Controversial plans to turn Highbridge’s former Canal House site into a modern development of 29 flats have been given the final go-ahead this week despite concerns about local infrastructure and the loss of commercial units in the town centre

At a meeting of the district council’s Development Committee on Tuesday (July 31st), members granted permission to New Shore Developments to proceed with the high-profile flats scheme.

The Town Council and Highbridge Chamber of Trade had objected against the scheme due to the loss of retail and business space in the town centre.

The high-profile Market Street site, which is situated next to the Church Street roundabout, has been vacant for years since the former Canal House premises closed down.

Highbridge Chamber of Trade Trade Chairman Mike Murphy spoke out against the scheme, saying: “This site has seen 200 years of retail – there have been shops and businesses in the heart of Highbridge for years.”

“The agent, Toni Hammick, has told me she can’t sell retail units there as there’s not enough footfall but we know hundreds of new homes are to be built at the Delta engineering site, Brue Farm, Isleport, and at the YMCA hotel site in the near future.”

“I want to see two retail units here and think the development should be denied until those are given. There are not enough ‘shop shells’ available in Market Street.”

Mr Murphy told after this week’s decision: “I am very disappointed that despite Sedgemoor District Council designating Market Street for retail development, the developer point blank refused to include two shop shells on the ground floor. I am convinced this will become part of the Highbridge social housing dumping ground with little boxes – some of which only just meet the national standard. When will Sedgemoor ever learn.”

Town councillor John Parkes said of the application: “I have grave concerns about these plans. It’s clear to everyone that Highbridge is being overdeveloped and we just don’t have the infrastructure to support it. This would be a huge overdevelopment.” He added that the ground floor of the development “must be kept for retail”.

But town councillor Andy Brewer told the meeting thaty the developer had worked on addressing nearby neighbours’ concerns about the proposed site over looking their homes, reducing the risk of shadowing onto their properties. Responding to concerns about ‘over-development’, he said the developer believes the proposed new building will cover a “smaller floor area than the previous scheme for the site”.

While town councillors voted to object against the scheme, the plans have now been granted approval by Sedgemoor District Council subject to usual planning conditions.

The applicant, local property agent Toni Hammock, discussed her plans for the site with councillors in February, as we reported here. “This site has been a thorn in Highbridge’s side for a long time,” and she added: “Now, we have new plans to develop it.”

She explained that while permission was granted in 2010 for a mixed-use development of 14 flats and shops, that scheme had proven “commercially unworkable as there wasn’t the footfall.” These new plans were therefore drawn up without shops and a flats-only development.