A packed meeting of Sedgemoor District Council saw the 100% Tory ruling executive unanimously vote through Tescos plans to build a giant supermarket on the site of the much loved Sedgemoor Splash swimming pool. The 10 members of the SDC Executive, none of who represent Bridgwater wards, recommended that Tesco be given the go-ahead and the pressure is now on the Full Council meeting on 28th January for ratification.
The plans submitted by Sedgemoor officer Doug Bamsey, would see a massive ' Tesco Extra' built on the Northgate site, a 600 space car park and a reduction of public open space on the adjacent Brewery field. The sale of the land would bring in £5.8m as a capital receipt for SDC which they would earmark for the planned new Swimming Pool on the Chilton School site.
Bridgwaters Labour Mayor Cllr Bill Monteith said "What the town needed was a flagship Leisure & Recreation development with attached retail development but what we are being offered is a large retail development with a very much reduced leisure facility ! The Splash was key to this flawed development. Any new pool should have been built in the town centre. This is NOT the fault of Tesco or of the current economic climate but of the collective myopia and lack of strategy of THIS council. So desperate was this Council to gain a capital receipt that it failed to negotiate the best settlement. Such was the dread that someone may save the pool that they demolished it ASAP. Why? Surely a developer as keen as Tesco would have done that having acquired the site! And what was Plan B? What did they consider for the site while a sale was being negotiated? Nothing! Tesco must have been sniggering into their accounts at this ineptitude. The sight of a Council prostituting itself for the sake of a capital receipt, with out regard for the potential damage that it could do is ,frankly, abhorent ."
Labour Councillor for Hamp , Brian Smedley , picked up on a ( presumed) spelling mistake in Mr Bamsey's report when he described the Evaluation process as the 'Exiting Town centre function'. "This is in reality an 'Exit Strategy' for the Town centre. There won't be a Town centre as a result of this development. Has Sedgemoor really taken on board the likely consequences of such developments in other towns? In Accrington for instance - a town the size of Bridgwater (35,000) and similarly beholden to a Tory dominated District (Hyndburn) was promised 450 jobs by the Tescos they had approved permission for. 2,000 people applied. 191 jobs were advertised of which only 64 were long term unemployed - the rest being redeployed from other Tesco stores or displaced. The other issue is the total Gridlock that will be created as this site will be right in between the NDR and Taunton rd snarl ups that will be made worse by the planned EDF developments"
Eastover Labour Councillor Julian Taylor pointed to the failed ASDA development in his ward "This will have a similar detrimental effect. Jobs created won't be new jobs and won't be good jobs, minimum rate, not long term and just relocating. Some serious questions need answers - Were Tescos invited to contribute to a replacement pool? Did they offer? If they weren't asked , why not!?"
Members of the public added their weight to the chorus of criticism directed against Sedgemoor Tories.
Local Trader Sally Jones said "Once in this town they will undercut all the local traders. We have lots of empty shops and this won;t encourage them to fill up. We've seen in the media what Tescos has done to other towns such as Shepton Mallet. Tesco will do exactly what ASDA did to the other end of town so please Councillors learn from your mistakes and protect what you have. Once in then Tescos will have control !"
Roger Smith , manager of the adjacent Angel Place shopping centre said "this proposal could lead to current retailers in the town centre rethinking the terms of their leases if they think the impact of such a development will be too great on their businesses"
Prospective tesco neighb our,Eric Pasco, said the vicinity was ".. part of a conservation area and the Brewery Field had been given to the town to use as public open space/recreation in perpetuity."
Local resident Bob Cudlipp pointed to a petition of 1,875 names supporting Town centre swimming and leisure facilities and called on councillors to " look again at the site in the light of Public consultation."
Linda Brigg, ex Splash disabled group, said "We have had consultations but Sedgemoor take no notice!"
The Tory response was unbending. Cllr Anne Fraser (North Petherton) said "Tesco has embraced the Bridgwater Vision and I've never seen anyone using Brewery fields anyway" (cries of "Rubbish!").
Cllr Dawn Hill (Cheddar) said "This council has a reasonable track record in trying to get the best developments". She cited her involvement in Clarks Village, Street as a good example of a similar development. (to cries of "No Comparison!").
Cllr Paul Herbert (Huntspill) said "This is a listening council and businesses need to change to survive."
Trying to quieten the angry audience tory leader Duncan McGinty ( East Polden) told the audience "Please listen!" to cries of "Thats the problem - we ARE listening!".
It was down to Cllr Ann Bown (Wembdon) to sum up the Sedgemoor Tory position "Bridgwater is ONLY a part of Sedgemoor. Is it right to put this burden on the tax payers of Wedmore and Cheddar?" (shouts of "yes" and "thats what its for!")
Chief Executive Kerry Rickards tried to sum up by saying "this project has been 7 years in the making. Sedgemoor has a reputation nationally as one of the lowest cost Authorities in the land!" (cries of "cheapest!" and "Resign!")
Councillors will relook at this decision at a special meeting on 28th January.