A group of councillors, traders, town and district council officers and shoppers toured Bridgwater Town Centre reviewing the previously agreedTown Centre Action Plan (as adopted 7.8.2014). The following report is an update with comments.
1. Definition of the Town Centre;-
The Town Centre is bounded by 4 ‘Gateway’ points –
a) West Gate;- The degeneration of the Classic Buildings and what to do about it had been identified as one of SDC’s top priorities. The area had once been a line of shops but these had declined since the creation of the new road which took away the former Odeon cinemas car park, and were eventually abandoned in favour of ground floor flats –which also fell into disuse. The location was largely night time economy related and the once attractive building now a virtual wreck. It was also noted that REMEDIES was re-opening in this area, which also contained Galleries, Palace, Brunel Bar and Tikki Beach
Action;- SDC were trying to agree disposal of the Classic site with the owner to thereby allow it to be brought back into use. Failing this they could take enforcement action including possible compulsory purchase. Usages were likely to include residential, possibly over shops or restaurants.
Question;– The West Gate has been seen as the Town Centre’s western approach but it was suggested that it no longer should be considered as this as the sub-area (Penel Orlieu) was really now just night-time economy related and Town Centre proper now really started at the High Street
b) East Gate;– The planned Hotel at the Eastover/Monmouth St junction was seen as a key gateway however, the issue here was clouded by the inclusion or not of St John street. The celebration mile included St John St and the Railway Station as a starting point with visual / street improvements and disabled access to both platforms in conjunction with Network Rail which could be seen as an alternative gateway site.’
Eastover – Ward members felt Eastover was previously treated as of secondary importance to the west side of the river and that the Eastover SPD was only added as an afterthought by SDC whose town planners thought that the town centre ended at the bridge until ward councillors pointed it out.
Asda;– Was widely regarded as an SDC failure, especially in terms of the over generous option for them on the former East Quay Medical Centre site which was supposed to become additional shops but had remained derelict and was now an eyesore. There were plans to turn this into an un-staffed petrol station but BTC had objected to the process which it felt could have an adverse affect on the road infrastructure if not properly planned
Question;- Should St John street be regarded as ‘Town Centre’ or should it be redefined as ending at Monmouth st crossroads with concentration on the ‘Eastover Triangle’?
Question;– What should be done with the landscaping along the East Quay which provided a vista onto the West Quay/Castle st heritage area?
c) North Gate;- The current north approach to the town was over the Sainsbury’s bridge and onto the car parking on Mount St and Northgate. Plans to redevelop the Northgate site with Tesco as the focal point had now failed yet in the process not only had the town lost a major tourist attraction (The Sedgemoor Splash) but this area had been re-defined by SDC as ‘Town Centre’
Question ;-Should this area now be redefined with the Docks as the Northern extent of the town as the celebration mile terminates at this location plus there are campaigns to re-open the canal and dock area?
Question;– What would be the best use of the Northgate site?
ACTION;- The Town Development Forum was co-operating with SDC to investigate options for Northgate which could include a school, landscaping/Town Centre park or extended retail use complementary to the established Town Centre
d) South Gate;- This more gentle approach to the centre was easier to identify and started at approximately the Blake Hall and former Holy Trinity site on St. Mary Street, however this area had suffered greatly for the past 6 months due to EDF roadworks
ACTION;– BTC have committed to seeking some form of mitigation for the traders in this area, in the first instance through Town Centre CIM funding
One of the more urgent factors in brightening up the town and making it more appealing was immediate attention to the streetscape of the centre and in particular targeting certain key areas.
a) Targeted and consistent cleaning and maintenance– particularly in respect to weeds, litter and bird mess.
ACTION;- Freestanding TC bins need to be re-powder coated and refurbished
ACTION –A quarterly cleaning routine for the bins to keep them looking fresh and tidy should be introduced
ACTION- Block paviours in Fore st need regular checking for loose and missing ones –also condition of cobbles near burger van
ACTION – The kerb by the Lloyds cashpoints is in a cracked and poor state due to cars parking on it and needs urgent repair
b) Signage – Recent works had been undertaken but more were planned as part of the celebration mile. General thought needs to be given to what is lacking in this respect and where it could be most useful.
ACTION – Arrow signs need regular pointing in the right direction
ACTION –Advertising boards need regular updating to match open shops
c) Street furniture – benches, bollards, floral displays and enhanced landscaping were all being considered as part of the celebration mile targeting key areas such as St.John Street, Eastover and Fore Street through to the Docks via Angel Crescent.’ It was noted that Bridgwater’s floral displays were excellent.
d) Empty Shops – The main problem here was absent landlords and therefore a lack of control over the rapid turnover of key site usage. However, current vacancy rate was 12% whereas 3 years ago it was 18%. There was a plan based on the earlier ‘shop jacket’ idea for a cheaper yet equally effective roller blind window display which would act as a targeting device to attract potential traders and encourage usage in certain areas. The idea was to use these sparingly but with foresight.
ACTION;– that the area of Fore street by the bridge could be trialed with roller doors on a historic Bridgwater theme
3. PARKING –
Surveys of shoppers showed that ‘free parking’ was a popular potential tool to boost trade, however this had been put to Town Team which had rejected it as unworkable. It was also felt by the Town Team that in fact the Town Centre was very well served by the existing car parks and there may be only pressure on this at Christmas time .
Town Centre was being brought into more residential use and this could lead to a conflict with shoppers and residents especially in the light of the civil parking enforcement arrangements which in turn led to requests from numerous town centre streets for resident only parking zones
ACTION ; The Westover Residents Parking scheme is on the verge of being trialed and this could be extended to other town centre areas but consideration would need to be given to defining areas to allow for maximum shopper turnover. ..
4. PLANNING POLICY –
There was a feeling that SDC Planning policy was too prescriptive and that Planners should be encouraged to recognise that empty shops are the scourge of High streets
ACTION There needs to be a flexible approach to planning to encourage prospective traders to engage in retail activity.
5. PRIORITY AREAS;-
Several areas within the Town Centre were in need of targeted attention.
a) West Quay – The Pedestrianisation was deemed a success and the towns waterfront needs promotion and support – but there needs to be a balance of usage that allows all traders to use the space mutually. Whilst tables and chairs outside of cafes was an aspiration of the original push to pedestrianize, the street nevertheless needs to remain accessible as a thoroughfare, so consideration needs to be given for other users .
ACTION;- Urgent removal of overgrowth in roofing
b) Eastover – The Eastover area was often seen as an ‘add on’ to the town centre which could be seen as stopping at the river. The Eastover SPD plans targeted this zone and the project based on the hospital site would further enhance this. The question of the pedestrianisation in New Road remained an issue and Police action needed. The inclusion of the Post Office was a boon to this area and the frontage works done to Hooks a good example of façade work.
ACTION Post Office facia needed tidying up
ACTION Road infrastructure and riverside frontage of East Quay needs monitoring.
c) Fore street – The area from the town bridge to the statue was the main centre piece of the town and was in urgent need of street enhancement. There remained a long standing issue of the state of the road traffic order that brought about the original pedestrianisation.
ACTION CIM bid for street furniture, signage and general enhancement . Xmas lights to be extended to Binford place
d) Blake Gardens – as a town centre park, this area could be included in enhancements, including lights and signage, along with link through via Binford Place. Issues of anti-social behaviour were being addressed
ACTION CIM bid for lighting and other enhancements
e) Castle Street – this area which quartered the Medieval castle and is currently home to the Art Centre, retains many of Bridgwater’s finest buildings including areas with planned development such as the concrete castle and the Watergate and as such forms a pleasant potential ‘Heritage Zone’ as an adjunct to the town centre and should be borne in mind when considering routes and signage.
f) High street –It was recognised that Town Centre footfall petered out past the Angel Place, which was regarded as a well run success story. Use of the High street by inappropriate units in great supply, should be looked at again . It was felt that shop units were too small and also suffered from many and varied ownerships.
ACTION – Seek to increase the size of units by knocking units together as was common in large cities in order to attract larger more attractive High st Outlets
ACTION –the Town Centre and the town needed a Tourist Information Office and thought needed to be given to re-introducing one.
6. FUTURE ORGANISATION;-
There are many different groups, bodies, committees etc. which have the Town Centre as part of their remit but it is clearly crucial to have a single group with a focus and dedicated brief.
ACTION The Town Team is currently that group and would benefit from a funding
Lead Member for the Town Centre is Eastover Councillor Dave Loveridge. Proposals will be submitted to Ful Town Council on 24th September. Residents, traders are welcome to submit further suggestions, attend the meeting and contribute to the discussion.