When the Government announced a major funding scheme for various towns around the country just before the 2019 election and they mainly seemed to be in Conservative marginals, there was a degree of scepticism. However, Bridgwater didn’t quite fit that bill. A Labour town in a ‘safe’ Tory constituency benefitting from a big bag of cash nudged gently into view seemed like an opportunity that had to be grasped irrespective of politics. Bridgwater Town Council Leader Brian Smedley said “There are projects in this town for which we have needed capital funding for a long time. The town has been in decline since the 1970s when the powers of the Borough were removed and handed to the newly created Sedgemoor. That conflict of interest along with decades of Government cutbacks affecting Bridgwater and towns like ours across the country meant that we suffered during those years. This money offered now goes some way to redressing that and we have made a conscious decision to work closely with Sedgemoor to ensure that this money, if offered genuinely, now goes to the right places. Number one priority for us is saving the Bridgwater Docks , caught between operators CRT and owners Somerset County Council and now at a 5 minutes to midnight moment as boaters are being compelled by these two to vacate the docks. Only with Town Deal Money and the transfer of ownership to Town Council can they be saved.”
Councillor Smedley continued “Then there’s the Carnival project, the Bridgwater Arts Centre, the Town Hall theatre, the Tidal Barrier and the long promised Celebration mile. All of these projects are teetering in the balance due to the need for capital investment to complete. We therefore put our best man, Councillor Mick Lerry, on the job. Mick is a long serving councillor, a popular local teacher and an experienced Trades Union negotiator. He is our Economy Portfolio Holder and in Mick we trust.”
Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour, Victoria), the BTC Town Fund Board representative, spoke to us on the subject of the Town Deal “Bridgwater Town Council Welcomes the 22.5 million government funding for the Bridgwater Town Fund investment plan. The funding will support many of the projects identified in the investment plan submitted to government in January 2021. Town Centres have been under real challenges with the development of out-of-town retail development and there is a need to get back to making sure our Town Centre remains an important destination for the local community and people visiting Bridgwater”.
Cllr Mick Lerry went on to say: “Within the investment plan there is funding to develop the heritage sites and activities in Bridgwater, such as the Docks, Celebration Mile, Carnival, Arts Centre, Somerset Film and the Town Hall Theatre. The refurbishment of these areas will help to activate events within the Town to encourage local residents to enjoy the Town Centre and increase footfall for local independent retail and businesses. Bridgwater Town Council will be working with the Town Team, Chamber of Commerce, SDC and the leisure and hospitality sector to enhance the experience of the Town Centre”.
“The Town Fund will also support businesses in the Town Centre, by providing units
and premises for entrepreneurs to develop their independent business. The aim of
Bridgwater Town Council is to make sure that Bridgwater Town Centre, becomes an
important destination, which will give opportunity and grow the local economy”, said
Cllr Mick Lerry, explained: “I have been working with Cllr Brian Smedley and other portfolio holders on Bridgwater Town Council, to make sure that the capital funding from Government, will help the repair and recovery from Covid, and strengthen the resilience of the Town Centre for the future. At the same time Cllr Brian Smedley is working with SDC on the Northgate and Brewery Field development, to connect with the capital investment from the Town Fund”.
“There are other capital infrastructure projects in the Town Fund, which will ease congestion at junction 23 and the River Parrett Barrage to protect the Town from flooding. Measures will be put in place to tackle Anti-Social Behaviour, which is important to the people of Bridgwater, who completed the Town Fund survey. The Bridgwater Carnival and clubs have been affected by Covid and it will be important to make sure the funding aids the Carnival clubs' recovery for the future Carnival events”, said Mick.
Cllr Mick Lerry said: “As the Board representative it was important to make sure that the investment plan covered the major proposals in the submission from Bridgwater Town Council, which were a major part of the Bridgwater Town Fund invest plan and I now look forward to the delivery stage for the people of Bridgwater”.
Cllr Smedley added “One disappointment for us is that the Government rulers vested the main powers here to Sedgemoor and we are allowed just one delegate on that Board. And that’s odd seeing as the focus should be on Towns. However, we are confident that Mick has played a key role in getting what we want out of this.”
Devil in the detail
Mayor of Bridgwater Cllr Leigh Redman (Hamp, Labour) said “I am truly excited by the announcement, but the devil will be in the detail, there appears to be a funding gap, between the full bid and the premature announcement of the top line figure, that went out on Monday. I hope that the shortfall does not include some of the smaller improvements that would really help Bridgwater people, I look forward to being able to see the full list of successful items, the we can all start to drive these items to benefit our town.”