The wooden hoardings have finally been removed from around the site of the former Highbridge Hotel as a major £4.6m building project nears completion.

The hotel building was gutted in a huge fire in April 2008 that left it severely damaged.

Since then, there have many dashed hopes of an overhaul to the “eyesore” site.  This time, the development project is finally nearing completion and the YMCA’s ‘community gateway’ is on track open over the next few weeks.

The building will provide a new community cafe, a multi-use sports hall for sports activities, meeting areas, plus 23 new homes for young people.

Martin Hodgson, Chief Executive of YMCA Somerset Coast, pictured below, says the new ‘YMCA Highbridge Community Branch’ will be a “gateway project that will transform the town.”

Martin says he is “very proud” of the project, adding: “It shows the YMCA’s commitment to bringing something special back to Highbridge that we genuinely believe will be a real community asset.”

The £4.6m project has been funded with £2.91m from the YMCA, plus £1.1m from Homes England, £500,000 from Sedgemoor District Council, and £96,000 from Hinkley Point C’s Housing Fund.

Burnham and Highbridge’s Mayor, Cllr Andy Brewer, said: “This will be a great asset to Highbridge’s community and I want to congratulate the YMCA for what they are doing.”

Mr Hodgson added that the coloured walls at the rear of the building – which were previously criticised by councillors as looking like a ‘Lego Land Monstrosity’ – have been “toned down” and these can now be seen below.

Mr Hodgson added: “I still hear the ‘h’ word a lot for ‘hotel’ when I’m in Highbridge, but I want this to be known as a community venue, where the local community comes together.”

History of the Highbridge Hotel site

Local historians say the original hotel was likely founded in the late 18th century and it has been a landmark at the entry to the town for years.

When the Cattle Market closed in 2007 the Highbridge Hotel was secured to prevent trespass and unauthorised entry, however the building was subject to several acts of arson.

It was then gutted by the huge Highbridge Hotel fire in April 2008 that left it severely damaged.

The structure of the building was destroyed to such an extent that substantial fire clearance works were required to make the buildings safe. Work to clear the building was agreed with Sedgemoor District Council.

As part of the fire clearance works and in agreement with the Conservation Officer and English Heritage, work was undertaken to support the main building facade to ensure its main feature was protected.