Bridgwater Town Council’s ‘Town Development Forum’ -a body of delegates from all walks of Bridgwater life, met this week with senior project managers from Sedgemoor District Council to consider the new plans for the controversial Northgate site, once the location of the popular Sedgemoor Splash, then threatened to be the home of a megalossal Tesco Store, both producing major confrontations, and now edging towards a popular new plan. The discussion is here for all to see and the recommendations will go to next Town Council on December 7th.
Town Council Leader , Cllr Brian Smedley, chaired the meeting and introduced Doug Bamsey and Stuart Martin from Sedgemoor District Council, who had been invited to give an update on Northgate developments.
The Headline Story
Doug Bamsey commenced by stating that that Northgate had always been viewed as a long term regeneration ambition for the town. He summarised the key headlines so far:
- Planning permission obtained for school and leisure use.
- School completed on time and on budget, with two classes already up and running and a nursery due to open in January 2018.
- Interpretation boards for workhouse and hospital instigated by Cllr Smedley.
- Successful marketing had taken place for both Northgate and Mount Street ends of scheme.
- Sale of Terms agreed with Somerset County Council.
- New car park open for permit users – this would free up spaces for shoppers in the Mount Street and newly opened Northgate car parks.
Planning permission for the Northgate side of the development would be sought in the new year. This would be entirely an SDC project with SCC looking for a capital receipt.
The process was going forward for marketing of Mount Street site. This was commercially confidential but Mr Bamsey could confirm that the interested parties all had a leisure/cinema focus, with a range of complementary restaurant uses. The list of interested parties had been reduced to 3, all of whom had demonstrated an understanding of Bridgwater town centre and had proposed schemes which would complement, rather than complete against, the town centre. The three models considered by Full Council were:
- Outright sale of the site by SDC;
- Joint venture (ie over-arching head lease with sub-leases) and
- A SDC funded development (ie retaining land and investing in site). This was the option agreed by Council Members.
SDC was now going out to procurement for the site (OJEU rules apply) to seek partner to design and develop scheme, alongside a procurement process for property advice.
- Early 2018 Planning application to be submitted
- Mid 2018 Appoint developer. Work to start during the year. Approx one year build.
- 2020 Expected completion.
Doug Bamsey stressed that whilst there had been much interest, there were no guarantees at this stage and that there were risks associated with the development.
In summary, it was most likely the scheme may include:
- A 4-6 screen cinema
- 4-6 Restaurants/retail units
The Design Brief
Stuart Martin then talked about the ongoing project: SDC were currently seeking conceptual/structural designs, which would lead to a project brief and ultimately a planning application.
He gave an update on the Celebration Mile:
- Work was currently underway on Bridgwater Station, which would be completed by 2020.
- Fore Street plans were in the final stages.
- Brewery Field would be part of the Mount Street design.
- For the leisure part of the scheme – consultation would take place as part of the pre-planning process.
- Brewery Field – extensive public engagement would be important in parallel with the leisure scheme.
The meeting was then opened up to questions:
Nick Gibson (Bridgwater Forward) . Would the Brewery Field be extended into the existing car park?
- Yes, the Brewery Field would be extended south (into part of current car park) to replace green space taken by the school.
Mike Slade (Inland Waterways) . Will there be re-alignment of the road junction at Northgate? The biggest issue was inadequate/unclear road signage. Large lorries were using the bascule bridge, exceeding the weight limit.
- A note was made of this particular problem and it was confirmed that the planning application would include road junctions. SDC would be working very closely with SCC Highways.
Phil Shepherd (Somerset Film) What is the access strategy to encourage use of public transport and bicycles to access the site?
- The central location meant that it was well positioned for cyclists and walkers. However, it remained a challenge to influence bus services. Lobbying to address this was work in progress.
Cllr Tony Heywood (Eastover). What are the plans for the Classic Buildings?
- Whilst it could not be pre-supposed that Scott Cinemas would re-locate, SDC were in long standing discussions with Scott Cinemas.
Cllr Leigh Redman (Dunwear) Was there likely to be a new home for bingo, should the Classic Buildings close their operations?
- This was very unlikely. Bingo is not currently a growth industry and not part of current plan.
Cllr Wes Hinckes (Hamp) Given that this was such an important and prominent site, the aesthetics and quality of design were very important. Would this be part of the design brief?
- SDC would be looking for designs which were well constructed with architectural value. Recent precedents had been set by the new school and McCartney and Stone building adjacent to the site.
Allan Jeffery (Blacklands ) Was SDC interested in developing an improved open space on the Brewery Field?
- It was envisaged that there would be increased tree and shrub planting, a piazza/plaza type space on and would be looking at options for including activities/facilities which would make the space more interesting. There was also opportunity for increased community use from the school 3G pitch and building (including the school’s dance studio, which was already being used by 3-4 groups).
Cllr Wes Hinckes (Hamp) Was the Bridgwater Vision document still relevant?
- The Bridgwater Vision, as an aspiration document, underpinned everything.
Roger Smith (Angel Place) . The Mount Street crossing would be the most important element of the linkage to the town centre. Was this taken on board?
- It was paramount that pedestrians would find it easy to cross Mount Street. There was a need to create a visual flow and ease of moment.
Patsy Robinson (Friends of BW Docks) . The current pathway through Brewery Field was quite narrow. Will it be widened to make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to share the space?
- Yes, the path will be improved. However, the design would need to be carefully considered in order that both groups could use it comfortably.
Why wasn’t the path of a better quality in the first place?
- Because it was not sure which materials would be used with the leisure part of the development, it was decided to go for a temporary measure which had the infrastructure (ie lights) positioned so that it would be incorporated into the wider scheme.
Nick Gibson (Bridgwater Forward) .The importance of good architectural was raised – aim high. Sedgemoor has always done ‘mundane’, we shouldn’t settle for it.
- Yes, incrementally things had improved and precedents set with recent developments (ie school building, McCarthy and Stone) had ‘raised the bar’. For example, the school had been specially designed for the site with sympathetic use of brick – it was not an “off the shelf” building and included good landscaping. Whilst planning law was complex and the fact that the project would need to be feasibly commercial, the fact that SDC was both the land owner and developer, more control over design could be exercised. There would be a single architect for the whole of the scheme.
Phil Shepherd (Somerset Film & Video) . Would it be possible to “think outside of the box” in terms of what this scheme could offer to young people?
- Whilst this would be challenging, thought was being given to facilities on the Brewery Field which could be complementary to the whole scheme. It was hoped that the Northgate redevelopment would act as a catalyst to other local developments. It should not be forgotten that cinema is often a ‘rite of passage’ for young people (Saturday Film Clubs etc).
Alan Hurford, Bridgwater Town Clerk, reminded the audience that Bridgwater Town Council had recently introduced a Youth Grant Scheme. Currently there were 10 applications. There were facilities for young people in the town, both youth general groups and specific interest groups.
Cllr Tony Heywood (Eastover) . Would ten pin bowling be part of the scheme?
- No. Ten pin bowling is not seen to be commercially viable. As it was, a cinema led scheme would be subsidised by income from the retail/restaurants. The scheme would have to be financially feasible and realistic.
Will SDC receive a capital receipt for this scheme?
- The general notion is that SDC will be investing in this scheme. For example, the new car park had costed approx. £400k. The Tesco receipt had paid for the swimming pool at Chilton.
Mike Slade (IWA) . It would be good to include a gateway feature to encourage people to continue on from the new complex into the docks, for example use of metal archway.
- Discussions were underway with the various owners of land around the docks. Any work here would need to be sensitive to the area, but yes, such it a concept/feature is proven to be successful in inviting people to explore further.
Cllr Smedley concluded by thanking Doug Bamsey and Stuart Martin for attending and providing the update along with everyone who had attended for their questions.
He reiterated that the Town Council supported the leisure-led SDC approach with the conditions that green space would be protected and enhanced, any scheme should complement the town centre not harm it and there should be good linkages to the docks. The Town Council had supported the building of Northgate School. However, there remained some outstanding questions/concerns about the road networks associated with the scheme.
Recommendation to Bridgwater Town Council:
The Town Development Forum welcomed the leisure-led proposals, as set out.
Future projects for consideration by the Town Development Forum:
- The future of the Library Service
- Youth Focus – ie provision and young groups looking at civic space
- Transport Strategy for Bridgwater
- Eastover Regeneration
- Proposed University of Somerset
- Bridgwater Barrier Update