Controversial plans to turn Highbridge’s former library into two new flats have been described as “madness” and “a disgrace” by angry town councillors and the Chamber of Trade this week.

As first reported here, Sedgemoor District Council, which owns Alpha House in Market Street, has submitted plans for a ‘conversion of former library space into two flats.’ Highbridge library closed down at the end of 2018 due to cost-cutting by Somerset County Council despite a high-profile local campaign to save it.

This week, at a meeting of the Town Council’s Planning Applications Committee on Monday night (March 18th), Mike Murphy, Chairman of Highbridge Chamber of Trade, described the “disgraceful” plan as “madness.”

He told councillors: “Highbridge is being swamped with more and more housing with no amenities. I am very concerned and strongly recommend this application is turned down.”

“Are we really going to lose a valuable retail unit or service hub for another two new flats in an area that has been designated by Sedgemoor as a main retail area?”

Cllr Nick Tolley agreed, saying: “I 100% agree with Mr Murphy’s sentiments. I am shocked at this application – it’s a valuable little building. It seems nobody at Sedgemoor District Council had the foresight to consider what its future use might be. Once it’s become flats, it’s another part of Highbridge that will be lost forever.”

“I totally object to this application and am disgusted if Sedgemoor has already begun work on building the flats, as we’re hearing.”

Cllr John Parkes continued: “Highbridge, the housing capital of the west, does not need more flats here. This is morally indefensible just three months after the library closed. I am totally against it.”

Cllr Louise Parkin added: “This is the retain centre of Highbridge – I can see absolutely no need for two more flats here. It would be an over-development. We have a humongous amount of flats in the town already. If we lose this now, it’s gone forever. We have to go against this.”

Cllr Andy Brewer added: “As this is the retail centre of Highbridge, as identified in the Burnham and Highbridge Neighbourhood Plan, our agreed preference is to retain retail outlets in the area. These plans for two new flats would be contrary to that Plan.”

“However, it should be noted that the rest of the building has already been converted into flats and it is therefore difficult to say that a further two flats here would be inappropriate.”

He pointed out, though, that the plans for ground floor flats have “no flood mitigation measures or designated safe flooding refuge area” which is planning grounds for refusal.

Councillors voted to object against the plans for two flats, on the grounds of over-development, insufficient flood mitigation measures, and a loss of retail space contradicting the Burnham and Highbridge Neighbourhood Plan.

The proposals would see the vacant library space being converted into two one-bedroom flats on the ground floor of the building. The final decisions rests with Sedgemoor.

Public comments on the planning application, which has the reference number 11/19/00016are welcome until March 25th, 2019 via Sedgemoor District Council’s planning department.