For over a year now the future of Bridgwater’s famous Docks has been in doubt as its owner Somerset County Council and Canal and River Trust, who operate the Docks, have discussed termination of the lease. Caught in the middle are the boating community who live there and trying to bring all sides together to find a solution is Bridgwater Town Council. Finally, as the end of April deadline set by Somerset County Council for boaters to leave the Docks approaches, Bridgwater Town Council managed to get all sides around a table to agree a way forward and things are looking up again. How we got here is reported below.
Deputy Leader of Bridgwater Town Council, Councillor Kathy Pearce (Westover) has been integral to this whole project. She adds “Bridgwater Docks is quite an unusual environment and important heritage asset to the town. If you try to find anywhere else like it in the south west, you will struggle. The boats have been part of that and bring the docks to life with a community that has evolved. However, it is also obviously apparent that the condition has been allowed to deteriorate and so, things came to a head when Canal and River Trust announced that they would not be renewing their lease. This is certainly an unsettling time for all concerned and especially stressful for the boat owners. After months of discussions, we must be reassured there is a lot of detail being worked through to try to find solutions for the interim period for the boat owners and for the long term aspirations for the docks, which is to see them restored to a fully functional marina and a home to both live aboard boat owners and leisure boats alike.”
Support from the Inland Waterways
Local groups like the Inland Waterways volunteers, organised by Mike Slade, have dedicated themselves over the years to keeping the docks and canal clean.
Key member Patsy Robinson has also promoted several festivals to highlight the potential for the area.
Ray Alexander from Inland Waterways Association says ”The Inland Waterways Association wishes to see a long term and sustainable future for Bridgwater Docks and supports the proposed relocation of the boats along the Bridgwater-Taunton Canal on a temporary basis, pending the future of the Docks being resolved.”
Backing from the Boaters
Tim Gilbert, spokesman for the boaters, says “Although our best aspirations as boaters were to remain within the docks while the lease handover went through, we realise there needs to be a period of vacation to assist with the finalisation for CRT to hand the docks back to the Somerset County Council. Me and Ted have been doing our best to work alongside the other boaters to ensure the best possible outcome and avoid the compete removal and upheaval of lives and community. The past two weeks I have been quite taken aback by CRT’s compassion, understanding and willingness to start working with us and hope for a good relationship in the future. We would also like the thank the local community of Bridgwater for the support they have shown in this stressful time”
Town Council Backs Retention of ‘Key Heritage Site’
Leader of Bridgwater Town Council, Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) says “When it became clear that the future of the docks was in jeopardy and someone had to step in to save this crucial piece of Bridgwater’s heritage we knew that was the job of the Town Council. That’s what we did with the Town Hall, the Museum and the Arts Centre. Somerset were keen to dispose of the site, Sedgemoor weren’t willing to take it on and so it was down to us. Crucial to this whole process are the boating community themselves and organisers Tim Gilbert and Ted Atkinson (who himself has spent 33 years in this lifestyle of choice) have been brilliant in rallying and co-ordinating the people affected. Finally, after our important meeting last week there’s light at the end of the tunnel, a solution is on hand and whilst at some point the docks will be vacant of boats, people should now not be overly concerned at the time this happens because an alternative will have been offered. This looks likely to be along the banks of the Bridgwater-Taunton Canal rather than the boats having to be hoisted ignominiously out of the docks by crane and sent off to some dry dock or other canal location. We really do need boats IN the dock when we take them on. I know this is all over social media right now, but we have been talking behind the scenes for a long time and things still need keeping circumspect until they’re finalised. I hope people will understand, and will welcome this development.”