Bridgwater Town Development Forum
Minutes of the meeting held 12th August 2015 at
Bridgwater Town Hall CHARTER HALL
Attendance;-Cllr Brian Smedley-Leader of Bridgwater Town Council (BTC) (Chair) ,Cllr Leigh Redman (Mayor),Cllr Kathy Pearce (Deputy leader) Doug Bamsey, Cllr Peter Downing (SDC) Derek Gibson (Bridgwater Civic Society) Glen Burrows, Steve Loaring (Bridgwater Senior Citizens Forum),Mike Slade (Inland Waterways Association), Patsy Robinson (Friends of Bridgwater Docks), Rhiann & Paul Childs (Military Boats), Ian Tucker & Nick Gibson (Bridgwater Forward), Dave Chapple (Bridgwater Trades Council), Phil Shepherd (Somerset Film and Video) Chris Hocking (Bridgwater Carnival Committee) , Ed Moll, Rosemary Eaton, Theresa Strange (Church Leaders Forum), Roger Smith (Town Team), Kate Goodale (Bridgwater Arts Centre), Chris Wilstead (Chamber of Commerce),Patricia Marks (Federation of Small Businesses),Harley Brown (Bridgwater Industrialists), Julia Ridge, John Stubbs, John Houlihan, Jane Birch (SCC), Wes Hinckes, Arthur Duncan (Unite Community), Caroline Lewis (Community food) Heather Colman (MIND in Sedgemoor) Steve Manley,Kelly Banwell (Hamp Community Association) John Hardy, Kevin Richardson (Dementia Action Alliance) Lindy Booth (Somerset Social Enterprise Network) Diogo Rodrigues (Bridgwater Youth Forum) Allan Jefferey (Blacklands Residents) Tricia Walsh (Admirals Court residents) Alan Hurford (Bridgwater Town Clerk) CllrMick Lerry & Lance Dudderidge (Victoria) Cllr Graham Granter (Fairfax) Cllr Liz Leavy (Wyndham) Cllr Moira Brown (Eastover) Robert Snelling (Observer) Simon Hann (minutes secretary)
Apologies;-Bridgwater Heritage Group, Red Brick Building, Bridgwater College
Cllr Leigh Redman (Mayor): Welcomes attendees.
Cllr Brian Smedley (Chair): Introduces meeting, thanks attendees. This the first meeting of the Town Development Forum. Its purpose it to genuinely consult with the local community and use their recommendations to inform Town Council policy and decision-making. Tonight, the focus will be Northgate. Sedgemoor District Council is represented by Doug Bamsey, Somerset County Council by Julia Ridge.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): Gives a presentation on Northgate. Tesco pulled out. SDC/SCC now looking at other options for the site. No definite conclusions at this stage. Most significant proposal so far – possibility of a primary school on part of the site.
SDC officers reported to SDC on 29th July, seeking agreement for new Northgate project and direction on how to proceed. SDC will draw up new Landowner’s Agreement with SCC – SDC owning 60% of the Northgate site, SCC owning 40% – to decide how to work together, share costs etc. SDC will also seek to continue discussions with Bridgwater Town Council on the issue.
SDC/SCC will investigate leisure/recreational uses for the site, how historic buildings on the site can be preserved, and how green space can be maintained and enhanced. Eventual aim to produce a detailed project plan and new Northgate development statement. SDC/SCC will be clear when going to consult with stakeholders – community groups, people living near the site, business etc. Won’t always agree, but will always listen.
No specifics yet, but basic principles: need comprehensive plan for whole site rather than piecemeal solution. Primary school would have to be integrated into wider site. Clear public desire for leisure/recreational uses of site – but need to focus on what is viable, what can produce a capital return for SDC/SCC, and what can physically be accommodated on the site. Attracting commercial interests will be difficult. Council very unlikely to develop anything itself.
Other things to consider – neighbouring interests, including new McCarthy and Stone flats on police station site, and eventual owners of magistrates’ court.
Project has £50k budget for expert property advice.
Julia Ridge (SCC): SCC has statutory responsibility to provide school places. Bridgwater’s population of primary school-age children increased 20% in five years. Few years ago, Sedgemoor had third highest birth rate in Britain.
Thus, increased need for primary school places. Northgate-based primary school would be equally accessible for pupils anywhere in Bridgwater.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): Best place for school in terms of accessibility would be up against Anson Way, next door to an enhanced Brewery Field. Would leave area towards ex-police station and Mount Street carpark as place that could be used for other types of development as part of Celebration Mile.
No definite decisions been made yet. SDC/SCC reps here to answer questions.
Cllr Smedley: Clarifies –Any final decisions about Northgate will be made by SDC/SCC. Thus Bridgwater needs to have input now.It was important that SDC has accepted BTC’s 4 priorities for the site –Maintaining the green space, a leisure focus to any development, preserving historic buildings and computability with historic town centre. Notes that there is no longer the same financial imperative there was in the past to gain a capital receipt, when there was a race against time to get the new swimming pool paid for.
Rhiann Childs (Military Boats): Asks for clarification – where would proposed school be located on the Northgate site (refers to map of site shown during Doug Bamsey presentation)
Doug Bamsey (SDC): Clarifies. But just proposals at the moment. Any development would have to pass planning permission process, during which there would be consultation phase.
Roger Smith (Angel Place/Town Team): What evidence is there that primary school would attract commercial interest to other areas of Northgate development?
Julia Ridge (SCC): SCC believe Northgate primary school would bring footfall to town centre.Should be celebrated that Bridgwater residents are having children. Shows thriving community. But SCC would also be interested in any other sites coming forward.
Dave Chapple (Bridgwater TUC): Expresses concern that decisions about site been made already. Primary school could take up as much as a quarter of the land. However, there isn’t a single person here who wouldn’t prefer a school to a Tesco. Wants assurances that decisions haven’t already been made without consultation. Also concerned that historic workhouse infirmary building sits in the middle of proposed school site. Could it possibly be used as part of the school?
Julia Ridge (SCC): School proposal relatively recent development. No plans to put school on site until recently. Rise in school-age population only within last 5 years. During part of that time, SDC/SCC were focused on Tesco development on that site. SCC committed to investigating potential uses of workhouse infirmary.
Glen Burrows (Senior Citizen’s Forum): Been a long period of doubt and mistrust surrounding Tesco. Tesco episode not a happy one. Tonight welcome chance for genuine consultation.Primary school proposal comes as a surprise. Appears usage for part of the site has already been decided on without consultation. If need for schools, why close Somerset Bridge? If need for school places emerged during Tesco period, why wasn’t council pushing for a school instead?
Large number of proposals for how site could be used have been submitted by public – Rosie Gibson (Bridgwater Forward) collected 173 ideas. Senior Citizen’s Forum collected a lot too. Will these been genuinely considered by SDC/SCC? When creative ideas for bringing people into the area/boosting local economy suggested for Northgate during Tesco period, councils ignored them.
Can we have a promise that all proposals are properly costed rather than dismissed out of hand?
Cllr Smedley: Ideas for Northgate collected during recent Docks Gala have been submitted to SDC.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): Councils genuinely haven’t made any decisions yet. Undeniably, decision about primary school needs to be made quickly. SDC happy to listen to any ideas public have. SDC exploring recreation/leisure theme.
However, general thrust of development so far – about how to make it pay its own way/make contribution to SDC/SCC funds. Days of thinking councils can contribute substantially to developments themselves is past. Need to think creatively about how we can use resources from private developments for community benefit, while ensuring capital receipts for SDC/SCC.
Julia Ridge (SCC): Somerset Bridge wasn’t closed. It was rebuilt elsewhere. Needed to relocate from original site because of problems relating to drainage/sewage.
Theresa Strange (Cornerstone Church): Are SDC/SCC proactively seeking investors who will reinvest in green spaces?
Doug Bamsey (SDC): Two ways of achieving that. Charging levy on new developments to be put into community projects – SDC has recently started doing this. And enforcing principle that anything that occurs on Northgate has to enhance the Brewery Field. Fundamental aim – making the Brewery Field something we can be proud of, and is more of a destination.
Paul Childs (Military Boats): Expresses concern that traffic/other infrastructure isn’t suitable for a primary school. Bridgwater traffic situation bad as it is. All children will be delivered by cars. If children come from further out, will impact whole town.Also expresses concern that comprehensive vision for site hasn’t been thought through – placing leisure/recreational facilities next to what will become a retirement home, for example.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): Northgate already a place that attracted traffic. Previous SCC operation there brought visitors, and does car park, as did Splash. Northgate one of the easiest sites in Bridgwater to access without using a car. There are issues with traffic and access, and those will be important things to consider. Will need to encourage people to walk, cycle, use public transport etc. But surely better to live in a place that’s successful, with some traffic congestion, rather than somewhere unsuccessful where there’s none.
Julia Ridge (SCC): SCC will work with parents and others on how pupils are transported to the site. Drop off and collect would work very well at the Northgate site. The school will be designed with that in mind.
Steve Manley (Hamp Community Association): How many pupils would the proposed school accommodate?
Julie Ridge (SCC): 210 children.
Harley Brown (Bridgwater Industrialists): Expressed concerns about traffic in relation to the school, particularly in poor weather. Sceptical about commercial benefits of a primary school.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): If we wanted to create no additional traffic, we would have nothing on the Northgate site. Leisure/commercial uses would also bring people into the area. We have to provide car access, otherwise people won’t come.
Chris Wilstead (Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce): Schools will bring people into the town centre at 9am and 3pm 5 days a week. At night, it will be a dead site. The McCarthy and Stone residential home will also only bring people into the town at certain times. Expressed concern that the school proposal, plus maintaining the Brewery Field, already accounts for 50% of the Northgate site. Only developments being put on the site are ones that will make money for the councils.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): McCarthy and Stone not a decision SDC made. Made by the investor. It will bring people into the town centre. Visitors and residents will shop and do activities in the town centre. Much better than an unused police station.
Tricia Walsh (Admirals Court Residents): If you have a new intake of primary school pupils, how are they going to go swimming? Will there be room on the site for a swimming pool maybe?
Kate Goodale (Arts Centre): Expressed support for idea of the Town Development Forum. Talk of leisure use is concerning for Arts Centre, Engine Room and other town centre attractions, particularly given new competition from Bridgwater College’s new MacMillan Theatre. Hopes that SDC/SCC will consult with existing leisure/cultural interests in the town.
Patricia Marks (Federation of Small Businesses): Need to be clear what commercial activity means. Need to include independent businesses, social enterprises etc.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): New Northgate development not going to be single occupier commercial development like Tesco. Will now be more about assembling a package. Will need to think about how it works with independent businesses in the town. Also need to bring new people into the town, not just redistribute people who already visit.
Nick Gibson (Bridgwater Forward): Not completely against school idea. Small, independent, interesting shops attract visitors. Big multinational stores don’t. Expressed support for idea of primary school facilities being made available to community out of school hours.
Allan Jeffereys (Blacklands Residents): Positive about idea of a school on the field. Likes idea of community using school facilities, as long as charges weren’t prohibitive – particularly concerned if school was built as a Public Private Initiative. Brewery Field valuable as it is now. Not many green spaces like it left in town. Wouldn’t like to see it over-enhanced.
Julia Ridge (SCC): Been a general election. New government still forming education policy. This week, government indicated all new schools would be paid for by local government. However, all new schools would be academies. Hope can reach agreement with academy sponsors for public use of school facilities.
Derek Gibson (Civic Society): In principle, can be no objection to a primary school. Expressed concern about traffic during pick up and drop off times. Northgate development has to be decided on locally. Assimilate local opinions and suggestions into a brief for the project.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): Inevitably, some people will like the proposals, some people won’t. Aim has to be greatest possible consensus.
Cllr Smedley: Moves discussion onto ideas for recommendations the Town Development Forum can take to Bridgwater Town Council for decision
Phil Shepherd (Engine Room): Commends council on establishing forum. Has no problem with the school proposal. Hasn’t heard anyone talk about public transport. There is no bus from the Station to the centre. Need to move beyond idea car is king. Peak oil approaching, we’re having greater and greater negative impacts on the environment. These are things that need to be considered.
Cllr Smedley: There will also be a Town Transport Forum on September 16th
Alan Hurford (Clerk, Bridgwater Town Council): What is the time scale regarding primary school?
Julia Ridge (SCC): If goes ahead, school will open in four years. Will be approved early next year.
Ian Tucker (Bridgwater Forward): When Tesco pulled out, SDC received £1m windfall. Any capital receipt on Northgate as a result of any future development will result in another capital windfall. Hopes development will service needs of the town, not just ensure SDC/SCC get the biggest capital receipt possible. Anything and everything should be considered for the Northgate site.
Caroline Lewis (Community Food): From an educational charity that aims to increase access to healthy food. Focuses on community gardening etc. Could something similar be considered in relation to Brewery Field? Community garden, community orchard, areas for growing food etc? Would be happy to discuss further with interested parties.
John Hardy (Dementia Action Alliance): Likes Caroline’s suggestion. That sort of scheme would be beneficial for older people as well. Need to bear in mind that in addition to baby boom, Bridgwater also has a substantial aging population.
Arthur Duncan (Unite Community): How committed is SCC to putting a school on the Northgate site. Could they still withdraw?
Julia Ridge (SCC): Area needs a school. No final decisions been made yet. SCC very committed to bringing school to Bridgwater, and Brewery Field remains favourite of the sites shortlisted.
Chris Hocking (Bridgwater Carnival): Supports primary school proposal – a good location. Bridgwater needs to offer niche attractions to bring visitors to the town. Rest of the site needs to be developed to offer something unique, that’s different to what people can visit in Taunton, Weston etc.
Cllr Leigh Redman (Mayor): Local area has received community impact mitigation (CIM) funding linked to EDF development at Hinkley Point. SDC/SCC seeking ideas from community for ways to use that fund to benefit the town. Welcomes suggestions for how money could be used in Bridgwater. We need to maximise benefits of EDF for local area.
Cllr Smedley: Calls for specific proposals regarding Northgate that could be put forward to Bridgwater Town Council.
Dave Chapple (TUC): Cases have been made for and against the school. As a result, Forum can’t say it supports the primary school proposal. Suggests that Forum agrees that it doesn’t explicitly oppose the proposal at this stage. Sedgemoor should commission a financial projection report on how Northgate proposals could be financed for the next town forum.
Rhiann Childs (Military Boats): Does object to primary school in a prime commercial space. Asks for SDC/SCC to produce business case for primary school.
Cllr Smedley: Agrees meeting should come to a consensus regarding the school proposal. Asks Doug Bamsey whether Dave’s proposal regarding a report is feasible.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): Report not feasible in the time frame. Too early in the life of the project. No solid proposals at present, just broad recommendations. More work, expertise needed to hone ideas into clear proposals. However, can do as Dave suggests with wider timeframe.
Cllr Smedley: Seeks general consensus that Town Development Forum doesn’t object to the building of a primary school at this stage, and that SDC should be asked to produce a report as requested by Dave Chapple with SCC including a business case as part of their proposals, but with a wider timeframe.
Lindy Booth (Somerset Social Enterprise Network): Can priority be given to community-owned projects rather than commercial projects. Could a sub-group of the forum discuss social enterprise?
Dave Chapple (TUC): Feels social enterprise could be a part of the development, not given priority as Lindy Booth originally argued. Many of us lack knowledge about social enterprises – more investigation needed.
[General agreement for ‘more investigation on social enterprise’]
Nick Gibson (Bridgwater Forward): Whatever development ends up on Northgate, should endeavour to use and support local tradesman, local businesses etc to keep the benefits local.
Patricia Marks (Federation of Small Businesses): Agrees with Nick Gibson’s local procurement idea in principle, but suggests will fall foul of SDC’s procurement rules. Asks for specific business sub-forum.
Dave Chapple (TUC): Sees danger in splitting off into sub-forums. Argues main forum should take presentations from business people instead. Themed meetings rather than sub-groups.
[General agreement ‘not to split into sub-forums’]
Roger Smith (Angel Place): Proposes that we oppose any Northgate development that would have an adverse effect on businesses in the traditional town centre.
Wes Hinckes (Unite Community): Asks that expertise budget isn’t just spent on commercial expertise. We should value other expertise, and have more of a focus on wellbeing.
Proposal: Health and wellbeing meeting as a future agenda item
Cllr Smedley: Pointed out that Town Council’s existing policies for Northgate are that any development doesn’t hurt the existing town centre economy, that any proposal maintains the green space on the site, and tries to preserve or re-use heritage buildings on the site.
Nick Gibson (Bridgwater Forward): Future navigability of the river and reconnection to the docks, could be considered as a future option and so we should note that any development might have a potential impact on these activities.
Chris Wilstead (Chamber of Commerce): There wasn’t enough discussion about a comprehensive vision for the town and a future meeting should focus on this.
Tricia Walsh(Admirals Court): SDC should update Bridgwater Vision in light of Forum discussions.
Doug Bamsey (SDC): SDC already doing this.
Cllr Smedley: Draws meeting to a close. Takes vote on subject of next Forum meeting. Clear overwhelming support for Chris Wilstead’s proposal for meeting on comprehensive vision for Town
The recommendations from this meeting will go to the BTC council meeting of 24th September 2015. The next Town Development Forum meeting will be then scheduled for a date between 25th sept and 25th Oct.
Recommendations to go forward to Town Council meeting of 24th September
1.The Town Development Forum (TDF) doesn’t object to the building of a primary school at this stage, and asks that SDC should produce a report in conjunctionwith SCC including a business case for the school as part of their proposals and that this be considered at a meeting in November
2. The TDF should seek more information on ‘Social Enterprise initiatives for a future meeting’
3. The TDF asks for consideration that whatever development ends up on Northgate it should endeavour to use and support local tradesmen, local businesses etc to keep the benefits local.
4 The TDF would oppose any Northgate development that would have an adverse effect on businesses in the traditional town centre.
5. The TDF asks that SDC investigate the possibility of the ’expertise budget’ not just being spent on commercial expertise and that should have a focus on Health and Well Being and that we should consider this at a future meeting
6.The TDF believes that there should be a wider discussion about a comprehensive vision for the town and the next meeting should focus on this.