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posted 13 Apr 2012, 11:16 by Westover Labour   [ updated 13 Apr 2012, 14:34 ]
This week has seen the launch of a public consultation by Sedgemoor District, Bridgwater Town council and the YMCA on proposals for the long awaited skatepark facility in the town. After a campaign by local skaters three years ago which resulted in the creation of 2 mini-parks in the town  for the 8-13 age group, with the promise of a third full sized park for the older skaters and BMX'ers , money was ringfenced by SDC with a contribution from Bridgwater Town Council. However, the stumbling block was always lack of land . 
   Cllr Brian Smedley, who was on the Skate Park Task & Finish group last time , said "The skaters accepted the small parks with the promise that the bigger park would eventually be built-but Sedgemoor weren't forthcoming with plans for this and always claimed 'lack of land' as a reason even though at one stage they had in fact set aside land by the college for this purpose, and  even given it planning permission,  but then suddenly decided to let the College have it for it's proposed 'theatre' instead. Thereafter they offered land alongside Sainsburys but constantly failed to progress this, so it's no surprise that people weren't convinced that they were being serious. Because of this, last year a group of skaters came to a Bridgwater Council meeting and made the case for immediate action on getting the park. Councillors supported this and Sedgemoor's Teresa Harvey was tasked with getting the job done. The result of that was an approach to the YMCA and the current proposals."

   Currently on offer is the much sought after land required. In this case  the  YMCA owned football pitch alongside their glitzy new building by the Canal in the Westover ward in the form of a "Wheels Sports Facility" - details of which can be found on the website . The YMCA have offered the land for the park to be built providing not only a wheeled sports facility but also café, toilets, parking and park’s staff and volunteer facilities. The result would be a controlled environment, almost certainly a paid entrance scheme but a major skatepark at the end of it.

   The Consultation, which started this week with exhibitions in the YMCA, SDC offices and the Town hall, has however raised many concerns from the original campaigners who said they were feeling excluded because the plans had reached such a stage without their input. Cllr Smedley spoke with the Consultation panel at the YMCA on the Wednesday morning saying "What was asked for was a publicly accessible facility , free to users and designed in consultation with the people who have campaigned for this and fits the bill with what they were promised. What we have looks something like a stage managed 'last chance saloon' option which you have to accept or lose everything. This isn't what was campaigned for and genuine consultation needs to take place quickly and seriously now."

 On Friday morning , Robin Sealey, YMCA Development worker, was faced by a large number of Skate campaigners at the Town Hall exhibition who made it clear that they didn't want to be controlled, supervised or charged for their chosen lifestyle sport. Secretary of the Skatepark Campaign Group Laura Costello, said "What was asked for was a large outdoor skatepark on Council land aimed at the older group of skaters who have outgrown the junior supervised facilities. This should at least include a bowl, bigger boxes,grind ledges,box jumps,mini ramps,spines and hips and this isn't on offer with the YMCA proposal. Instead of just coming with one proposal for supervised provision the Council should have put several alternatives including what was originally asked for. If Taunton Deane can provide a bit of land for such a park then I don't see why Sedgemoor can't. The small neighbourhood parks should be for the littler ones- that was what the original intention was and the new park should be bigger in scale and geared towards the older age group. We don't want to have to pay for a facility that's already been paid for out of public funds and although the talk is of possibly 50p a go-that isn't clearly defined and other similar facilities in Bristol (Motion) and Minehead(Eye) actually ended up charging £5 for 2 hours. These kids can't afford that. Sedgemoor simply needs to provide a piece of land and put a bowl in it with a few extras. If they don't then clearly the result will be Bridgwater will have great skate facilities but just for those who can pay and yet again the older ones will still have nowhere to go."

   Skaters made the point at the Consultation that they didn't want to be part of a controlled environment  "We're old enough and mature enough to manage ourselves" said one "How have they got to this stage without a single skater on the group!?" asked another."Skatings all about a freer lifestyle, we don't want supervision." 

   Robin Sealey from the YMCA explained "What's on offer is something different. We're offering the land for free but it's still our land as it backs onto our building so we remain responsible and so we have to have supervision because of the other users of the facility and the YMCA generally so it will have to be a membership park with controlled access. However, this is still the consultation phase so we need to listen to everybody's views before we come to a final decision. Yes it will be staffed, yes people will have to wear helmets, yes we will intervene to stop people swearing . I've spoken to 60+ users today and there's a wide range of opinion all of which we will have to take into account before a final decision."

   Laura added "Well, we don't want 'something different' we want what we originally asked for. There's a whole load of information from the campaign 3 years ago which they've ignored. Last time round we got in 3 potential designers who all produced their ideas at a meeting with up to 50 skate park users who then chose the one they wanted and then developed it together. That's what we ask for this time."

   The Task Group will next meet on 25th April to consider the Consultation. In the meantime anyone wishing to contribute should go on line-the actual Consultation link is ;-