Westover Residents set up Hamp Green Neighbourhood Forum

kathy pearce
Cllr Kathy Pearce and residents at an informal get together to set up a Hamp Green Neighbourhood Forum

In the 11th century the land around Hamp Green Rise was the site of the original settlement of Hamp as recorded in the Domesday book with a population of one Lord of the Manor and several tenant farmers and valued at 30 shillings.That’s about £1.50 in new money. Owned by the Abbot of Athelney until the 16th century  it was a separate community to Bridgwater, well outside the south gate of the town (roughly where the Blake chip shop is now) and remained as such until the 19th century when the new Taunton road was built and the communities merged. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that a major house building programme started on the hilly meadows beyond and created the Hamp estate that we know today.

This area today forms an enclave along the Taunton road which is the southernmost point of the Westover ward and is separated electorally from the modern Hamp ward (see map). This week residents acknowledged the need to set up an informal Neighbourhood Forum for the Hamp Green area whereby Councillors and residents could meet regularly to discuss issues relevant to this part of the Westover Ward.

It was agreed that the Neighbourhood Forum would meet monthly but would not operate under a constitution, nor require elected officers, nor formal minutes and would be open to anyone living within these boundaries.Councillors would organize monthly afternoon neighbourhood walkabouts with relevant agencies to identify current issues. These would be held a short time in advance of the subsequent meeting.

map HG
The Hamp Green area of Westover along the Taunton road

Identifying the Neighbourhood

Cllr Brian Smedley, who chaired the meeting , said “We have worked with similar neighbourhood groups around the ward such as the West Street Residents Group, the West Quay Action Group, Lakeside Residents Association and so on. The Hamp Green Forum will obviously work closely with the HAMP COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION and seek ways to co-operate where possible. Both communities have a common history as the County Council ward, the Parish area covered by the church, and the Police beat all overlap the electoral boundaries of Hamp and Westover. However, crucially the exercise is about elected councilors engaging with the communities they represent.”

Cllr Kathy Pearce said “Future meetings would follow on from neighbourhood walkabouts where issues could be identified and both meetings and walkabouts would be open to all residents who could bring any issue to the attention of the Forum and therefore the councilors and relevant agencies.”

Looking at the Key Issues

Taunton road
The busy Taunton road is a major focus for concern

One major  issue for the area was the dominance of the major trunk road the A38 Taunton road. Issues of traffic, parking, and road closures were flagged up as critical with fears expressed for increased developments planned for the area, the increase in traffic due to the EDF projections and whether mitigating works would be adequate.

There was great concern at the safety of pedestrians in this increasingly car dominated environment with only 2 crossings on the Taunton road and a ‘refuge’ situated on the brow of the canal bridge. Ways of calming the traffic were discussed including introducing a 20 MPH speed limit and putting in a roundabout .

Addressing questions about historic suggestions for a one way system around the area, Town Councillor Pat Parker said “Somerset County Council had firmly rejected this as it would have have led to the speeding up of vehicles.”

elmwood bend
The Elmwood bend was promised ‘addressing’ by SCC

There was a question of the dangerous Elmwood Avenue bend which County had said would be addressed. Although some resurfacing had been done this didn’t seem to have actually been addressed. Residents suggested that a convex mirror was introduced. This had been tried in the past but it had ‘disappeared’ within a few days.

Parking issues were identified as a problem with residents unhappy at vehicles parking illegally and blocking visibility onto the main road . There was a general feeling that although traffic wardens were very active in the town centre they chose not to venture into the Hamp Green area as it ‘wasn’t so lucrative’.

Another great concern was the proposed Paragon Laundry site development which ward councilors had objected to and would continue to challenge. This site had been approved for housing plus shops and would clearly create extra pressure on the Taunton road with yet more entry and exit points and increased traffic use and potential for conflict with pedestrians.

Councillors have opposed the Paragon laundry development.

Great steps had been taken to resolve the traffic issue by  The Bridgwater Way project which aimed to get cyclists and pedestrians away from the busy roads and to create environmentally friendly thoroughfares. This project was being fronted by Patrick Williams who attended the meeting and is based at Edinburgh road, but who explained that it would be finishing in March 2015. The project, sponsored by Sustrans and the County Council, had also brought to the community DIY streets such as the recent temporary turfing and painting of Elmwood avenue in conjunction with the Blake school. Residents hoped that the momentum created by it’s involvement in the community could be maintained somehow.

One key issue of potential conflict however was the part of the Bridgwater Way which passed the Brownes Pond. This area was narrower than many felt appropriate for combined cyclist and pedestrian use and residents urged a solution that would work in the interests of community safety. One key factor was the proximity of the pathside rhyne where one solution proposed was a fence although other options could include piping the rhyne at that point thereby widening the space available. The other area of contention was the canal bridge where the path narrowed even further and offered great dangers of pedestrian conflict with speeding cyclists. This area was also identified as an area where people felt unsafe in the evenings due to poor lighting.

brownes pond path
The contested area of the Bridgwater way alongside Brownes pond

Policing is also a major area of concern and so the meeting was fortunate to have 2 of the local bobbies present (until they were called away on an ASB issue involving ‘cows’). Crucially they pointed out that their area was vastly improved and that their role was mainly community focused rather than crime focused.

One major contributing factor to neighbourhood improvements was the modernising of the Blake and Elmwood school buildings which had helped to create a positive environment which in itself had therefore led to an improvement in behavior and it was generally agreed that Robert Blake was a ‘very happy place’.

Litter was an issue which the neighbourhood has in common with all other areas, especially flytipping , inadequate bins and sometimes the recycling team contributing to the mess themselves In particular there was concern that not only was extra rubbish created by the recycling team when in fact collecting rubbish but that the litter in the watercourses was a problem due to the failure to remove the litter from further than the banks of the rhynes.

Hope Inn
Hope Inn, Taunton road, to be registered as a ‘Community Asset’.

The meeting also looking at community facilities and it was noted that since the demolition of the Black Horse in Hamp, and the closure of the Hope inn there was no community pub for the entirety of Bridgwater South of the Broadway.
Cllr Smedley said “It is important to try to save the Hope inn as it is in an ideal location for the community ,has an attractive traditional appearance and areas of historical importance within it’s perimeter. Therefore the Town Council has taken the initiative to try to get it listed on the community assets register. This should ensure that anyone looking to buy the place makes clear their community plans for it and if deemed inappropriate then at least the wider community could have 6 months grace to try to preserve it for themselves.”

The Hamp Green Neighbourhood Forum will shortly announce the date of a mid September ‘walkabout’ and a follow-up meeting. In the meantime communication should be by email chain and the Westover web site westoverward@gmail.com.