“Town Centre needs action now” says Town Team “Two years time will be too late”

mick makes a point
The Town Team takes a long hard look at what needs to be done with input from local councillors,traders and shoppers.

Westover ward councillors Brian Smedley and Kathy Pearce joined the Bridgwater Town Team for a walkabout in the Town Centre talking to traders and shoppers and highlighting problems and solutions.

Starting at the Penel Orlieu end of town the chronic state of the Classic Buildings was a clear problem. Commercial agent Ian Walker said “This is a major entry point to the town centre and something needs to be done fast here.” Town Clerk Alan Hurford agreed saying “This is a gateway that let’s down the town from the outset.” Sedgemoor Chief Executive Kerry Rickards said he “.. believed something would happen here and very quickly.” Commercial agent Lyndon Brett said he was “Frankly embarrassed by the length of time the planning process took. The approach seems to be ‘the answers ‘no’ now what’s the question!?”

‘Specialist shops’ needed

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Mick Lerry, Roger Smith and Phil Adams standing in one of the higher footfall areas of the town centre.

Moving through the High street it was noted that while the Jazz Café had finally been given the go ahead, the delay through strict planning rules, had almost scuppered it. Similarly a lengthy delay on the planned Noodle bar in the old Atmosphere shop, had now resulted in that project being pulled. Lyndon Brett, who has long been a critic of Sedgemoor’s rigid approach to planning, said “Planning is too prescriptive and it needs to be more flexible. It’s better to have a user that can demonstrate some activity than an empty shop which just demonstrates decline. “ However, he pointed to specialist shops such as Inspirational Craft as a good example of a modern approach to retail . “This is a specialist shop which uses postal, online and High street shop window to sell itself. These are the kind of places we want.”

Roger Smith, manager of the Angel Place shopping centre, said “Footfall tapers off between the Penel Orlieu and the shopping centre but picks up between Angel Place and the Cornhill”. He said the idea of ‘shop jackets’ had proven to be successful. These are false fronts for empty shops that suggest what the empty shop could look like “We were told that within 6 months of putting in these shop jackets we would let all the adjacent premises and they were right. “ A similar frontage was suggested for shops like the former Atmosphere.

Town centre parking important for access


Ian Walker said Sedgemoor had “Missed the opportunity of town centre parking by letting the Priory site go for housing instead of for a multi storey car park and now there was no space left”

Cllr Brian Smedley said “If, as seems likely, the Tesco project is withdrawn there’s a further opportunity for parking there”

town team
High footfall seems to suddenly include the Town’s MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

Cllr Mick Lerry, leader of the Labour group on Sedgemoor, agreed, stressing the need for leisure facilities to bring people in “Good cafes in town are also a boon to retaining people in the centre. These provide a place to meet and the town centre needs more leisure facilities to bring people in to it in the first place”

Cllr Kathy Pearce cited the High street café Daisy May’s as a successful example of this with “an attractive frontage, and a novel interpretation on a theme.”

‘Improve the streetscape’

Standing alongside the one day Italian market in Fore street it was clear that the main streets needed tidying up . Bird mess splattered the pavements and weeds grew randomly while empty shops looked on forlornly.

daisy mays
Cllr Kathy Pearce outside Daisy Mays’ attractive frontage.

Mick Lerry said “The Celebration mile project is something that we need to focus on, to brighten up a targeted area such as this. We need to speed this up.”

Ian Walker said “We have to do this now and get on with it. In 2 years time it will be too late. Workers coming to Hinkley Point will be wanting to spend their money in the town and if they can’t find what they want here they’ll just go to Taunton. We also need to be building homes for people on high incomes so we retain those incomes in this town.”

Alan Hurford agreed saying “We need to crack on with the celebration mile so that people can see something happening now.”

West Quay pedestrianisation footfall a success

Moving on to West Quay the success of the pedestrianisation project which was attracting new traders to the street was offset by the ridiculous delay caused by County Council’s failure to process the street trading licences that had been in since last October. Brian Smedley said “These people have done everything they were asked to do. Three premises have applied for chairs and tables outside – four if you anticipate the new Indian restaurant that will go into the old furniture shop and now the good weather’s here they’re missing out on trade.”

west quay shops
Brenda and Dinah outside their ‘Feather Cuts’ hair salon on West Quay alongside the soon to be developed Furniture restaurant.

Brenda Brunskill and Dinah Petrie, who have recently opened the Hair and Beauty salon ‘Feather Cuts’ said “We chose West Quay exactly because of the pedestrianisation and the footfall. The street is becoming a nice little community in itself and a great place to work. Business here is good. “ Cllr Pearce immediately made an appointment.

Alan Hurford said an important development would be works to the town bridge which would help refocus the town on the river “as it always did”.

How and When to ‘market’ Bridgwater

Phil Adams, Sedgemoor’s Economic Development Manager, said planners had to think in longer terms such as 25 to 30 years  to protect areas but this often conflicts with the 5-10 year retail plans that are needed. He pointed to the positive plans for Eastover at the other end of the Town centre where a new hotel would bring people directly into the town to be accommodated and would be done in conjunction with the developments proposed for the former Hospital site.

empty shops
Kerry Rickards and Lyndon Brett discuss ‘Sedgemoor planning policy’

The discussion focussed on how to or even ‘whether to’ market Bridgwater. Could we market it in the state it was currently in? Should we speed up the works on the celebration mile to show what could be done and then market a new look Bridgwater to attract in retailers? Roger Smith stressed the importance of the ‘streetscape’, Kathy Pearce urged better ‘signage’ and Lyndon Brett said we ‘had to work with the commercial realities,being flexible enough to adjust rents and business rates’ .

Ian Walker reminded the group that we had “18 months to 2 years to do this” and believed “the council should take the initiative.”

Brian Smedley summed up “One problem is that there isn’t just one council , there’s three. Town, District and County don’t always sing from the same hymn sheet. But we’ve got to start somewhere and so I’ll be putting this before the Town Council at the next meeting.”


Bridgwater YMCA to benefit from County Ward funds for summer activity

ymca leigh
Cllr Leigh Redman presenting his cheque to Martin Hodgson of the YMCA

Bridgwater South County Councillor Leigh Redman has made a donation from his Somerset Health and Wellbeing Fund that will be used to provide five free places on summer activity weeks at Bridgwater YMCA. Cllr Redman put forward the YMCA in Bridgwater for the fund to promote health, wellbeing, activities and social interaction for children and young people in South Bridgwater.

Cllr Redman presented a cheque to Somerset Coast YMCA Chief Executive Martin Hodgson who runs the successful summer activity scheme in Bridgwater.

Cllr Redman said: “The plan is to assign a fixed amount to benefit as many young people in my Bridgwater South Division as possible. Part of the donation will be used to fully fund around 5 young people to have a full week’s activity programme and to support active living in line with the five ways to wellbeing to the many older young people that use or have need of the YMCA services.”

The land for the park was provided by Bridgwater YMCA
Bridgwater YMCA and it’s canalside location

Holiday activity programmes at the YMCA

Holiday activity programmes at Bridgwater YMCA are open to 8-16 year olds from 0800 – 1800 throughout the year.

For the past eight years, the YMCA in Bridgwater has delivered school holiday care through their Daycamp programme to over 4,000 children a year.

Bridgwater YMCA’s vast experience with, and commitment to, children and young people makes them among one of the best for adventure programmes in Somerset.

The fund is part of a County Council scheme to allow Local County councillors to help and support projects within their divisions.

The Health and Wellbeing Budget Scheme enables each County Councillor to put forward grant proposals in support of local voluntary/community groups and initiatives, aimed at empowering communities to take responsibility for their own health, whilst enabling communities to become more connected and resilient through improved social networking.

The fund is available to community and voluntary groups which supports activities and opportunities which enable local residents to be actively engaged. The scheme is now closed for this year Cllr Redman hopes a new scheme may be opened for 2014-15.

Link to Health and wellbeing for your info & background


Link to YMCA Daycamp detail :-



Tesco Boss say’s “No more new Big Stores”- So does Sedgemoor have a Plan B?

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A line of daffodils marks the northern end of the proposed Tesco storeline

Two springs have passed now since campaigners opposed to the siting of a Tesco Superstore on Westover’s Brewery field marked out the projected size of the store with lines of daffodils in the hope that in future the flowers would remain and Tesco would up sticks elsewhere. Nothing has happened since then despite Tory run Sedgemoor District Council falling over itself to encourage the Multi-National Tescopolists to hurry on their way to concrete over this last bit of Town Centre greenery.

But now it seems Tesco might be doing exactly what Sedgemoor doesn’t want and scrapping plans for future expansion. Westover Councillor Brian Smedley, who campaigned against the store, has issued a warning that Tesco look set to pull out following the recent announcement by Tesco’s Chief Executive that the company were scrapping plans to develop a range of new Tesco Extra’s.

Cllr Smedley said “The long unexplained delay in progressing the Bridgwater Development is now beginning to make sense. The Development Management Committee resolved to grant consent for the proposed 60,000ft2 Tesco Extra in September last year yet 8 months later we appear no closer to the development actually starting. The Labour Group have been pressing the Council’s Leadership for an update on this development and for any comment on the rumours of this cancellation for sometime but have been met by a wall of silence. The latest national announcement from Tesco’s appears to be the final nail in the coffin for this development.” Continue reading “Tesco Boss say’s “No more new Big Stores”- So does Sedgemoor have a Plan B?”

Third Time Lucky as Jazz Cafe wins Planning consent

Jazz Blues Cafe
Jazz Blues Cafe finally passes at Planning committee

First deferred and then rejected, Bridgwater’s long awaited and hotly contested Jazz Café has finally won planning consent from Sedgemoor’s Development Control Committee at it’s third sitting on the topic.

The application for ‘change of use’ to the former bookshop premises at 18 High Street,Bridgwater was submitted by SRL Promotions and had previously been rejected by a slim majority of planners due to an adherence to the rigid planning policy set out in the Core Strategy, seen by some as the ‘bible’ for local planners. This time round, and after a lengthy period of marketing had failed, Planning officers changed their recommendation to one of acceptance . As this was a departure from planning policy it had to go back to committee for a decision.

‘Remove the Scourge of vacant shops’

Cllr Brian Smedley
“Support people who are prepared to invest in the town” Cllr Brian Smedley

Westover Councillors have supported this application throughout and at the meeting Cllr Brian Smedley summed up their position. “For us the town centre is not only the focal point to our ward it’s also the defining heart of Bridgwater and as such it needs to thrive and develop. Planning policies must be flexible enough to encourage the limited number of developers gingerly coming forward and therefore if others see this happening, if others appreciate the flexibility and acknowledge that this council is prepared to back them then maybe we can inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to take up these vacant shops and revitalise our town centre.We need to be supporting initiatives such as the one proposed here for the High street and to encourage enterprise and to remove the scourge of vacant shops, we need to have a flexible policy towards the town centre and so I urge you to grasp the nettle , approve this and show people who are prepared to invest in our town centre that you’re prepared to support them.”

‘Allow our town to grow’

Cllr Leigh Redman
“Allow our town to grow” Cllr Leigh Redman

Cllr Leigh Redman, Somerset County Councillor for Bridgwater South which includes the town centre also attended and spoke in support saying “I was surprised by the previous deferral and then refusal of such a positive application which can only add to the vitality of the town centre. It is clearly a different .idea to other cafes and has an extra dimension. We should support projects like this an allow our town to grow.”

Agent Lyndon Brett who had campaigned long and hard to demonstrate that the Planning policy could be flexible enough to allow the Jazz café, also spoke at the meeting saying “ Within an atmosphere of the decline of provincial towns and the adverse effect of out of town supermarkets the planning system needs to focus on viable options for economic stimulus within our town centre. The consequence could be an increase in empty shops, loss of business rates and other adverse impacts”

Mayor of Bridgwater Dave Loveridge speaking from within the committee summed up the general feeling agreeing that the case had now been made that after a lengthy period of marketing and officers changing their position to one of support, he could now also support the project. The proposal was supported 8 votes to 1 with 3 abstentions.


Bridgwater Councillor jumps off Roof

ab 1
Hanging around

When you’re standing on top of  one of Taunton’s tallest buildings looking down at the terrified throngs of admiring supporters below and wondering whether it was actually such a good idea  that you’d decided to abseil  down the side in order to raise money for charity, it’s probably good to see a couple of Tory councillors go over the top first.

Cllr Leigh Redman , with his Fire Brigade training, looked on with quiet confidence as Ilminster Tory Linda Vijeh, dressed as a clown , and Huntspill Tory Mark Healey, dressed as a Huntspill Tory, tumbled over the parapet ahead of him, plummetting gracefully into the waiting arms and collection bucket  of Tory Chairman David Fothergill in the grounds of County hall below.

On the streets below, Leigh’s loved ones were busy comforting his wife and daughter as they waited nervously clutching insurance documents and then wondering why he’d suddenly decided to dress in a monkey suit for the deathplunge. But then it turned out that the pavement bound ape was none other than Independent councillor for Lydeard, Mike Rigby and that Leigh had actually decided to leave his own monkey costume at home.

Over the top
Over the top

Finally with no blood spilt on the  floor and no Tories descending through the surface as the earth opened up before them and just as the crowds were planning to give up and go for a coffee, over came Cllr Redman dressed as an erstwhile member of the SAS (reserve) with only his red and green daps  to identify  him for the forensic team. Not content to tread nervously down the sheer drop and refusing to  stumble comically like the others, the high wire member bounded like a spring chicken (well, a chicken on springs) down the side like a runaway spacehopper leaping from floor to floor  and with a death defying landing on the civic pergola of the chairman below

Somerset County Council had  teamed up with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue to host one of the most exciting and thrilling charity challenges of the year in the West Country; all for the benefit of three really great charities!

All funds raised will be equally divided between Somerset Community Foundation (raising vital funds for flood affected Somerset communities), the National Autistic Society and Somerset Trust for Arts & Recreation – a local charity that provides those little extras for disadvantaged children and also raising vital funds for flood affected communities and SCC’s Chairman’s Charities.

You can still donate to Cllr Redman’s page www.justgiving.com/lrabseil