At its Annual Town Meeting , chaired by new Mayor cllr Leigh Redman (Dunwear South) , the new Bridgwater Town Council laid out its plans for the years ahead and opened up the floor of a packed meeting for the people to have their say on the future of their town.
New Town Council Leader Brian Smedley (Westover) introduced the meeting with a discussion on the future of Northgate, the main issue held over from the last Council. Cllr Smedley said he had met with SDC Corporate Director Doug Bamsey at the earliest opportunity after the elections to put to him “..the commitments made at the Special meeting of March 24th and the case for an open book approach to any plans for post-Tesco Northgate that had to involve the people of Bridgwater” and had been met with a favourable response.
Public Engagement on Northgate
“The first point to make is that there is no longer a financial imperative for Sedgemoor to gain a Capital Receipt for the sale of Northgate. The compensation deal with Tesco effectively paid off the new swimming pool and the land remains in Local Authority ownership. It’s important though to note that this Land is owned partly by SDC and partly by SCC and whilst they have the legal rights to dispose of it as they wish they both need to realise that they are custodians on behalf of the people of Bridgwater”.
Cllr Smedley continued “It’s therefore important that we decide what we want on there and speak with one voice –which is why Bridgwater Town Council, as the closest voice to the people of Bridgwater, needs to take the lead in this. Our position remains firstly to maintain the green space, secondly to urge a Leisure & Recreation led usage and finally that this is complimentary not damaging to the existing town centre”
Proposal for a Town Development Forum
Sedgemoor would now conduct a review to decide what approach they would take. Whether they would continue to market the place as a single unit or if SDC & SCC would now go their separate ways.
Cllr Smedley continued “We need to engage with them to achieve what WE want and so we are proposing to set up a Town Development Forum to act as not just a ready made consultative body but to develop the many ideas already coming through from the people of Bridgwater . This proposal has been supported by Doug Bamsey who has said he is willing to attend and support this Forum.”
Following the SDC/SCC officers meeting (scheduled for June 9) a report will go to the SDC Capital Planning Group on 11 June and Bamsey will be recommending that a new Northgate project be put to SDC members thus kick-starting a consultation process that will involve the people of Bridgwater
Cllr Smedley said “Options that will be on the Sedgemoor table will obviously include Retail , Housing and Leisure . In any case the emphasis had to be on sustainability and viability. What is also crucial is how Northgate relates to other nearby sites. SDC owns the Brewery field, the Splash site & the Carparks while SCC owns the Blake hospital/Workhouse area, but we also need to consider the inclusion or effect on neighbouring sites such as the Docks, the Magistrates Court, the Police station –the new McCarthy & Stone residential units, the Allotments , Piggy Hill and of course the Town Centre. “
Preserving Bridgwater’s Heritage
The Mayor opened up the discussion to the floor .
Dave Chapple (Civic Society) called for a “written undertaking from Somerset County Council not to demolish the historic Workhouse building on their site”.
Ian Tucker (Bridgwater Forward) said “Northgate was a windfall for the Council as Tesco had paid for the new pool but while SDC and SCC may own Northgate WE pay our council tax so they ‘mind it for us’ and therefore we should have the biggest say on what happens there.”
Glen Burrows (Senior Citizens Forum) said “We are sick of being ignored and so we support the Town Development Forum to give us a voice – but when will the first meeting be?”
Cllr Smedley answered that the proposals would go to the Town Council meeting of 11th June and he would convene a meeting immediately after that. He then outlined the new Town Council’s Forward Plan for the next 4 years which he said “Would implement the manifesto we fought the election on and the basis of that was open-ness, accountability and inclusion.” The full outline for the implementation of the Town Council Forward Plan can be found here.
Find new uses for existing buildings
The Mayor then took wider issues from the floor.
Dave Chapple (Civic Society) urged that the Town Council “look at the maximum precept they could set to fund their programme and also that they appeal to the Boundaries commission to expand the town to include the edge of town estates that were currently outside the town boundaries”. He also urged “more positive action regarding the registration of Community Assets and pointed to pubs such as the Mansion House, the White Hart and the Cobblestone”
Nick Gibson (Bridgwater Forward) urged a look at ‘Landmark laws’ pioneered in New York stressing that we needed to preserve and use what we have and not let them fall into ruin or the hands of irresponsible developers. “We need to find new uses for existing buildings, shout louder for what we want and have a passion for what we’ve got.”
Is Bridgwater benefiting from New Nuclear?
Roger Crab (Civic Society) was concerned that Bridgwater was not benefiting from the Community Impact Mitigation Fund set up by EDF yet other areas seemed to be doing so at our expense.
Alan Hurford (Town Clerk) said there were numerous bids in currently from the Town Council that were aiming to specifically redress that issue.
Bob Cudlipp (Bridgwater Forward) urged the formation of a Transport Forum.
State of the Town’s streets and monuments
Glen Burrows (Senior Citizens Forum) pointed to the degeneration of Bridgwater’s heritage citing the state of key historic locations such as the Blake statue and it’s irregular cleaning plus the Watergate remnant of the Castle which was in a sorry state.
Chris Hooper (Bridgwater Forward) said “the cleanliness of the town needed addressing, the liaison with Police needed improving and cyclists using pavements were often a law unto themselves”.
Other issues raised included the state of the Bristol road cemetery, the failure to clean the river and its slipways and the disrepair of the ‘Concrete Castle’.
Well done Town Council!
Dave Chapple summed up the feeling of the meeting “If it wasn’t for the Town Council we wouldn’t have a Blake Museum, we wouldn’t have an Arts Centre. This is because the Town Council is run by people who live and work in the town and educate their children here, while Sedgemoor District Council is not. The vast majority of Sedgemoor councillors DON’T live in the town, work in the town or educate their children in the town and so don’t care about the town. Well Done Town Council!”