At todays meeting of Sedgemoor District Council Development Committee members voted 11-3 to approve plans for the demolition of Bridgwater’s iconic Hope Inn on the Taunton road ‘within 3 months’ and in the face of strong opposition by ward councillors and Bridgwater Town Council. The plan will pave the way for 22 apartments on a busy road.
Westover ward councillor and Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour, Westover) said “I want to start by thanking the committee for their courageous stand last August when against officers recommendations you supported the wishes of the town and rejected the previous proposals. You would also have been very proud to have received the Inspectors report later that year which justified your position.The application is back on the table again and Ward members and the town council again have to object.
Of course we accept that the original objection was based to a great extent on the loss of a community building- and this was reflected in the campaign to get the building registered as a community asset-which Sedgemoor supported. And of course when nobody came forward to turn the building back into this so naturally we ACCEPT that we remain at the mercy of the owner and what they wish to do with their site…………………..However it’s our town.
“We also accept that there is a housing shortage and that housing is an obvious option for this site. In fact it’s usually the first thing developers think of when they look at Bridgwater these days
What we don’t accept is cramming in as many flats as possible onto an already overdeveloped area with an already existing serious traffic problem and at whatever cost to the character of the area and the heritage of the town.
So we maintain our objection to the proposed development of the Hope Inn and would point to the very limited changes offered which do nothing to address the issues of overdevelopment on this busy road and specifically fail to address the points raised by the Inspectors report which urge compatibility with the surrounding area.
We do accept that the new design has gone some way towards this and that the Sedgemoor planners have attempted to engage with the developers and that what they have come up with is a considerable improvement on the initial submission but we strongly believe in Conversion not demolition, in the neeed for re-usage of the original design, materials and existing framework which has been described as ‘iconic – even in it’s current state’ by the said report. There remains no reason to demolish the Hope inn and the developer makes no attempt to seek re-use of the building itself or of the existing structures. The key for us and for most people we speak to – beyond restoration of original use – is at least an attempt at conversion.
We would specifically refer to paras 7 and 20 of the Inspectors review which relate to fabric, materials and remaining structures of the original inn. There is further no reduction in number of proposed units and similarly no reduction in the excessive and impractical parking allocations. We are arguing for Conversion NOT demolition and character not vandalism.”
Road safety issues
Bridgwater Town Clerk Alan Hurford put the Town Planning panels opposition to the development saying “The design and impact of the proposed new build on the character of the area and the streetscene remains inappropriate and does not satisfy the objectives of the original refusal or the key issues addressed by the Inspector in the appeal decision. The new build pays no regard to the merit of the Public House building and makes no attempt to maintain/re-use iconic features. From the number of units, traffic generation and road safety issues will arise allied to the extra expected increase in traffic volumes on the A38 and new developments in the immediate vicinity. It may be an old fashion word but this is basically overdevelopment.”
Bridgwater councillors on the Committee supported the town position. Cllr Dave Loveridge (Labour,Eastover) saying “The people of Bridgwater won’t accept this. The Hope is a mock Tudor building and this is not reflected in the design . I’m also puzzled by Highways response as this is clearly a problem area for traffic with the junction of Southgate and the new Paragon development they have objected to previous developments with less of an issue so this is a case of double standards.”
Tories support demolition
Out of town Tory councillors lined up however to support the developer. After questions from Cllr Dawn Hill (Con,Cheddar) ascertained that in fact the ‘Space Standard’ was 2-3 metres below the Government guidelines she said that nevertheless “the developer has come back with something more acceptable”
Cllr Mike Facey (Con Burnham) said “Compared to what we saw last time this is now acceptable and so I move that we accept”
Cllr Tim Herbert (Con Burnham) said “Whilst the space standard may be on the low side, if we tried to enforce this it would probably make the project less economically viable for the developer and so I second this motion”
Cllr Alan Bradford (Con North Petherton) said “I don’t like change as much as the next man but sometimes change has got to happen. That’s the world we live in. Taunton road will always be Taunton road. This design is very acceptable. It ain’t the first pub we’re going to lose. It’s become an eyesore and what’s the alternatives”
A sorry message to future developers
The vote went 11 in favour of demolition (10 Conservative 1 UKIP) against 3 (Labour) with one abstention (Cllr Hinckes,Labour Hamp).
Councillor Smedley said after the meeting “Sadly the planning panel have voted to reward the vandalism of this particular developer against an iconic Bridgwater landmark which was loved and fought for by many in the town. There was no attempt at all to seek conversion and this sends a sorry message to future developers who want to cram in quick-buck housing at the expense of our heritage.”