Tonight Bridgwater Town Council’s ‘Town Development Forum’ focussed on a presentation from Doug Bamsey of Sedgemoor District Council and Julia Ridge of Somerset County Council outlining a masterplan for the future of Northgate and gave it a qualified thumbs up.
The Forum was attended by 28 delegates represent Community groups from across the town and was chaired by Westover Councillor and Town Council leader Brian Smedley while fellow Westover Councillor and Town Council Deputy Leader Kathy Pearce took on the role of secretary.
The proposals for Northgate can be found here.
Leisure use, Green Space and Town Centre compatibility finds favour
On 3 of the 5 areas of contention there was broad support for the proposals. Bridgwater Town Council had argued for preservation and enhancement of the Brewery field, Leisure led development on the Splash site and compatibility of the project with the existing town centre and the meeting believed that Sedgemoor were on the right tracks with their proposals.
Sedgemoor’s own consultation exercise held in Angel Place had reinforced this position with Leisure as a clear front runner with 30% public support for primary use, followed by landscaping, enhancement and parks with 25%, school use on 18% and additional retail on 13%.
Jury remains out on School proposals
On the issue of the proposed Primary School there were still some doubts although County had produced an outline business case. There was some concern about traffic generation and disappointment that numbers had jumped from the suggested 210 in August to a new figure of 420 now the plans were out. However when this was put to a vote the meeting was divided 50-50.
Opposition to Workhouse Hospital Demolition
The issue of the Victorian Workhouse Hospital proved more contentious. In March a public meeting had called on the County Council to save the building and incorporate it into any future development thereby preserving something valuable from the towns heritage. County had held off demolition until now but said that after advice from English Heritage the building was not of sufficient value to save and a new school would be best served by total new build.
A motion from Bridgwater & District Civic Society calling for a rethink to this element of the Masterplan was supported overwhelmingly by the meeting. The Civic Society proposal claimed the ‘Masterplan’ was driven by the County Council’s own original agenda – to demolish the workhouse/hospital buildings but that the retention of the building “..would offer sensitive public recognition of the hundreds of local lives shortened and lost in the town’s workhouse and the hundreds of lives nurtured and saved in the town’s hospital. It is a representation of the social and cultural heritage of our community. “
The meeting further supported the Civic Society view to urge Somerset County Council “… to have the vision and innovation to find an architectural solution which respects and preserves the memory of local people” and added that “Preserving the building would also enhance learning in and around the site should a school be built there. It could be used as a space to explore and learn about the workhouse which predominantly features as a local history case study currently taught in Bridgwater’s educational establishments.”
A ‘start’ not an ‘end’
Closing the meeting Cllr Smedley said “This masterplan is a start and not an end in itself. It is clear that Sedgemoor has listened to the wishes of the people of Bridgwater thus far in pursuing a key leisure facility, enhanced green space and town centre compatibility but there is more work to be done with Somerset in making the case for the school and some serious rethinking needed by them over the historic buildings on the site. ”