Published: April 20, 2009
£100million Highbridge regeneration plans unveiled amid controversy

Plans for a major £100m project to regenerate Highbridge were unveiled on Monday (April 20th) amid controversy.

Toni Hammick from development company Property Link unveiled the ambitious plans for a huge new development at the town's old boat yard on the banks of the River Brue featuring a new hotel, restaurants, new shopping facilities and residential properties (pictured here).

The firm, supported by district councillor Paul Herbert, also unveiled plans to develop seven other sites around the town. These include converting Highbridge's old cattle market into a new shopping centre, turn the Canal House into a 'landmark building' featuring a restaurant, gym and residential accommodation, and overhaul the Bank Street Car Park into a new 'heart for the town' as a base for local markets and new shops and offices.

Speaking at the annual town council meeting in Burnham, Mrs Hammick (pictured with Cllr Herbert) went on to say the proposals will also include replacing the Morland Community Hall and industrial park with a new care home and new community centre; creating a new petrol station at Asda's Highbridge store; and upgrading commercial and residential properties in nearby Bason Bridge.

But the scheme ran into controversy when it emerged that the Chairman of the Burnham and Highbridge Regeneration Partnership, County Councillor Rosemary Parsons, had not been consulted about the plans.

Cllr Parsons told the meeting she was "absolutely astounded" that her group had not been involved in any discussions regarding the plans.

"We have been struggling to pull together plans for regeneration over recent years and now this comes out of the blue. All the discussions appear to have been going on behind our backs."

And she added: "I can't see the Regeneration Partnership continuing in its current form after this year."

However, councillor Paul Herbert assured her that there had been no intention to keep her group in the dark. "We have only held early, preliminary discussions with the owners of the various sites at this stage. We had to keep the plans confidential until now in order to take them forward. It would have jeopardized the whole scheme to have discussed them before now."

Cllr Neville Jones was among several councillors welcoming the proposals.

"While we still await more details, we must be grateful that at long last someone is thinking about the future of Highbridge. In particular, I applaud the plans for the Morland Estate," he said.

Cllr Chris Williams said he believes the plans represent a "mixture of some excellent and some unthinkable ideas."

He added: "The important message for Property Link to take away is that no more flats should be built in Highbridge - residents just don't want them."

Cllr Mike Mansfield said he was sceptical about the project's chances of success. "I have seen so many plans for Highbridge over the years. Nothing ever materializes and I can't see it happening," he said.

While no formal planning application has yet been submitted to Sedgemoor District Council for the proposals, Cllr Paul Herbert (pictured below) told he believes the project could start to deliver some real changes "within 3-4 years."

"If we get strong enough support and have local people behind us, there is no reason why it should take long to deliver this," he said.

"Highbridge has so much going for it and something has to be done. First impressions are that it is a forgotten town, a social housing dumping ground, with a shortage of retail and public services, but it in fact has lots in its favour."

"The town has several industrial estates, two M5 junctions, a mainline railway station, and a growing population. It has all the ingredients to be a vibrant part of Somerset regeneration."

Alex Turco, Chairman of Burnham's Chamber of Trade, told Monday's meeting he was disappointed to hear the Regeneration Partnership would not be continuing in its current form during such an important time for Highbridge.

"Initiatives like this need to be community-led, not led from the top down - it's a shame that the Regeneration Partnership can't facilitate that."


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