The second meeting of the new Town Development Forum , chaired by Westover Councillor Brian Smedley and sponsored by Bridgwater Town Council, chose to look at the ‘Bridgwater Vision’ and had as it’s guest speaker Phil Adams from Sedgemoor District Council.
Mr Adams spoke about the ‘Bridgwater Vision’ document which had been launched in 2008 when the Bridgwater of the time identified it’s problems as a low wage low skill economy, rising unemployment, below average educational achievement and a poor road network. However, in 2008 they noted the ‘light levels of congestion’.
A ‘Vibrant and Sustainable Market Town’
The end result of this 50 year plan was to provide a ‘vibrant and sustainable market town’, one which was ‘greener’ with ‘strong retail’ and a ‘high skilled workforce’.
So how were they doing? Were the targets right and were we on track to achieving them.
Mr Adams described several major infrastructure projects coming to the area which were game changers, notably ‘Hinkley point’ , ‘Morrisons and the North east Bridgwater mixed-use development, the ‘Eastover Hotel’, ‘the Bridgwater Hospital’ and crucially the ‘Parrett Barrage’. He also pointed to key initiatives which would tackle the built environment such as the ‘Celebration mile’ which was designed to improve the streetscape of the town, the pedestrianisation of the Town Centre waterfront, and the inward investment attracted to revamp Bridgwater Railway Station.
Bridgwater Docks-Somerset’s ‘best kept secret’
Mike Slade (Inland Waterways) said “The Bridgwater Vision should look at the Docks as well as the Railway station and then work inwards to the Town centre from there. The Docks , river and canal could be a great economic boost to the town for tourism and economic regeneration but we don’t even have a tourism office in the town”
Phil Shepherd (Somerset Film and Video) said “Bridgwater is lucky to have the Carnival and the Fair but the Town isn’t just that, there’s a whole wealth of cultural richness which we should bring into play. This year the Art Centre is celebrating it’s 70th anniversary, we have the new McMillan theatre at the College and at the Engine room we’re launching a Bridgwater TV station.”
Dave Chapple (Bridgwater Trades Union Council) agreed “The Docks are a unique asset to Bridgwater and the best kept secret in Somerset. Along with other aspects of Bridgwater’s heritage we need to redouble our efforts to ensure County preserve it along with the Blake Hospital as part of the Northgate development. But we also have to express concern at the wholesale destruction of the pubs in this town. Developers are taking wrecking balls to them and any vision should put a stop to that and that should have started with the Hope inn”
Phil Adams said “It is a serious problem but sometimes when people set up Community trusts to try to save a building it can end up becoming an albatross and they can’t progress it for lack of funding. A case in point is the Concrete Castle which was taken on by the SAFE trust who are struggling to advance the project”
Need a vision for the ‘People’ not the ‘Developer’.
Rhiann Childs (Military Boats) urged SDC to attract external funding, “..maybe from Europe or from the LEP” which she said “had replaced the RDA in terms of strategic funding.”
Phil Adams said he used to work for the RDA and the days of large scale funding coming from the public realm had gone. “Today we have to beg, borrow and steal every penny. Any major project will be reliant on private funding”
Glen Burrows (Senior Citizens Forum) said “When the sorry Tesco project first came about we were told there was no alternative because ‘the Developer was king’ well, we need a vision of what the town wants for its people and not what the developer wants”
Derek Gibson (Civic Society) said “There needs to be some vision from the Local Authority. They need to be proactive.”
Nick Gibson (Bridgwater Forward) asked “Does Sedgemoor maybe not promote tourism in Bridgwater in case it draws tourists away from Burnham or Cheddar? There isn’t even a Tourist Office here”
Mr Adams said there wasn’t even a tourist office in Cheddar these days although the community managed to maintain one in Burnham. He added that plans for a tourism outlet in the town were being talked about this very week and an announcement was imminent.
Ken Jones (North street residents) said “The signage on the motorways is poor. People always say they drive straight past Bridgwater, and it’s no wonder as everywhere but Bridgwater is mentioned on these signs! Cheddar, Wookey Hole, Glastonbury but not Bridgwater.”
Phil Adams admitted signage was an area they needed to improve and he would discuss this with the Town Council.
Roger Smith (Town Team) said “Bridgwater is actually a good place to shop, it’s just the perception. We don’t have a high shop vacancy rate – Taunton is higher, it’s just spread out more. There’s also issues regarding repairs, damaged lamp-posts, cleaning, signage…. If the Town Team had a budget we could deal with these things but at the moment we have to constantly ask SDC and there’s no programme to get it done.”
Cllr Smedley said that the next meeting of the Forum would be mid November when the main issue would be the Northgate consultation.