Controversial plans for a new sports hall on part of the former Highbridge Hotel site that were branded by local councillors as a “Lego Land monstrosity” have been approved this week.
The scheme has been granted the go-ahead by Sedgemoor District Council despite concerns from residents and Town Councillors over the colour scheme, which Burnham-On-Sea.com first reported on here.
While Town Councillors voted to object against the revised plans, the final decision rested with Sedgemoor District Council – and it has now given consent.
The district council has added a planning condition “in the interests of visual amenity”. It states that “Prior to the commencement of construction works on the building, a detailed schedule of all external finishes shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. The external finishes shall be carried out in strict accordance with the approved schedule.”
The council has also recently approved plans to develop the old hotel site, which will include 23 flats plus a cafe, public meeting rooms, and a new sports hall.
The owner, YMCA Somerset Coast, intends to rebuild the front of the building in the style of the original building prior to the huge Highbridge Hotel fire in 2008, the sports hall will be decorated with large colour blocks that several local councillors likened to Lego blocks.
Town councillors spoke out against the colour scheme at their latest meeting.
Cllr Louise Parkin said: “If we allow a monstrosity like this to go ahead, we’d be opening the floodgates to others – it truly is hideous. It would be a horrible building for the centre of Highbridge.”
Cllr Nick Tolley said: “The proposed front of the building looks great but the sports hall just doesn’t fit in at all – it looks like something you’d find in Lego Land.”
Cllr Andy Brewer responded: “The front of the building will have a facade similar to the old hotel, but the adjoining sports hall would be colourful. Some might call it modern looking or vibrant.”
Cllr Peter Clayton said: “You have got to think about its use by young people who might like a modern look.”
Town councillors also heard that Highbridge Chamber of Trade has aired its concerns about the “unsympathetic” appearance of the modern new sports hall adjoining a listed building.
The YMCA told Burnham-On-Sea.com it wants the new building to be “an impressive gateway to Highbridge once again.”
Local historians say the hotel was founded in the late 18th century and it has been a landmark at the entry to the town for years, as pictured above.
When the Cattle Market closed in 2007 the Highbridge Hotel was secured to prevent trespass and authorised entry, however the building was subject to two acts of arson and was gutted by fire in 2008.
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.
No internal features within the site remain and the only element of the building considered to be of merit by the YMCA and worth retaining are the remains of the fire damaged southern facade.
“With this in mind the scheme proposals have sought to rebuild the main southern facade as an integral part of a contemporary design that provides community and residential accommodation of a modern and appropriate quality to ensure the memory and heritage of the former Highbridge Hotel is remembered and still influences the character of the area well into the 21st century,” it says.