Bridgwater Town Council this week looked at two key action plans from Westover Councillors for the regeneration of the Town Centre and also of the Bridgwater to Taunton Canal and Docks. Cllr Brian Smedley, who brought the items to the Council’s agenda, explains the background.
“The Town Centre is the focal point not only of the Westover Ward but also of Bridgwater and it’s success is key to the town’s survival. Following a recent walkabout with members of the ‘Town team’ and other influential figures for the future of the town’s economic development I drafted a report which was put to the town council meeting on August 7th as an ‘Action Plan’.”
The report highlighted the need to define the Town Centre and recognise how it had changed in the last 30 years when at one time it stretched from North street to the Railway Station. It urged the importance of an interesting streetscape including targeted and consistent cleaning, relevant signage and street furniture and tackling the scourge of empty shops. Key areas described as ‘Grot Spots’ were identified as priority points for action notably the Penel Orlieu ‘Classic Buildings’ in Westover and the former East Quay Medical Centre site in Eastover which had fallen into neglect and is currently earmarked for an Asda Petrol station.
Town Centre Action Plan
The report also pointed to the positive achievements in recent years such as the pedestrianisation of West Quay where a virtual ‘rive gauche’ atmosphere was emerging with restaurants ,bars and takeaways mingling in a cosmopolitan community environment alongside hairdressers, a popular record shop and a tattooist .
Roger Smith of the Town Team, which had developed from the ‘Bridgwater Retail Initiative’ , addressed the report in his presentation, supporting it’s conclusions and explaining how the Time Team was working to achieve the recommendations and in particular urged the need for Flexibility in planning decisions to encourage enterprise and highlighted key projects such as the annual ‘Snowflakes and Shopping’ event, scheduled for November 21st this year.
Roger also explained how the use of ‘shop jackets’ and other initiatives that built on activity in the streetscape had worked and how this was one example of how the Town Team was actively promoting Bridgwater which had included such events as ‘Independents day’ and being awarded funds from Mary Portas for this. He said “We intend to make the Action Plan a key part of our agenda”.
Cllr John Turner (Hamp) said “The main problem for the town centre is building these out of town supermarkets and this has been going on for 30 years”
Cllr Graham Granter (Fairfax) said “ A major problem is that the town centre retail units are too small, the whole process is at the mercy of market forces and the shop rents are too high.”
Cllr Mick Lerry (Victoria) urged the “adoption of the report” and proposed “looking into dedicated funding streams from the Town Council”.
Cllr Smedley said “The crucial point now is to keep an eye on what needs to be done and what is being done.”
Looking into the Canal
The second key Westover area initiative on the agenda was the plans for the Canal and docks. Cllr Smedley had recently been nominated to the Somerset Waterways Advisory Committee and had set up a meeting between Inland Waterways Association and Sedgemoor to look into plans for the canal. He said “The canal is a major unused resource for Bridgwater. Pretty much 90% of it runs through the Westover ward and there is an active force of volunteers eager to dedicate themselves to bring it into use, so as a Town Council we need to support that”.
Bob Abbott, Chairman of the West Country branch of the IWA addressed the meeting at the invitation of Cllr Smedley and asked for the Town Councils support with several key initiatives, particularly highlighting the work of Westover residents Mike Slade and Pat Robinson in co-ordinating volunteers and promoting the canal. “We would like to see signage along the celebration mile take account of Bridgwater’s maritime heritage as it links the railway station and the docks. We would like to be able to install a trailer at the docks as an information point and possible tourist information centre. We want to organise a 21st anniversary waterways festival next year to commemorate the re-opening of the canal and we’d welcome Town Council delegates on the SWAC committee.”
Cllr Smedley urged support for all of these measures including pointing the IWA to the relevant funding channels including the Finance ctte and ward grants. “The Docks area is divided between Westover and Victoria, most of the canal then goes through Westover and a section touches Hamp as it leaves the town. There is surely opportunity for joint funding there.”
Cllr Turner insisted “We need to be clear that we support jointly funded projects with other organisations and can’t fund these projects on our own.”
Cllr Dave Loveridge (Eastover) asked “What is the preferable option for any future barrage on the Parrett?”
Bob Abbott replied “We would like to see the river navigable again and so would prefer the inclusion of a ‘lock’ as part of any barrier.”
Cllr Adrian Moore (Hamp) pointed out “The new bridge on the NDR surely puts paid to that idea.”
Mr Abbott said he felt there were ‘ ways of overcoming that’.
Cllr Ian Tucker (Dunwear) said “I’ve always felt the Canal is a great opportunity for tourism and we should support this.”
The Westover proposals were absorbed and action points taken forward by the meeting, which on this occasion was totally devoid of Tory councillors. Well, there’s only 2 out of 16 anyway.