Controversial plans to install 100 Portakabins next to a village pub near Burnham-On-Sea to serve as temporary accommodation for Hinkley Point workers have been scrapped during a heated public meeting last night (Thursday).

Over 120 local people filled Watchfield Village Hall to hear about the proposals from Global Tunnelling Experts to locate scores of Portakabins on land besides the Watchfield Inn, which Burnham-On-Sea.com first reported here.

In front of a hall full of concerned and angry residents, the company’s managers attempted to defend the scheme by making a full business presentation about their firm’s background and Hinkley Point work.

But five minutes in, one resident shouted: “We don’t care what you do as a company – what’s this got to do with us?”

Residents then angrily grilled the bosses – Paul Shepherd and Simon Orchard from Global Tunnelling Experts, plus Ian Jamieson of Muphus Mathus Uniteam on their proposals.

Mr Shepherd, Commercial Manager at Global Tunnelling Experts, expained that “large scale projects like Hinkley require lots of workers and we have a duty of care not to put them in caravans but to fully utlise accommodation at Hinkley and EDF’s second campus in Bridgwater where possible.”

One resident responded: “This is a small hamlet – it’s completely unsuitable to put these workers here. There are no facilities nearby such as shops or eating places for the workers. What will the people do? Isleport would be far better. We just don’t want it here. All we want is our nice pub back.”

Mr Jamieson explained that part of the firm’s plans was to restore the pub alongside the new temporary accommodation, but the resident hit back: “We want a pub – but not with Butlins on the side.”

Mr Jamieson asked the audience: “Is there no perceived advantage to having the pub?” to the sound of loud “no’s” from the audience.

Asked how many workers would be accommodated at the site and for how long, Mr Shepherd said the soite would be “scaled for up to 100 beds” and that they would be located there for three and a half years.

Mr Jamieson added: “I fully understand you don’t want a sales pitch, but our business is temporary accommodation and we already have one of these sites on Shetland.”

Residents again stepped in with questions: “Would you live next to one of these sites? No, of course you wouldn’t.”

Another resident said the scheme “looks like Colditz” and asked what would happen to the site at the end of the three and a half years.

Mr Jamieson attempted to defend the scheme, saying: “We’re not trying to ride rough shod on this – we wanted to come and meet you, and we haven’t talked to the planners yet. This is just a tiny little step along the way.”

Residents again stepped in, asking: “There are no shops here, where will they go, and what will all these workers do?”

Mr Jamieson responded: “That’s dependent on further exploration – if we re-opened the pub there could be a gym attached and, with appropriate extra land, there could be tennis courts, football pitches and basketball courts. There would be mutual benefits here.”

But one of the residents responded: “We don’t want those things here – you clearly don’t know the area.”

Following further heated comments from residents, Paul Shepherd, Commercial Manager at Global Tunnelling Experts, announced the dramatic U-turn.

He said: “The whole reason behind tonight’s meeting was to meet you all and it’s been an absolute pleasure to do so,” to the sound of loud laughter from the audience.

He added: “As we said at the outset, our whole aim is not to make enemies, it’s to make friends wherever possible. We have come here this evening to guage opinion and it’s clear from everything that we see at the moment that opinion is in the negative so if I could say to each and everyone one of you thank you very much indeed for your time and for coming to see us.”

“I can give you my word that as of this moment, there will be nothing here and no further interaction from Global Tunnelling Experts on that site.”

Residents burst into loud cheers and applause, welcoming the firm’s dramatic U-turn.

Linda Greenland, who was in the audience, praised the company’s “professionalism” in attending the meeting and hearing the views of residents. She added: “This is a small community and to bring in 100 workers from all over the world would have been too much.”

Cllr Bob Filmer told Burnham-On-Sea.com after the meeting: “I came along only to listen to the meeting in my role since this would have been in my ward. It certainly would have been a major development.”

And local resident Maurice Wall told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “I’m pleased at the outcome but it’s difficult to understand why no pre-planning enquiries were made to the council – it would have quickly been resolved. My concern is what happens to the Watchfield Inn now?”

 
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