Published: March 20, 2012
Four years after fire, fresh fears are raised on Highbridge Hotel's future

Almost four years after a huge fire swept through the Highbridge Hotel and turned it into a crumbling eyesore, fresh concerns have been expressed this week about long-overdue proposals to redevelop the site.

Highbridge district councillor Joe Leach, who has been closely involved in the discussions between Sedgemoor District Council and owner Mead Realisations, told he is "increasingly disappointed" about plans being drawn up for the landmark site, which may see it being turned into new homes.

He told this week: "Since the fire, a number of meetings, both public and private, have taken place with Mead Realisations, Sedgemoor officers and councillors of varying political persuasions. While some progress has been made on small matters, I am increasingly disappointed with the proposals which appear to be coming forward for this crucial site."

"I will not accept the view of 'anything is better'. As a central location, this site is pivotal to the future regeneration of the town centre. A majority-housing scheme here would be outrageous and inappropriate."

"Sadly, I do not believe enough has been done to bring about a development that is anything other than housing-led. We must listen to the local people, and understand that the work, retail and amenity capacity is the top of priorities, and I will fight to ensure this is the case. I cannot, and will not, accept that housing is the only option, should that come forward."

And Cllr Leach added: "I will not accept the demolition of the hotel. As part of it is grade 2 listed, this would be very difficult, and rightly so. However, Highbridge has lost so much already, and we cannot allow further desecration of the town's heritage in the name of 'redevelopment'. The hotel can be restored and used in a very beneficial manner to compliment our town."

"I believe not a single penny from taxpayers or planning agreements should be put towards its restoration - it is the sole responsibility of Mead Realisations to bring it back into a useable condition."

"I am deeply concerned by the attitude towards this site. Yes, financial times are not the easiest, but with the same company bringing forward a £4.6million business plan for the Tropicana in neighbouring North Somerset, I do not believe it is unreasonable at all to expect a decent financial input and commitment for this critical part of Highbridge."

"With the prospect of a further 3,000+ people moving to the town from current and future developments, we cannot afford for this site to go without infrastructure investment including medical, educational, work and retail space."

He said: "As bad as the fire was, we are presented with a prime opportunity to rebuild the hotel to an excellent standard, ensuring our town's heritage is maintained, but made to look better than ever."

The former Highbridge Hotel has been derelict since a huge blaze in April 2008. The hoarding was introduced last August in a bid to screen some of the building from motorists entering the town via the A38.

Pictured: The hotel in flames four years ago; Cllr Joe Leach outside the current hotel; and, above, a second fire at the property last autumn


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