The Cyberspace around Bridgwater had been going crazy these past couple of weeks over the possibility of a Waterpark coming to town. More than 2,000 people have signed up to an online petition, besieged social media sites and now the story is even hitting the front pages. The man behind the project is Bridgwater resident Stuart Gordon. This week he met with Town Council Leader Brian Smedley and Deputy Leader Kathy Pearce to look at his ideas in detail.
Stuart has a vision for a waterpark modelled on a specific Portuguese example but with influences including various sites around the UK. The site would include flumes, slides and other aquatic features plus a major nature park around it.
Pushing for Change
The petition reads “After demolishing our Lido that we all much loved. They built the Splash, it wasn’t the best but it was the best thing about our town most probably. Now I think it’s time to go a scale up and create a better one. We are joining forces and creating a group who are dedicated for change in Bridgwater and surrounding areas. We are looking for passionate people who can push for change. Sustainability is key in any project and we wish to discuss ways of reflecting that in this project. “
Brian Smedley said “Stuart clearly understands the situation locally. The people of the town had a Lido, loved it and lost it and then had the Splash and loved it and lost it. Obviously that’s what the people of the town want. We didn’t want to lose it and in fact it was taken from us. This was a clear decision by Sedgemoor District Council and opposed by Bridgwater Town Council. People fought to save it but failed. The Splash was demolished in order to build a Tesco’s….the rest is history…we don’t have a Splash..or even a Tescos. The thing is that people quite naturally still want a major leisure facility in the town and this desire is completely in line with Town Council policy. We are campaigning for a Northgate leisure facility which compliments the town centre and at the same time retains the green space of the Brewery Field and so we were very keen to see Stuart’s proposals.”
Where could it go?
One of the key issues for any major capital project is obviously the funding. Then the land ownership and availability. Then the sustainability and ongoing revenue costs.
Kathy Pearce said “We looked at the pro’s and cons of several sites that Stuart had identified. It was clear that the Northgate site wasn’t large enough and ownership rested with SDC & SCC. The ‘Meads’ site would involve an element of building, which has long been resisted in that area and a different project is currently being developed for a more sensitive environmental option plus the land ownership is partly with SDC but also with several private individuals or developers. Stuart also identified the former Cellophane site as a possible option, however, this had long been earmarked for EDF related housing . Of the sites he listed the most viable seemed to be the land between Hamp and Stockmoor designated in local plans for use as a ‘country park’ .”
Brian Smedley said “In Bridgwater land is a premium and large areas are simply not easy to come by. The Town Council certainly has almost nothing of any use for this project. We stressed to Stuart that our assortment of 10 Allotments, 2 cemeteries and 12 bus shelters probably wouldn’t be much use. In this respect he needed to work with either of the larger landowning Authorities , or seek private land.”
How would it be paid for?
Brian Smedley said “Stuart’s initial estimate for the cost of the project could be 40-60 million pounds and none of the Local Authorities were likely to stump up that sort of money from their local tax sources. Sedgemoor had just spent several million on a new swimming pool (with help from the Tesco’s compensation deal) and were pretty clear that they believed this was adequate for Bridgwater and so are extremely unlikely to go through any similar exercise on a scale some 10’s of thousands more ambitious. Bridgwater Town Council, which retains only a miniscule element of the council tax raised through it’s precepts, would mean that with Band D at £49.8 per household per annum this year raising a precept of £445768.00 then to raise a target of £40million, residents would need to see a Band D equivalent of £4,468.70 per year. I’d suggest that’s not likely to be acceptable to the public. This therefore leaves only private sources of finance or thinking outside the box .”
Thinking outside the box
Stuart had naturally thought of EDF who would be bringing 1,000’s of new workers to the town over the next few years who would need leisure facilities. EDF however regularly point out that their ‘Community Impact Mitigation Fund’ of some £100m pound was already waiting in the West Somerset District Council account to be awarded in sections to any community organisations that could make the case to them. Clearly this was one option for Stuart to pursue but the Town Council Leaders stressed to him that any funding from any source would only be considered against a well prepared, designed and costed business plan, which he didn’t yet have but was in the process of getting together.
However, Stuarts energy and enthusiasm for the project also saw him thinking outside of that crucial box. He works in network marketing and as such is part of the Shopping Sherlock Franchise which he believes can raise large amounts of money quickly.
Brian Smedley said “This is something which is not easily understood by everybody –and that includes us – but it’s often seen as a form of pyramid selling albeit with a loose connection to something physical which is what network marketers use to differentiate themselves from pyramid schemes. Stuart, denies that his scheme is a Pyramid sell. Shopping Sherlock claims to find the best deals for you online through it’s app which is FREE to use and FREE to download. Another alternative is Crowd funding which many people have used to kick start projects, however, it’s not so certain to be able to raise the sort of sums needed here.”
Stuarts drive, enthusiasm and understanding of social media and it’s network marketing potential has put Bridgwater’s quest for increased leisure facilities in the town on the front pages and therefore in the public eye.
Brian Smedley said “We absolutely applaud Stuart’s work and his campaign has demonstrated clearly what the people of the town want. Probably his ideas are over ambitious and likely he’ll come across knock backs and maybe eventually a brick wall, but without people putting their heads above water and trying to achieve their visions nothing will ever change and so we would support him as far as is practical.”