Town Traders in Face to Face meeting with EDF

leigh traders
Cllr Leigh Redman chairs a meeting with Traders and EDF at Bridgwater Town Hall

The second meeting of Traders angry about the effect that EDF road works are having on their turnover was held at the Town Hall on Wednesday 1st April and chaired by County Councillor for Bridgwater South Leigh Redman. This time EDF were present to face their critics directly.

Traders present included Biddiscombes, Loft Fashions, Autosave, West Country Meats, Aclands, Somerset Carpenters, Bridge Restaurant, Judiths Bakery, Rossiters, Broadway Taxis, Patt Watts Motorcycles, Armoury Gallery, Elkins Tyres, and  Autosave. Also present were ward councillors Brian Smedley and Kathy Pearce,  Cllr Ian Dyer (SDC vice chair/ Blackmoor farm) Alan Hurford (BTC Town Clerk) and  Andy Slocombe(Bridgwater News).

EDF reps present included Ross Edwards (Communications) Lucy Holt (Project Manager) and Geoff Colenso (Aggregate Industries-site manager). SDC reps present included Rebecca Miller (planning) Sam Harper (Senior Planning Officer -Hinkley C ).  SCC failed to send anyone.

Cllr Redman chaired the meeting and explained the background. “EDF, as part of the terms of their planning agreement for the nuclear new build, had undertaken to do ‘improvements’ to various Bridgwater junctions and were under contract from SCC. The works on the Taunton rd A39/39 junction were being carried out by Aggregate industries, had started in February and were due to take 12 months. Bridgwater Town Council had consistently argued that the works were not necessary and that a by-pass should have been provided instead. Traders in St Mary street after 2 months of living with this had noticed a serious fall in turnover and were demanding action –whether it be compensation, rate relief or speeding up of the works process and had demanded a meeting with EDF,SCC and SDC to put their case. This meeting is the result of that.”

£7 million Mitigation fund

Outside the meeting, traffic builds up in the High street as drivers try to negotiate the road works
Outside the meeting, traffic builds up in the High street as drivers try to negotiate the road works

Ross Edwards said “EDF recognised the difficulties that would be caused and as a result had created a mitigation fund of £7m which had now left our account and was in the hands of SDC, SCC and West Somerset to be administered as they felt best met mitigation needs for their communities.”

Rebecca Miller (SDC) said “These funds are administered through the CIM fund (Community Impact Mitigation) and the rules for their allocation are strictly controlled by the section 106 legal agreement attached to the planning permission. The funds are to be allocated to projects which promote or improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the community and can’t be used for compensation. There are separate contributions and funds that have been received which will go towards the Celebration Mile and the train station upgrade and these projects will enhance the town centre.

Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover)  said  “The reason traders were angry was because their businesses were suffering because of these works and that there needs to be a way for them to access this fund if it is genuinely designed for mitigation purposes. In tandem with this they needed to speed up the works process or to urgently rethink how the works were being carried out including crucially re-opening key roads for instance by specifically moving the works compound that was sited on the main carriageway and blocking a key town exit.”

He asked whether they had approached SDC about using the disused Holy Trinity Churchyard and believed they hadn’t.

Lucy Holt (EDF) admitted that they hadn’t approached SDC about this as they presumed the grounds were consecrated plus there were overhanging trees but said she would look into this.

Traders present asked EDF also to consider Morrisons car park, the unused buildings at 2-4 Taunton road and the old Taunton road spur past St Saviours.

Lucy Holt (EDF) said “Morrisons car park was not an option due to the proximity of shoppers and children but we also hadn’t considered the 2-4 Taunton rd option, but would also look at this now with urgency.

How long will these works take?

A  key demand was to remove the 'welfare'compound and re-open this key town centre exit
A key demand was to remove the ‘welfare’compound and re-open this key town centre exit

Traders asked how long the works would take and what they would achieve at the end of it. Their concern was that the longer this went on the more customers would not bother coming into town and find other outlets elsewhere and then never come back. The longer this went on the more chance that they wouldn’t be in business by the end of it. They also asked about consultation and didn’t believe any effort had been made to contact them in advance.

Ross Edwards (EDF) said “The intention was to be finished in 12 months but this could be brought forward with night-time working etc but we are limited by SCC in what we can do.”  Regarding consultation he said he had “..personally delivered 50 letters to addresses in the immediate vicinity of the works, and I am happy to say that EDF had honoured their part of the mitigation arrangement and the money was now out of their hands.”

Cllr Kathy Pearce said “I feel this is a fob off and EDF aren’t listening. The town is gridlocked and customers were not coming in because of their works. Whilst the celebration mile etc were great- money had actually been sourced from elsewhere to pay for that anyway, and so the real issue is hastening the EDF works, freeing up the roads or otherwise compensating the victims.”

Cllr Kathy Pearce
“.. the real issue is hastening the EDF works, freeing up the roads or otherwise compensating the victims.”Cllr Kathy Pearce

Lucy Holt said that  EDF recognised this and would go back and re-look at the options with SCC and the contractor.

Traders were also concerned at contractors parking vehicles without restriction along st Mary st but were told by  site manager Geoff Colenso that this wasn’t the case and that he personally had been fined at least twice.

Traders felt that there was a  lack of workers on site at any one time and sometimes there were none. Geoff Collenso explained that things happen to cause this and cited the example of a recently discovered transatlantic cable as Bridgwater appeared to be on the mainline London to New York and so they had to suspend works while they tried to figure out what to do about it. There were also numerous other emergencies that they couldn’t predict such as the waterworks by Wessex on Durleigh rd and motorway incidents. It was suggested they could predict the Easter weekend and looming chaos but Lucy Holt explained much of the workings would be taken in for that period.

Communications need to be improved

Traders felt a lot of the problems could have been avoided with better communication and felt that 50 letters to the immediate area was not enough as this affected areas much wider than that. This included West street and North street, the entire Town centre and pretty much the whole town especially when the next phase of works would start on the Bristol road.

Cllr Redman said “I constantly post reports about the works and updates on social media but  the bad news is that ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’. “

Ann Caddick from Armoury Gallery said “No the bad news is that 90% of us won’t be here.”

Jeff Collenso (Aggregate industries) said he was always on site and there were phone numbers everywhere for people to contact him (02380 666760)

Help needed NOW Not in 12 Months

Cllr Ian Dyer, SDC Vice Chairman, Cannington ward councillor and proprietor of Blackmoor Farm, said “We are where we are’. Everyone wanted a by-pass and knew that this chaos would happen once it was rejected. My farm shop in Cannington is also noticing a downturn in trade and we also had to take our fair share when the roadworks at Sandford Corner were going on. However, maybe we could look at the CIM fund again to find a solution.”

Ward councillors agree to carry out a Town Centre Traders impact survey

Cllr Smedley said “Traders need to quantify the immediate loss in turnover and project this forward to demonstrate impact so that people would appreciate the scale of the problem.” He undertook to do an impact survey of town centre traders. This would also build up the communication network.  He also agreed to set up a meeting with SDC and SCC to relook at the CIM fund and if that proved fruitful to bring recommendations to the next meeting..

He further mentioned rates relief through valuation and many traders were already looking into this. There was a further discretionary option through SDC which could be looked at.

Cllr Pearce added “We could maybe look at creative solutions to the use of the CIM fund. One option might be a park and ride or free parking in the centre for the duration of the road works.”

Traders emphasised that time was not on their side and some of them had long standing businesses which were becoming unsustainable if this chaos continued. They need help now and not in 12 months.

Actions from the meeting;-

1. EDF/Aggregate ind would urgently re-look at the siting of the compound with a view to re-opening a key exit route and alleviating town centre traffic.

2. Councillors would facilitate a meeting with CIM fund holders to re-investigate compensation options and wider solutions.

3. Councillors would organise a Trader’s Impact Survey to ascertain the scale of the problem.