Highbridge regeneration project

Highbridge’s bid for millions of pounds of regeneration funding has been turned down by the Government, it was announced on Thursday (January 19th).

Mendip District Council and Sedgemoor District Council jointly submitted a £19.3m bid to the government’s Levelling Up fund last summer for regeneration projects in Cheddar, Highbridge and Shepton Mallet.

The bid – which attracted criticism from local MP James Heappey – was assessed by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

Sedgemoor’s full council last month approved detailed proposals of exactly how Highbridge would benefit if the bid was successful following a period of public consultation last year (pictured below).

The five projects were as follows:

  1. Revamping the area around Bank Street and Market Street
  2. Improvements to Highbridge and Burnham railway station
  3. Enhanced cycle links to and from Apex Park
  4. Creating a better community hall at Trowbridge Close
  5. Improving flood defences on the River Brue

The news that the Government has not approved the bid to the Levelling Up Fund for regeneration in Highbridge and Cheddar has been met with disappointment by local councillors.

Highbridge councillor Cllr Roger Keen says: “I am very, very disappointed. We feel very let down by our MP who had previously been supportive of Highbridge and the Morland Hub. For the hub we will now seek funding from other sources instead and I would tell residents that all is not lost on future improvements.”

Cllr Mike Murphy added: “As both a local Councillor and the Chair of Highbridge Chamber of Trade, I know how important this bid was to kick-start regenerating the town. People in Highbridge will feel angry that they are overlooked once again. They will be saying ‘what do we have to do to be noticed?’

“For the last four years, Lib Dem Sedgemoor Councillors have been pushing the case for Highbridge. Initially we encountered resistance but for the last three years the needs of the town have been recognised and officers and councillors have worked hard to develop the regeneration framework for Highbridge – part of which was in this bid. Now, further work will have to transfer to the new Somerset Council. Residents can rest assured that I will keep making the case on their behalf.”

Meanwhile, Our Highbridge community group spokeswoman Nadja Ellie Mcdevitt told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “We are disappointed to hear the news that Sedgemoor have been unsuccessful in their levelling up fund bid for money toward the regeneration of Highbridge, one of the most deprived areas of Somerset. However, we feel that this can be an opportunity for a fresh look at how to build an identity for and regenerate Highbridge and we will continue to involve all interested parties who live and work in the town.”

Cllr Phil Harvey said: “The Highbridge bid was firmly rooted in both the Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plan. It built on their policies and developed their ideas – just as the Government had asked.  At a time when the Government talks about the importance of regenerating coastal and market towns, Highbridge is overlooked once again. It is deeply disappointing and frustrating that its needs do not seem to be recognised. As yet, we do not know why the bid was refused. It’s almost as if we occupy a region of outer darkness – not near enough to Weston/Bristol, nor to Bridgwater/Taunton. Our communities are forgotten and the lack of support from our local MP was not helpful.”

Cllr Ganesh Gudka adds: “It is disappointing to see that Highbridge has again been overlooked when the government has announced the allocation of Levelling Up grants.  We have to move on and review whether there are other sources of funds to help us progress with the plans, which we still believe will make a difference to the town.  This may take the form of examining whether there are separable elements of the overall plan which can be tackled sooner rather than later and working with our colleagues at Somerset Council to assess sources of support.”

MP James Heappey added: “I’m not surprised that the lacklustre bid submitted has failed to find favour. I was warned by the minister before bids closed that the proposed series of minor public realm improvements in Highbridge, Cheddar and Shepton Mallet would compete poorly with the more strategic – and ambitious – proposals being made by other parts of the country. I passed these warnings on to council officials along with my frustration that I’d been saying the same in meetings with the councils over many months beforehand.”

“The one silver lining in this sorry tale is that there is to be another round of Levelling Up Fund grants. I look forward to working with the new Somerset Council to make sure that, this time, we come up with something that will genuinely move the dial for our local economy, provides value for money for the taxpayer, and allows our towns to meaningfully regenerate.”

Burnham-On-Sea.com has invited other councillors to comment and we will update this story when responses are received.

 
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