SDC ‘Special Council’ approves Northgate Masterplan

Location for the school building - currently the site of the historic workhouse hospital
Blake Hospital, proposed site of the new Northgate school. But should the building be saved, the materials re-used or simply demolished?

At today’s Special meeting of Sedgemoor District Council the master-plan, showing high-level indicative plans, for Northgate in Bridgwater was approved by councillors. The master-plan now gives a firm indication to developers as to what Sedgemoor District and Somerset County Council wish to see on the site.

A statement put out jointly by the two land owning authorities states that they are hoping to achieve the following:-
• High quality design and sustainability standards envisioned for the site
• New spaces and buildings to provide and encourage activity and sense of place
• Enhancement of the Brewery Fields to provide multi-use high quality green space
• Provision of enhanced links between the town centre and the docks (Celebration Mile)
• Sufficient and well located public car parking provision
• Access arrangements appropriate to the development proposed
• Viable and deliverable mixed use development including retail, leisure and residential
• New 420 place-primary school and 26 place nursery to be provided

With the master-plan  agreed, a planning application for the entire site will be prepared to include a detailed application for a school and an outline application for the remaining uses. Once planning permission is obtained, the site will be marketed. This is projected for the first half of 2016.

Masterplan summary

The proposed lay of the land
The proposed lay of the land

• School Requirement – 420-place primary school and 26 space nursery and associated external spaces as per BB103 (this is a Department of Education regulation about space requirements). It is envisaged that the school will be open in Autumn 2017.

Brewery Field – Enhanced landscaping and screen planting to include high quality play space (children’s play area) and full size playing pitch to be shared between school and public. Enhanced public realm including hard and soft landscaping and lighting with view to promoting key pedestrian link through Brewery Field on the ‘Celebration Mile’.

Food store (Option 1)
• 20,000 sqft food store with associated parking, access roads and landscaping

Pub/ Hotel (Option 2)
• 60-Bed budget hotel
• Public House
• Associated parking, access roads & landscaping

• 6 food and drink retail units at ground floor (beneath the Cinema)

• 4 – 6 screen multiplex cinema and associated parking

Next steps

Key for any development will be linkage to and compatibility with the exisiting town centre
Key for any development will be linkage to and compatibility with the exisiting town centre

Further detailed technical work on the master plan is required, once it is agreed in principle. This further work includes:

• Details of the vehicular access to the school and store/hotel/pub.
• Impact on trees subject to Tree Preservation orders.
• Boundary between school and Brewery Field.
• Phasing and required enabling works.

Westover Councillors backing

Westover Councillors Kathy Pearce and Brian Smedley supported the Masterplan as a starting point as it met the majority of conditions set by the Town and District Labour Groups and the Town Development Forum.

Councillor Kathy Pearce said “Bridgwater is a growing town and we desperately need a new primary school. Without it, there will not be enough school places for our young children. The central location will be within walking distance for most families and I hope it will breathe life into the Brewery Field and stimulate the town centre. We need to ensure that it can be used as a community hub for activities outside of school hours.”

Kathy Pearce
“Without a new school there will not be enough school places for our young children” Cllr Kathy Pearce

Councillor Brian Smedley said “The key words here are Flexible, aspirational and indicative. As a starting point this is broadly in line with what the people of the town have asked for and the campaign now starts to ensure it develops with full consultation and participation from the people of the town who have very already expressed strong views on this project.”

Cllr Smedley put the Labour Groups position in supporting the indicative plan as follows;-

1. To support the plan in terms of preservation and enhancement of green spaces
2. To support the plan with regards the focus on a leisure complex on the site of the former Splash
3. To recognise that the masterplan as proposed does not conflict with the well-being of the existing town centre
4. To urge SCC to continue to make a better case for a school on site that further addresses the concerns raised such as traffic increase, pupil size and community access
5. To urge SCC to relook at their decision regarding demolition of the Blake Hospital and seek to ensure that the resulting build reflects and respects the historic buildings and the heritage of the area”

Contention over Workhouse retention

Cllr Smedley added “The Town Development Forum has expressed a view that expects SCC to continue to honour it’s earlier promise to find a way to save the Workhouse Hospital if possible and to incorporate the design and materials into the new school.”

John Houlihan from SCC explained the County position – “ The potential of re-using the part of the former hospital that remains on the County Council site has been carefully considered by the County in developing their plans for a school. It has been concluded that it is not practical to re-use the building in total or in part, such is the condition of the building and its configuration. Moreover, English Heritage has confirmed that the building would not attract a Listing. However, it was agreed that part of the materials would be used in some way as a monument to the previous use of the land and explanations boards to refer to the historic elements of the site. It is hoped that we can engage with the Bridgwater Civic Society to help in this work.”

Start of a process of engagement

Cllr Brian Smedley
” The key words here are Flexible, aspirational and indicative” Cllr Brian Smedley

Cllr Smedley  added “There were numerous other issues which had been raised at the Town Development Forum and which the Labour Group would expect to be addressed during the implementation phase of the Masterplan and which will be revisited during the planning process. These included…

i. Address concerns which had been expressed during the consultation including worries about congestion at school drop off/pick up times and implementation of a workable travel plan.

ii. Acknowledge the requirement for reduced parking on site noting the Angel Place car park was only full on just 6 days of the year, so there was plenty of spare capacity there.

iii. Support the opportunity for an improved long term cinema option as the lease on the current cinema/bingo hall was relatively short term and had no disabled access. This would also attract extra uses for food outlets and central meeting places in line with wishes expressed by the Town’s Youth Forum.

iv. Support  the viability and link between docks and town centre via the Celebration Mile including the need to retain the church spire vista from the docks

v. Oppose the loss of valuable, attractive trees on site: The site must look attractive and complement the local environment, including the nearby Chandos Glass Cone.

vi. Address potential  impact of school building on Brewery Field:urge SCC to seek design solutions to the school fencing to ensure that it was sensitive to the surrounding area

vii. Support further investigation into an adult outdoor gym on the Brewery Field alongside an improved children’s play area .

viii. Monitor the potential noise impact on neighbours as part of the ongoing planning consultation process.

ix. Bearing in mind there was no drive for a capital receipt the focus for the Chilton street/Anson way element should not be a retail store but a hotel which would be more in keeping with nearby residential areas.

Council backs masterplan

Mick Lerry
“Bridgwater Town Council is now recognised as a key stakeholder in the consultation process” Cllr Mick Lerry

Labour Group leader Mick Lerry said “Labour supports this masterplan. We especially accept the urgent need for a school. In my ward there is no such provision and this is an ideal site as it is a main walkthrough from the estates to the town centre. We are glad that Bridgwater Town Council is now recognised as a  key stakeholder in the consultation process and we’d like it recognised during the course of consultation on the Local Plan that the Northgate area is not part of the town centre but clearly an area designed for leisure and recreation and as such is compatible in it’s new use .”

Cllr Gill Slocombe (Con, Wyndham) said she “..took issue with Cllr Smedley” and continued “I believe the whole council has always cared about Bridgwater. Sedgemoor has a responsibility for Bridgwater and will continue to make decisions for it which make economic sense.”

The Masterplan will now go through various phases of development and implementation with key decisions brought before planning panels, the Town Council, the County Council and again to the Town Development Forum.