Published: February 16, 2010
Exclusive: £6million housing scheme unveiled for Highbridge estate

Controversial plans to build a major new £6million housing development in Highbridge and demolish an industrial estate and a community hall have this week sparked concerns from businesses and residents.

A consultation letter from Sedgemoor District Council has been distributed to dozens of residents living around Morland Industrial Estate and Pearce Drive, where developer Henglade and agents Property Link want to build up to 50 new houses and a 90 bed nursing home.

Under the proposals, the Morland Industrial Park and Morland Community Hall and Youth Club would be demolished and a new community hall facility would be built elsewhere.

In the consultation letter, Duncan Harvey, Sedgemoor's Affordable Housing Policy and Development Manager, says: "The proposals would see the existing industrial estate; block garages and community halls pulled down and replaced with 40-50 new houses, a nursing home creating 100 new jobs and a new community facility."

He adds: "The total investment needed would exceed six million pounds. Given the delicate nature of the global economy and the shortage of public sector money to support this type of proposal, the Council would like encourage such investment into Highbridge if possible."

If it were to go ahead, Sedgemoor District Council would have to sell off twenty-one garages and two community run buildings next to Pearce Drive. The Morland Industrial Estate is in private ownership and a separate deal would have to be reached between the developer and the owner.

The lack of detail about the project has raised fears about the future of the groups based at Morland Hall.

Sedgemoor Community Partnership's Richard Matthews, pictured right, who manages the hall, says he welcomed the proposals for a new community centre but is concerned that the developer would only provide "an empty shell" with no inside facilities and there is no indication when this would be provided, potentially leaving users without facilities.

Speaking to Burnham-On-Sea.com on Tuesday, he said: "SDC is considering a proposal to sell this long standing community-used land to a developer, with the view included in the proposal that a new so called Community Hall 'shell' be provided in the scheme, but it is the opinion after careful consideration of my supporters that due to the current level of information provided by both the developer, his agent and SDC officers we are unable to find favour in the majority of aspects of this plan for a number of development, operational, logistic relocation and financial reasons."

"We consider that we are best placed to provide a leading role and be treated as an asset to the future of community life in Highbridge and not thought like a hindrance in a grand plan, which has not been very well thought out. With our small band of dedicated volunteers we have set up a dynamic organisation which can advise and make its contribution to a 'joined up; strategy instead of short-term financial gain."

"Members of my committee, the trustees, Councillor John Woodman, Highbridge Community Youth Club, the Police, Mendip and Sedgemoor Community Partnership and the old Morland Residents Association, plus many service users of the hall support me in this view."

Mr Matthews demanded: "Before any irrevocable decisions are made Sedgemoor Community Partnership and Highbridge Community Youth Club must have concrete assurances that Sedgemoor Community Partnership is not disadvantaged in any way, our lease is renewed, a suitable building is erected and fitted in Phase 1, that SDC will agree its use as a community building for an agreed time, that SDC will make every effort to ensure the plans are genuine and that a contract between the developer and the care home provider is actually in place for the erection of the care home."

Mr Matthews added: "Sedgemoor Community Partnership started life originally as the SAHP (Sedgemoor Association of Handicapped People) and the building was dedicated to the local community by the late town councillor Jim Pearce, who died in 2009."

"Morland Hall has been socially active on this site in Highbridge for the past 25 years, providing assistance to needy sections of the community but it is only in these past two years that it has seen the need to improve the mainstream services for this deprived ward."

He added that the groups that use the hall on a regular basis include Highbridge Community Youth Club, Dog Training club, Dancing classes, Family Connections projects, Highbridge Dreamscheme, Local Action Team, Homes in Sedgemoor and Slimming World.

Meanwhile, residents and local businesses have until Friday 12th March to contact Mr Harvey at Sedgemoor District Council regarding the proposals. Mr Harvey said: "No firm decision has been taken to progress with any redevelopment on these parcels of land. Before the Council can make any commitment to any proposal, I feel it is important to listen to local people and other people potentially affected by a future area regeneration proposal."

.MORE REACTION TO THE £6m DEVELOPMENT SCHEME:

Highbridge County Councillor Cllr John Woodman told Burnham-On-Sea.com: "I want to see the full proposals before giving my verdict. My concern is that the Morland Community Hall is under threat. It is a great asset and I am very concerned that we would lose it. I am also concerned about where the businesses on the industrial estate would re-locate to."

A spokesman from Highbridge Community Youth Club told Burnham-On-Sea.com: "The Morland Youth Hall has thrived in the last four years. It now hosts the Highbridge Dreamscheme, the LAT and local art groups and has become the youth hub of Highbridge. It is a provision used by over 200 young people in well established and successful projects, which are of great benefit to the community. The users of the hall have concerns with the development proposals and feel the facility offered by the developers would not meet the needs of the young people and that this may force the closure of these facilities."

Town Council clerk Eileen Shaw added that town councillors will be discussing the proposals at their March meeting in two weeks time. "Until that meeting, the council does not have a formal position on the plans," she told Burnham-On-Sea.com.

What's your view on the proposals? Contact Burnham-On-Sea.com here.


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