For a couple of years now it’s gone very quiet over on the Meads. Back in July 2012 Sedgemoor District Council voted to support an SPD (Supplementary Planning Document) for the delivery of an Eco Park. At the same time a land deal allowed developer owned land on the Meads to come into public ownership through the council in return for land in the Durleigh end of town becoming available for housing development.
Both the Eco Park and the Housing development have been controversial projects with much unfounded speculation that the Meads , which regularly floods of a winter, might be built on. At the same time residents in Durleigh have been fighting a campaign to stop an unrelated housing development in their back yard .
The initial confusing of these two projects and their now final separation has made the picture a lot clearer.
42 Acres of the Meads Now in Public Ownership
The access land has now been transferred to Summerfield Developments in exchange for which 42 acres of the Meads is now in the ownership of Sedgemoor District Council . Summerfield are likely to start works on the access road in the North West corner of St Matthews Field in the next month or so. Undertakings have been given by Summerfield to ensure that the operation of Bridgwater Fair is not compromised.
This week Westover councillors were on the newly re-established Meads Working Party to take forward the SPD and focus on how an Eco Park can be delivered on the Meads.
Cllr Brian Smedley , who was on the working party and later toured the site, said “Land just south of the Fairfield and beyond Durleigh Brook , known as ‘Area 2’, has now been transferred to Sedgemoor and will be the start point for an Eco Park. Land adjoining this to the East, and buffering Brownes Pond ,known as ‘Area 10’, will shortly be coming up for Auction and so it’s use is uncertain. Some people have contacted us afraid that this could be used for Housing. The first point to emphatically stress is the terms of the SPD clearly rule this out. None of the Meads will be used for Housing. There remains a further area of private land , ‘Area 4’ , between the Witches Brook rhyne system and the Hamp Brook – and two further areas to the far west, as yet unattributed. The first step in all this is to look at ‘Area 2’- the Sedgemoor land and how to make it genuinely accessible to the public.”
Is a ‘New Bridge’ the answer?
One plan that has been on the table for some time is a proposed new bridge which would provide access from the YMCA over the tow path into the Meads which, in line with the aspirations for the Eco Park, would open the area up for access for all with free parking at the YMCA for disabled and able people alike so everyone can enjoy and access the area. The YMCA is supportive, the Inland Waterways Association not so.
However, with the gap between aspiration and actuality still floating somewhere between head and table, there still needs some convincing to be done. The designs submitted suggest a sizeable structure to maintain navigation and the bridge also spanning the towpath. Westover councillors Smedley and Pearce, were joined on the working party by Wyndham ward councillors Slocombe and Baker and none seemed keen on the bridge as put forward in an initial outline feasibility study produced by Sustrans.
Cllr Smedley said “The view across the canal onto the Meads and out to the Quantocks in the distance is one of the best in the locality and needs to be preserved so I’m not sure a high bridge in the middle of this vista achieves that. In truth it’s also not too far to the other two nearby bridges and there are several other access points onto the Meads which could be used more sensitively. I think the key to any future development at all has to be sensitivity. I don’t think you preserve any natural environment by building big structures on it or trampling it underfoot in the rush. The bridge proposed would be at least 2.2metres above the town path to allow people to pass under it. Furthermore this proposed bridge is barely 100 metres from the Albert Street Bridge , not too far from the Brownes Pond Bridge and for parts of the year will lead you straight into a lake.”
Protecting and Enhancing the Wildlife
While the jury remains out on the bridge, the support for the wider aims of the Meads was expressed by Cllr Kathy Pearce who said “This will be a real opportunity to protect and enhance the wildlife on The Meads. It is a long term project which aims to improve access to enable walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users to enjoy this piece of the Levels in the heart of the town.”
One key purpose behind the Eco Park project is to increase access for the 3,000+ primary and secondary school children in the vicinity of the Meads. County Councillor Leigh Redman says “ I understand that future plans would open up the route from Hamp over the Meads towards Durleigh. This has to be a good thing for old and young to have a safe, dry and open route over the Meads, forming part of the inner and outer cycle routes. Opening up our town for safer car free movements would be a wonderful thing.”
Nearby the Meads is Brownes Pond where the local community have taken it on themselves to tidy up the place and take ownership of it’s future.
Often cited as an inspiration for what public intervention and ownership could mean for natural enclaves in our communities, the Brownes Pond Group however, have not always been comfortable with developments nearby. Recently the issue of the Hamp Ward footpath has cropped up as the Bridgwater Way project has intervened to suggest adaptations to the conflict of pedestrian and cyclist use of the same lanes.
Cllr Leigh Redman says “I think the work that The Bridgwater Way are doing is great for our community, to improve the way people can walk or cycle through the estate, safely getting into town has to be a benefit. The work near Browne’s pond is currently at consultation stage, with the proposal to upgrade the walking/cycle path next to the pond, one of the obstacles that we are having is that SCC want to put a 1.4 meter fence along each side, I think this will add to safety but make the track feel a little more claustrophobic, The path along Browne’s pond is the most important bit of the Bridgwater Way in my opinion, as it is the access that the majority of people use when travelling into town, I want the best for us and will welcome peoples thoughts. The Canal path looks great and could be used as a model for the Browne’s pond path, I have already got TBW to agree to replace any trees they remove to make the path wider.”
Public consultation on the Meads is due to open later this year and Westover councillors welcome your comments.