A meeting of Sedgemoor District Council today set the terms of reference for the future of Northgate which included genuine public consultation and the prioritisation of leisure options, enhancement of green space and preservation of buildings of heritage value.
The meeting started with a Labour ammendment to the SDC Medium Term Financial Plan proposed by Cllr Mick Lerry and seconded by Cllr Brian Smedley to ring fence £1million of the windfall saved from the Tesco Compensation to be used for the future of Northgate.
No! To Tesco Windfall
Cllr Smedley (Lab,Westover) said “This money was generated here in Bridgwater and instead of being put into paying off old borrowing should be allocated to whatever project finally gets the go ahead on Northgate. The Tesco Compensation was £5m in total. £4m has rightly been used to fund the replacement swimming pool and so the £1m remaining should be used for pump priming whatever comes out of the consultation with the people of Bridgwater.”
SDC leader Cllr Duncan McGinty (Con, East Polden) said “It is not Council practice to ring-fence funds. As and when a business case for the future of Northgate site is made, the funding would be discussed at that time. The £1,035,000 remaining from the £5.3million compensation payment from Tesco, will used to pay of other borrowings which will save £127,000 per year in interest payments.”
The Labour motion was defeated 33-7 with all Tory (plus the 2 UKIP) councillors backing Cllr McGinty.
Yes! To Leisure,Green space and Heritage
Bridgwater had better luck with a second amendment put by Labour group Leader Cllr Mick Lerry (Lab, Victoria) to a report on Northgate which called for the future consultation on Northgate to involve Bridgwater Town Council and local people at all stages and for “any future discussions with developers to include leisure and recreation and the preservation of historical buildings and green spaces”.
This time the amendment was accepted by Cllr McGinty who said “There is no immediate need to rush into the next steps for the site and there is an opportunity to get it right. To that end, there would be a comprehensive Stakeholder and Community Engagement Plan, to give every opportunity for people to comment.”
The amendment was backed by Cllr Ann Bown (Con,Wembdon) who said “ I never wanted Tesco to be built and always hoped that a leisure provider would come forward instead.”
The amendment was supported and the revised motion agreed unanimously.
Yes! To Community engagement
It was further noted that Somerset County Council intended to explore the possibility of placing a primary school on the site and that this could alter the amount of land available for other development.
The Council also took notice of the comments from the public meeting, held in March at Bridgwater Trinity Hall and agreed to continue to work with SCC and Bridgwater Town Council to take stock of the current property, retail and financial climates. A detailed project plan, including a Stakeholder and Community Engagement Plan, would be prepared by the end of August 2015.
It was further agreed to allocate up to £50,000 from Council resources to make sure that independent and expert property advice is obtained.
The meeting was addressed by members of the public including former councillor Ian Tucker who said “What is the point of building 1,000s of new houses without providing sufficient leisure facilities and open space? We now have a unique opportunity for this council to provide something that the town wants and can be proud of” .
Westover resident Nick Gibson added “Although you have expanded the housing and the industrial estates you are not leaving space for leisure and well being. Green spaces are being built on and you are keen to build on more! It’s time to stop hating the people of Bridgwater and build a town that everyone can be proud of and can enjoy. Please stop bashing Bridgwater”
Look at Northgate afresh and move forward
Cllr Smedley said after the meeting “It’s a shame that the Tories didn’t support our proposals to match the Tesco compensation money with the site that generated it as people clearly see that connection even if they don’t. However, it is positive that the Council is supportive of our plans to look at Northgate afresh and move forward based on full consultation with the people of Bridgwater as outlined by the Town Council. It’s also crucial that they have recognised the key need for leisure, the desire to save green space and to protect our heritage.”
“The next step in determining the future of Northgate will be the launch of the consultation process beginning at the Bridgwater Town Development Forum meeting of August 12th . Now that Sedgemoor and Bridgwater have agreed to work together on this let’s put it to the people.”