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’
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, 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.