Plans to pursue a major regeneration of Highbridge are set to be taken forward by the new Somerset Council, it has been confirmed this week.
Sedgemoor District Council’s Nick Tait, who is service manager for policy, says that despite the town recently being turned down for funding from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund, a project is expected to be taken forward by the new unitary Somerset Council.
Highbridge’s bid for millions of pounds of ‘Levelling Up’ funding ‘ was formally turned down in January. Mendip District Council and Sedgemoor District Council had jointly submitted a £19.3m bid to the government’s Levelling Up fund last summer for projects in Cheddar, Highbridge and Shepton Mallet.
Nick told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “Although everyone was disappointed that the levelling up fund bid was not successful we remain very much committed to progressing regeneration plans for Highbridge.”
“The District Council has adopted the Regeneration Strategy for Highbridge and so this document will be used to support any future funding bids as well as being something to take into account when considering planning applications in the area. This strategy will be taken forward into the new Council.”
“As part of the bid process we were able to develop a number of the projects so that they are reasonably advanced if and when new funding or bid opportunities come along, although developing these will require further detailed local consultation. This is really important as most Government funding bids have very short deadlines to submit. We are already looking at a number of opportunities.”
“In terms of going forward, we will shortly become part of the new Somerset Council and it will be for that Council to drive forward regeneration strategies and initiatives.”
“Currently there has been no formal announcement regarding a third round of Levelling Up funding although this is still expected. When an announcement is made the new Council will need to consider whether it wishes to make a further bid looking carefully at what is needed to do this, including any match funding for example.”
“However, most of the previous work on the unsuccessful bid will remain relevant but also we would look to improve any bid taking into account the Government feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the bid. We’d also engage further with the local communities and stakeholder and of course the MP.”
“I think though the key message is that officers are very much committed to progressing regeneration of Highbridge and will look at future opportunities to secure funding in order to deliver on the projects and opportunities identified in the Regeneration Strategy.”
“We will also work with local developers and other investors to ensure that new development supports the wider place making ambitions set out in the Regeneration Strategy. The adopted Regeneration Strategy ensures that this will remain an important focus for the new Council.”
Cllr Phil Harvey also recently said in a report to town councillors this month: “I have had assurances from the Leader of Somerset Council that this work will not be lost. As you know, the bid to the Levelling Up Fund was unsuccessful. The Fund was oversubscribed by a factor of four so the Government had to reduce the field in some way or another.”
“Despite the bids having to be submitted on a constituency basis, they decided to thin the field by only allowing one bid per district council. Sedgemoor had submitted two bids, one for the Wells constituency – for Highbridge, Cheddar and Shepton Mallet – and the other for Bridgwater and West Somerset – a bid to redevelop the old Bridgwater hospital complex as an NHS centre of excellence and training centre.”
“Given the state of the NHS, it is not surprising this was chosen as the successful bid! Although the rejection of our bid is a setback there are positives to be taken from the process. As well as the Highbridge Regeneration Framework there are also a number of schemes which have been worked-up as part of the LUF bid and so can readily be put forward for other funding opportunities.”
“Officers assured members of the Highbridge Regeneration Working Group that they will carry these plans forward into the new Council. On a political level, I have had assurances from the Leader of Somerset Council that this work will not be lost.”
Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge’s Mayor, Cllr Lesley Millard, also recently vowed to continue work on the plans for the town.
She said: “Although it is extremely disappointing that this important regeneration project has not received the backing by central government, the plans still stand and we will continue to focus our attention on exploring ways to put those in place.”
The original funding bid attracted criticism from MP James Heappey last August. He said here he was not surprised the “lacklustre” bid had failed.