Around 40 people attended a private viewing of the former Bridgwater Magistrates Court building on Northgate, arranged by Westover councillor Brian Smedley as Chairman of the Town Council Community Assets Working Party. Bridgwater and District Civic Society President Derek Gibson started the tour with a brief account of the history of the building,which goes back to Edwardian times, and reminding everyone of the need to preserve this building as a heritage and community resource if at all possible.
The building, which has been on the market for almost 2 years, with no interest shown by commercial bidders probably because the listed status of parts of the building and contents would restrict it’s use and application, is now up for auction on Tuesday 24th February and at a knock down price of £185,000 there’s a real chance that it could be snapped up.
An application for the building to be listed as a Community Asset has been lodged with Sedgemoor District Council however, the Panel is unlikely to be convened before the auction.
Possible Future Uses
After the tour, there was general discussion about the possible future uses of the building with considerable enthusiasm from the general public with a variety of proposals made including the use by the carnival committee, a living history museum, commercial letting of offices, residential use of former accommodation section, conference facilities, centre for voluntary organisations, a Senior Sports Centre, involvement by the arts centre and the Guild of Craftsmen, Somerset Wildlife exhibition, small business social enterprise training and numerous others.
Once the outcome of the Community Assets List application is known, a further meeting will be called.
Cllr Smedley said after the meeting “The imminence of the Auction is a crucial factor in what happens next. I understand that there are interested parties and of course a sale could bring the building back into community use, however to achieve some of the ideas raised by the members of the public it would be better for the property to be brought into public ownership and with this in mind I have written to SDC Chief Exec Kerry Rickards to make a last minute intervention.”
Letter from Cllr Brian Smedley to Kerry Rickards & Duncan McGinty (Sedgemoor District Council) 20.02.2015
I am writing to you with some urgency to ask you to consider the opportunity next week to add the Bridgwater Magistrates Court to your list of premises.
The court building is up for auction on Tuesday at a very good starting price of £180,000 and of course would be a valuable asset to Sedgemoor bearing in mind the current capacity use of Bridgwater House since the office sharing with County, Police, Homes in Sedgemoor etc,
The building has a ready made court room/council chamber of an attractive historic nature which could also be used for community use.
There are additional features such as accommodation units and ante rooms which could be used to generate income for the building.
Below is a list of suggested uses by the Community from our well attended visit today which was arranged by the Town Council and the Civic Society and clearly demonstrated a desire by the townspeople to retain this building for community use and as a well loved feature of our disappearing heritage.
• · The Carnival Committee might be interested in using/investing in the building.
• · The former solicitors’ offices at the back could be let to commercial/professional tenants
• · The existing flat could be let commercially
• · Voluntary organisations could hire meeting/lecture/conference facilities to enable financial sustainability
• · A voluntary working party could provide essential maintenance at low cost
• · McCarthy & Stone, who are building retirement flats next door, could set up a Senior Sports Centre, with activities for older people
• · Features of main court should be maintained if possible (panelling & benches)
• · Expanding space provision for Blake Museum
• · Arts Centre could be involved
• · Permanent exhibition on the history of law, tour of cells and court
• · Somerset Guild of Craftsmen are looking for a new home
• · Somerset County Museum should be involved
• · Permanent exhibition on Somerset Wildlife
• · Combination of museum and education centre
• · Provision of small business/social enterprise training
Could I ask that you urgently consider an intervention in the auction process with a view to buying this property and bringing it back into the public domain?
Cllr Brian Smedley