The last meeting of the 4 year period of office of this current Bridgwater Town Council was held on Thursday 16th April and with members of the public in attendance, members of council in the departure lounge and a new council on the horizon, the table was cleared for the next generation.
Bridgwater Town Council is elected every 4 years and comprises of 16 councillors representing 7 wards around the town. The political balance is currently 14 Labour and 2 Conservative.
Elections are being held on Thursday 7th May and for advice on wards, candidates, polling stations and voting click here.
Three key markers were put down by outgoing councillors to be picked up by whoever took over from them and forms the next Town Council.
Northgate’s future must be decided by Bridgwater People
1. The past four years in Bridgwater had been dominated by the struggle to prevent Sedgemoor District Council imposing a Tescopoly on the town and while this shadow was now lifted from everyone’s heads, the question of the future of Northgate now became crucial. A report was approved by the outgoing Town Council based on public opinion gauged at the recent Trinity Hall meeting where the clear wishes of the Bridgwater population was for a leisure led development, complimentary to the town centre and which maintained the green space. The report would be on the table for the incoming council with a gauntlet thrown down to landowners Sedgemoor and Somerset to consult with the people of Bridgwater before they even considered riding roughshod over our wishes again.
The Town’s Traders must get mitigation because of the traffic chaos
2. The devastating impact of the EDF/SCC junction improvements had been constantly challenged by the outgoing town council as unnecessary and potential damaging to the town centre. A Traders Impact Survey carried out by Westover Councillors was submitted to this council with a plan of action to be laid on the table of the oncoming council, but actioned speedily in the meantime by officers including the ‘Town Team’ . The Survey demonstrated a real impact ammounting to an average 28% hit to traders because of the effect of the road works and the potential loss of customers to Bridgwater as a result. The Report as tabled recommended an urgent course of action to be carried through in order to attract EDF’s Community Impact Mitigation money into Bridgwater including investigating measures such as free parking, ‘open for business’ advertising campaign and enhanced town centre amenities to draw shoppers back to the town.
Bridgwater needs a Leisure and Tourism focused amenity
3. The quest for a major tourist attraction to turn around Bridgwater’s commercial fortune was an economic imperative and a focus on the Docks and waterways was identified as an opportunity worth investigating. A presentation at the meeting by Rhiann Childs outlined a way forward which could see part of the docks become a floating museum of military boats. The possible formation of a Community Interest Company to look at connecting the Docks, through Northgate to the Town Centre and attract inward investment yet steered by the people of Bridgwater was seen as an inclusive way forward with a role for the Town Council at the centre of this.
Cllr Ian Tucker, at his final council meeting, said “When Sedgemoor;s Chief Executive Kerry Rickards said we had to have a Tesco it was because, as he put it, ‘the developer is King’ well, there’s no longer any money motive as to what we do with this land now so it’s up to the people of Bridgwater to decide what’s best for it without the Developer being King!”
Cllr Brian Smedley moving the ‘approval in principal’ of the 3 key reports, said “This council is over and a new one will start after the May elections. We have set them an agenda to take forward, a method to achieve it and we believe it’s what the people of Bridgwater want. But there has to be a new way of working that involves mobilising all the skills and ideas of our community and the Town Council is key to that. We welcome initiatives such as that today of Rhiann Childs, we need to stick up for the traders who are the lifesblood of the town and we need to create genuine and workable projects that originate from within the community to save the heritage and enhance the amenities of our town.”
Closing the meeting an emotional Mayor, Cllr Steve Austen paid tribute to the “amazing people of our wonderful town” and thanked the councillors who were no longer seeking election and who had given service to their community.
A vote of thanks was proposed by father of the House Cllr John Turner for Cllr Austen and his Mayoress Stella for their tireless work during their term of office on behalf of the people of Bridgwater
On the Labour side, Cllr Ken Richards, a councillor for over 40 years and Mayor on 5 occaisions, was finally standing down due to ill health, Cllr Bill Monteith, twice Mayor, was not seeking re-election due to other work commitments, Cllr Ian Tucker , who had been at the forefront of the campaign against Tesco’s had moved to Taunton and was no longer eligible to stand, Cllr Pat Parker, twice Mayor, also had work commitments that made attending meetings more difficult and would not be standing again, and current Mayor Cllr Steve Austen himself was also retiring on completion of his term of office.
On the Tory side, both were standing down from their long service on the Town Council. Cllr David Baker who had been Mayor at the time of the Czech and German twinnings in 1992, had reached the self-decided end of the line for himself in local government while Cllr Gill Slocombe, currently going through a period of temporary ill health, had decided reluctantly to take her doctors advice and cut back on her workload, which in this case meant the town council.