July 18, 2014
YMCA boss says Highbridge Hotel's overhaul 'will finish in 2016'

The long-awaited redevelopment of the eyesore Highbridge Hotel site will be completed by September 2016, it has emerged this week. first reported five weeks ago that the YMCA had been awarded £1.1m of funding to overhaul the hotel site by the government's Homes and Community Agency.

Now, the Chief Executive of the YMCA in Somerset, Martin Hodgson, pictured, has this week unveiled the timescales for the project to create accommodation for young people and community sports facilities.

"I can confirm that we will be inviting tenders for the building work in August, starting the hotel redevelopment in November this year, and aiming to fully complete the work by September 2016," he told

"This has been a hot potato for us for some time and we are very aware that the general public is keen to see the site improved as quickly as possible," he said. "I drive past this iconic building every day on my way to work and fully understand the desire to get the site improved."

His comments came after a meeting of the Town Council's Planning Applications Committee on Wednesday when Mr Hodgson won the backing of the council for the removal of a planning condition to allow the cattle market homes next door to be completed before the hotel overhaul itself.

The YMCA has asked Sedgemoor District Council to relax a planning condition which was attached when permission was given for the combined development of the hotel and the building of the 59 homes by Knightstone Housing.

Martin said: "Condition 15 encourages Knightstone to go ahead with the hotel work before the last section of new housing on the cattle market site is completed, but by relaxing Condition 15 it would allow the YMCA to take over the hotel project. It would cost £1.79million, but we have £1.1million from the Homes & Communities Agency, so we have the money to start as soon as possible."

Alison Griffin, Corporate Director at Sedgemoor District Council, told Wednesday's meeting: "The speed at which the £1.1m funding from the Homes and Community Agency for the hotel was secured took us by surprise and we now are talking to Sport England to get funding for the planned sports and leisure facilities as well."

"Our request to have 'Condition 15' of the hotel's planning approval removed is purely a timing issue to allow the housing to be completed by next March and to proceed with the hotel," she said.

She added that a "legal assurance" could be given to the Town Council that the hotel redevelopment would proceed.

But Cllr Bill Hancock said is unhappy with the proposals. "I am not happy - I think it is absolutely disgusting that Sedgemoor is asking for this. We had an agreement with Sedgemoor that the housing would only go ahead at the same time as the hotel development and yet this was over-ruled by Sedgemoor's Executive and the homes have gone ahead first."

"A legal agreement would not be worth the paper it would be written on. The new homes on the cattle market next door should never have been started before the River Brue flood defences were completed to protect the town. It also worries me that Sedgemoor is looking to go ahead with the hotel without funding available in place for the main community benefit - the sports facilities."

But Town Clerk Denise Emery told Wednesday's meeting that there is a considerable amount of developer funding available to build local community sports facilities and that she does not forsee an issue there.

Cllr Paul Young asked whether the funding would be enough to complete the project given the protected listed status of the hotel building. Mr Hodgson said he is aware of this risk but is confident that the funding would cover the work.

Cllr Peter Burridge-Clayton added: "I feel much happier about the project after tonight. I have tremendous faith in the YMCA that they can deliver this project, having seen a lot of their other sites doing really well."

Cllr Andy Brewer added that it is important that the issue of the hotel is sorted out as quickly as possible and that such a prominent site on the A38 is made more attractive.

Councillors voted on the proposal to remove the Condition 15. Four were in favour and one - Cllr Hancock - abstained.

The Highbridge Hotel has been derelict for over six years since a huge blaze destroyed much of it in April 2008, followed by several other smaller fires.

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