Published: December 3, 2013
Council hits out at lack of consultation over new £1.4m hotel plans

Angry town councillors have this week attacked Sedgemoor District Council for changing the major redevelopment of the Highbridge Hotel site without consulting them first.

At a meeting last night (Monday), councillors raised concerns that a £1.4m funding deal - first reported by last week - will lead to the construction of 59 new homes on the old cattle market site but without the much-needed redevelopment of the hotel building also going ahead.

Sedgemoor's Executive had agreed to give a grant worth £1,481,000 from its New Homes Bonus Fund to Knightstone Housing Association to enable the construction of 59 homes on the cattle market site.

The Council has also agreed to enter into a "six year option agreement" with Derek Mead, the current owner of the Highbridge Hotel site, which could secure the transfer of the land into the Council's ownership for a nominal fee of £1.

Highbridge councillor Bill Hancock said: "It was agreed with Sedgemoor a long time ago when we first began discussing the hotel's future that it must re-developed at the same time as the new homes on the old cattle market site."

"Now, we're hearing that Sedgemoor is pushing ahead with the 59 new homes without the hotel at the same time. I think an ombudsman should look closer into this deal and see whether it's been mishandled."

Cllr Helen Groves, who says she has "serious concerns" about the future of the hotel, added: "We cannot tell Sedgemoor what to do with the money, but in terms of planning I am concerned that this is a significant change to the original plans. There should have been communication with the Town Council."

She said that the development company overseeing the 59 new homes "has to start building by March 2014 to secure the funding, but this doesn't warrant by-passing the normal process."

Cllr Phil Harvey added: "The scheme has changed considerably from the one when we were consulted. There is a question whether Sedgemoor has acted incorrectly in not consulting us as a statutory consultee."

Town Clerk Denise Emery told councillors at Monday's meeting: "Sedgemoor has told me that the agreement had been made to go forward with the development of the site for 59 affordable homes and development of the hotel with 22 units within it."

"There are no time constraints on development of the hotel site and Sedgemoor are still hopeful that the YMCA will be the partners on development of the building. When I asked what would happen in the worst case scenario that the YMCA are unable to fund the development of the hotel and Sedgemoor cannot find any other partners, what would happen then, I was told that the council has a six year option to take ownership of the hotel for £1."

The Highbridge Hotel has been derelict since a huge blaze occurred in April 2008 and several other smaller blazes and negotiations about its future have been ongoing ever since.


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