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posted 19 Mar 2012, 18:33 by Westover Labour

Tonight's long awaited special meeting of Bridgwater Town Council , to which representatives of multinational supermarket giants Tesco and Tory controlled Sedgemoor District Council were invited to face the public, saw the Town Hall packed with angry traders and residents opposed to  plans to regenerate the town with 'yet another supermarket'. 

The meeting saw four Tesco reps- Emma Heesom (Corporate affairs), James Harrison (Development Executive), Gareth Hooper (planning) and Julian Clark (transport) sat alongside Doug Bamsey, corporate director from Sedgemoor  . The meeting was chaired by Town Mayor Cllr Pat Parker (Westover) with town clerk Alan Hurford on roving michrophone.

Questions flew thick and fast at the panel from the audience making plain that the people of Bridgwater remain sceptical about the proposals to build a giant superstore on the Northgate site.

Emma Heesom outlined the Tesco case saying they would bring greater retail choice to Bridgwater with 260 new jobs and 700 car park spaces. She said that 1300 people had attended their public consultation excercise of which 20% had provided feedback which included 62% in support and 33% against.  

James Harrison said their proposals would enhance the Brewery Field and provide linkage to the town centre with additional retail units.

The first question came from Gaynor Brown who asked if SDC would establish a Local Planning Forum so that the application could go before an independent adjudication process. Doug Bamsey said it wouldn't but that he had faith in the established Planning process pointing out that several of the councillors in attendance had declared an interest exactly because they had to form an independent view if they were on planning committees.

Gareth Hooper (Tesco) said that the need for a Tescos was to prevent 'leakage' from Bridgwater of shoppers to Taunton as had been laid out in a Sedgemoor retail Study. Cllr Julian Taylor (Eastover) interjected that this study was 6 years out of date.

Local trader,John Hesketh, asked if Tesco and Sedgemoor would repeat the same mistakes as with Asda in Eastover which had promised to regenerate that part of the town adding that "Bridgwater was looking more like Beirut".

Glen Burrows (Bridgwater Forward)  interjected "Leakage can't be caused by lack of supermarkets -we've got enough supermarkets!"

Bob Cudlip asked "Will Tesco carry out an Environmental impact study including on the 40-50 trees with TPO's as SDC had said one wasn't neccesary?"

Gareth Hooper (Tesco) replied "studies have been done -  but not a formal EIA's just reports"

Peter Smith (resident) asked "How many tons of spoil will be created during the construction phase , how many lorry journeys and where will it be deposited? And is there any truth that Sanders Garden Centre will purchase the site?"

James Harrison (Tesco) said there was no truth in the latter assertion and that as the planning application would not be submitted until the end of April he couldn't give specific figures relating to the construction phase.

Patricia Walsh (resident) asked about the ever changing size of the proposed canopy, the obstruction of the previously agreed view from Docks to Church and why instead of this Leisure facilities were not being developed in line with the LDF?

Doug Bamsey  (SDC) said that District and County councils had worked on this site for 6-8 years and had earmarked it as a key site for development which is why the new town boundary now included this area. He repeated that the linkage to the Town centre was crucial.

Tricia Walsh asked about the capability of the service lanes and neighbouring junctions to cope with the traffic and the affect this might have on the adjacent care facility.

Julian Clark (Tesco) said that 2 vehicles at a time could use the service bays with possibly a 3rd waiting in the lane. There was also proposals for .Com vehicles. He would discuss the care facility with SCC.

Tricia Walsh continued "If Tesco's want to come to Bridgwater they have to show some goodwill! Our Green space is diminishing and there are major flood issues".

John Bastaple asked why the local Council weren't as forward looking as Taunton council - to which Doug Bamsey pointed out that Taunton was our town's major competitor and we had to keep up with them and said the speaker should look at the major developments that Taunton Deane had permitted. He stressed "This is not just a simple scheme for a supermarket but a comprehensive development of a site!"

Sally Jones (Bridgwater Forward) asked what evidence could Tesco give that the mere tweaking of a couple of traffic lights would make any difference to a basically medieval town centre road network? Julian Clark said they were working on 2010 data which was the most current.

Nick Gibson (resident) asked about the type of pile driving to be used along with the potential for recycling the historical bricks from the present old workhouse site.  James Harrison (Tesco) didn't have an answer for this as it would have to "wait until the construction phase" but that it would certainly involve an "appropriate and considerate policy".

Martin Acland (trader) said he had never been contacted once by Tescos and would like to know what the extra retail units would be and if they couldn't fill them would Tesco's be taking them on?

James Harrison confirmed that Tesco's would not be taking on any unfilled units and would impose no restrictions on the usage of them. "Any type of retailer can apply. Even traders from the town centre"

Dave Chapple (Bridgwater Forward) said "The moral question is what is Tescos bringing to Bridgwater? We know they're bringing profits to their shareholders who don't live here but what benefit will they bring to the town? What we'll lose is clear. That's 200 years of history. The Blake Hospital where our grandparents were sent to the workhouse, the Splash swimming pool-another iconic thing and the Brewery Field of which 2/3 will dissapear. Once Tesco are here that space will be lost to the community and gone forever!"

James Harrison (Tesco) whilst admitting he lived in Worcestershire and knew little of this area, said he believed Tesco was providing Bridgwater people with 'choice' and 'a competitive environment'. He also said he "hoped they would create jobs too".

Cllr Julian Taylor (Eastover) said he felt the Tesco quoted statistics were misleadling and full of 'extrapolations' and 'inferences' also confusing imperial and metric measurements. He reminded people that Tescos lead consultant Ian Thorne had written a paper saying "Ignore the opposition". He continued by asking if they had "..thought about the impact of EDF and Hinkley point saying that the roads were currently at 100% capacity and with EDF would reach 120%. What would happen when Tesco added to that?"

Glen Burrows asked "Jobs are the carrot that's being dangled and I hope there will be lots of jobs - however, in 2007 Tesco said they'd create 30,000 jobs nationally and in fact this turned out to be 11,000. In 2010 they said  there'd be 430 in Bridgwater but now they say 260. Is that your final offer? In fact will they be new jobs or will they be just displacement of existing jobs?"

Emma Heesom (Tesco) replied "It will initially also include the managers who will help train the workforce but who will return after 12 weeks. Of the workforce 2/3 will be part time and 1/3 full time".

Glen Burrows replied "Well, I'm sure you know your business but I'd be very concerned at a supermarket coming to a town where there are too many supermarkets already and nobody wants them here".

Alec Western (Resident) asked if it were true that Tesco was the only bidder? Doug Bamsey (SDC) explained that the initial trawl had seen 20 expressions of interest with 3 expressing a formal interest. Then 2 of those withdrew. "So that's yes then?" said Alec.

Roger Smith (Angel Place manager) asked again about the linkage to the town centre and for clarification as to whether these extra retailers could be 'current' retailers? He also wanted to know if the development in fact had no obligation under the 106 agreement to provide these linkages?

James Harrison (Tesco) pointed to the extra 30 minute parking spaces added but also said he couldn't make the commitment that the retailers wouldn't be current retailers and added "If town centre retailers want to expand then we will consider that" He added that there would be "discussions with the planning authority regarding section 106"

Jeff Harding (resident-pictured left) said "In 1964 the Borough Council bought the Brewery field for the people of Bridgwater and SDC took on that title later-but basically that field belongs to the people of the town. Also, one inch of rain on that roof is equal to 40 tons of water. Under the site are medieval town ditches cutting through the water table. Is your underground carpark going to be more appropriate for my submarine?"

"Is there a new post office included in your application?" asked Rosie Gibson (resident). 

Alan Hurford reassured the meeting that ".. positive discussions had taken place which would see a permanent Post Office in the Town by June."

Residents of Anson Way raised the temperature of the debate as several stood up in turn to ask about the potential damage to their properties by the pile driving, the light pollution, and lack of privacy amid cries of "Nobody listens to us anyway!" and "Who's going to pay for it?". One voice called out "You tell us to keep quiet but this is our town and our homes!"

As the Mayor  brought the session to a close at 9.30, Dave Chapple thanked the Town Council on behalf of Bridgwater Forward for taking on board their proposal to hold the meeting. 

The Mayor thanked Tesco and Sedgemoor for attending.

Pete Hill, an Open University Student who was present and doing a research project on the impact of Supermarkets on town centres stood at the door and took a poll of everyone present with the result;-