For as long as we can all remember, Bridgwater has been a smaller part of something bigger. Whether it was the abolition of the popular, historic and radical Bridgwater Borough Council in 1974 when they created Sedgemoor District Council and Bridgwater lost it’s ancient privileges and freedoms and much of its wealth to an over-wide and not especially poorer hinterland of Tories from Cheddar to Burnham or whether it was the creation of the Bridgwater and West Somerset Parliamentary Constituency that has seen a lifelong, permanent and un-moveable Tory majority based on remote and rural backwaters across the Quantocks, the Brendons, and Exmoor, in fact as far as the Devon border. But all that’s about to change. In May this year there will be elections to a re-strengthened Bridgwater Town Council and a strong Bridgwater presence on the new Unitary Council, with Sedgemoor nowhere to be seen after next year. And then, on the horizon, is the next bit of good news…the news that could see Ian Liddell-Grainger, and any future rural Tory out for good as the new Boundary Commission proposals see a tightening of Bridgwater’s Constituency closer to the town itself. Making it a Labour target seat! Today, Bridgwater Town Council Leader Brian Smedley, travelled to Bath to make the case at the Boundary Commissions public enquiry.
Smedley recalls his Bath Time
“Bath Assembly rooms are the focal point of British Imperial splendor, modeled as they are on Roman Imperial splendor. But they’re not in Somerset anymore and neither is Bath. Countless boundary changes have seen modern Somerset reduced in size to the current County Council based in Taunton, soon to become a unitary. Bath (and North East Somerset) already is one. Yet again the future of Bridgwater was already being decided by someone else. There wasn’t even a Boundaries Commission hearing in modern Somerset. So Bath it was. And the Assembly Rooms were an appropriate setting. High elaborate ceilings, a mighty screen and powerful projector connected to a computer, lines and lines of maybe 100 chairs….. and 2 people in the audience. A further 2 people sat taking notes and running the meeting, another 2 sat outside on the ‘who are you then?’ desk and a further bod operated the tech stuff. “
I asked what I presumed were the Boundary Commission Bouncers if I had to wait until my allotted time of 1150. “No, you’re the only one here” the (I’m guessing) Oxbridge Graduate replied “You can go straight in if you like.” So i did. Get away early. Have a look around Bath. Have a cake. Sorted.
Summoned to the front table, asked to sit down by one of two ‘Commissioners’ then instructed “No, don’t look at us!” and “Look to the front” I was mildly nervous about the sudden possible appearance of a rat in a cage 2 inches from my face if I got anything wrong. My fears were unfounded. But that didn’t stop my glasses falling off. Well, sliding down the rapidly moistening bridge of my nose as sweat dripped from my forehead . A teenage condition based on the fear of school prefects. And dinner ladies.
“Get on with it” said the the female Commissioner. Encouragingly. I’ll just do it i thought. Cake beckoned.
“In fact, we absolutely welcome the Boundary Commissions proposals. Restoring Bridgwater to a sensible parliamentary boundary which actually makes sense is long overdue. Bridgwater is the fastest growing town in Somerset and has a historic character that sets it apart. It has literally nothing in common with the far flung hills and dales of West Somerset and everything common with it’s immediate hinterland around the town itself, up to the eastern foothills of the Quantocks, the southern edge of Sedgemoor, the western ridge of the Poldens and the immediate Parrett estuary around Burnham and Highbridge. That’s the Bridgwater area. Basically, South Sedgemoor. And we lost this integrity in 1974 when they created Sedgemoor and destroyed Bridgwater Borough. So it’s good to have it back”
“In fact, when they created Sedgemoor they also included the Quantock Vale ward. That’s the coastal area around Hinkley Point. But within a year they’d carved that off and handed it to West Somerset – a failed and short lived, pointless district council. We’d like that back as well please. It makes no sense to put Hinkley Point into the new constituency that includes, for Gods sake, ‘Tiverton’ , when quite clearly Bridgwater is the town singularly affected the most by the Hinkley project. Europe’s largest building site. Soon to be followed by Gravity on the other side of Bridgwater. Once we’ve recovered those coastal areas , added to Burnham and Highbridge we can justifiably call ourselves Bridgwater Bay again. The name originally offered to us, before they settled on Sedgemoor….clearly, a way to bury not just the name but the whole concept of Bridgwater. And now we’d like it back. Please.”
Bring it on Home
That made the point. “Thank you” they said. No thunderous applause, just a mild fluttering of papers and clicking of fingers as the tech bod tried to find where indeed he was and why Baby Spice on a skateboard was not disappearing back into his screen saver. “Any questions?” the nice lady asked. The 2 members of the audience remained unmoved. They either weren’t interested or were in fact there to put the case for moving Cullompton into Cornwall at a later stage of the day. The footsteps echoed as I exited. Probably a bit like Julius Caesars would have done after his return to the Roman Senate after the great victory at Alesia in 52 BC. Although his winklepickers probably didn’t squeak embarrassingly with every step….
Job done. Cake.
Note to editors -This is not what I actually said, but what I think I probably said. A bit like when Abraham Lincoln tried to remember the Gettysburg Address later that night….After watching the football.