bridgwater?
At the next meeting of the Bridgwater Town Development Forum, which will be held on Tuesday 21st March at 7.30, Bridgwater Town Hall, the main topic will be Tourism options for Bridgwater and the speaker will be SDC economic development officer Vicky Banham.