On Friday 6 December, Councillors and residents met up at the Bridgwater Arts Centre for an informal chat about the years key events in the ward at a christmas social. It was a chance to see where we were on certain projects, introduce new developments and exchange forthright views on things that were contentious.
First item under scrutiny was West Quay. It was just over two years since the collapse of the wall on the riverfront had brought misery to many traders and residents but the repairs were now complete and the new pedestrianisation up and running. As far as the wall collapse went most people had now received some form of compensation and the wall itself looked like not collapsing again in the near future. The pedestrianisation,which had come about as a result of a petition by the West Quay Action Group, was now in place but having some teething problems. There were concerns at a newly installed gate which SCC wouldn’t let us lock and inevitably traffic still using the street as a result. Ward councillors had also managed to get the town council to extend the christmas light show onto the Quay this year for the first time. The general view was that pedestrianisation needed time to settle in and people should try to make it work.
The Westover ward includes the town centre west of the river and so a key concern was Town Centre Planning, particularly in the light of the recent jazz cafe rejection by Sedgemoor planners. There was considerable concern at the number of empty shops in the town and discussion as to whether SDC planners had a clear enough policy to encourage people to invest in the town centre. The key reason for the current pressure was obviously the decision to create a new edge of town hub with the Tesco development which was likely to increase the ‘doughnut effect’ which comes from town centre shops being drawn to the periphery where more floor space can be developed and easier parking – however the result means that wherever this happens the town centres have the life sucked out of them and this needs to be recognised and addressed by planning policy.
One of the main features exclusively within the Westover ward is the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal. An underused, some might say neglected, resource that was now finally having some interest shown in it. Pat and Mike from the newly formed Bridgwater & Taunton Canal Association were at the meeting to let us know their aspirations and plans for the canal. Ultimately some form of navigability was aimed at, certainly getting people to take pride and ownership in the resource and maybe getting the dock gates accessible to the river again. Inspiration came from groups like the Brownes Pond community activists who had taken ownership of their stretch of water and turned it’s fortunes around and similarly BATCA aims to promote, protect and raise awareness about this particular gem we had in our midst.
Another gem in our midst was the floodplain of the Meads where plans to build an Eco Park were under scrutiny from nearby residents who feared that houses would be built there. Cllr Kath Pearce was on the steering group and assured people that housing was not planned on the floodplain and that ward councillors would oppose such a scheme -but would support a well thought out project that made the Meads more accessible to the community whilst retaining it’s unique character which she described as “a bit of the Somerset levels in the heart of the town”.
Residents Parking had been a contentious issue but Westover councillors had taken the lead in this along with residents in some of the streets hard pressed since the new parking enforcements had been brought in harshly a year and a half back. Cllr Brian Smedley explained “We had produced a ‘Westover Scheme’ based on street champions, identified the streets and the spaces needed and submitted this to SCC. Time had dragged in the intervening months but recently County had produced and updated their own ‘Residential Parking Zone Guidance’ which could be found on the county website”. Campaigners present at the meeting agreed that in Westover we already met most of the criteria laid down and a meeting in the near future was needed to reconsider and submit our own schemes within the ward.
Another long awaited development was the Skatepark. People had been campaigning for nearly 20 years to get a large skatepark in the town. Finally after achieving 2 smaller neighbourhood parks, westover had been chosen by the young people involved as the preferred location and a major park would be opened at the YMCA this month. The money had come partly from Bridgwater Town Council but also via westover RLT money from SDC. This is money that developers were compelled to contribute when building estates without leisure facilities and go into a communal pot then being reallocated to the different wards of the town. The Westover money had all been chanelled into the skatepark facility. Cllr Steve Austen described the imminent facility as “one of the biggest and best in the south west”.
Somerset County councillor Leigh Redman was able to tell the meeting about the major investment in his Bridgwater South ward (which included Westover and Hamp) as a result of the ‘Bridgwater Way‘ project which brought cycle paths through the south Bridgwater estate into the Westover ward and therefore the town centre, utilising the canal path but also newly constructed thoroughfares.
One area of rolling concern for councillors in the ward was the West Street area. An edge of town centre social housing development with an estate management programme overseen by Homes In Sedgemoor, there were regular estate walkabouts and a seemingly neverending list of repairs needed which also seemed to take an age to get dealt with. The area was also under pressure every September during the Bridgwater Fair when it took the brunt of the population descent for a week in question. Ward councillors had attended all the walkabouts, participated in the Fair working group and Kath Pearce had been elected chair of the residents association. A wall had recently been fixed. Another major boost for the West Street area was the upgrade of Penrose School which Cllr Redman spoke to the meeting about. In particular the parking issues had been addressed with a sizeable pull in space.
Finally the meeting was brought up to speed with the current state of Ward Funding. Town councillors had access to £1,000 a year specifically to allocate to projects within the ward and in addition to this there were pockets of County funding of considerably higher figures that could be accessed. Cllr Redman pointed to a Health & Well Being fund, pump priming money and also a transport fund for such requirements as traffic calming and so on.
Residents wishing to contact ward councillors to take up any of these issue through 2014 can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org