A DECISION to install a gate at one of Bridgwater’s oldest and most iconic buildings has been labelled outrageous by the town’s civic society.
Sedgemoor District Council recently approved a planning application to erect a gate or barrier at the entrance to the medieval Watergate entrance at West Quay to stop access to the stone arch.
The building, which is one of the oldest in the town, is an important heritage landmark, and now, members of the Bridgwater and District Civic Society have slammed the council for the decision.
The gate means that members of the public will no longer be able to access the archway.
Dave Chapple, a member of the society, said he was appalled at the decision.
Mr Chapple said: “It is an outrage.
“It’s unbelievable. The decision to lock up the Watergate was made by a single council officer.
“That in itself is an insult to the usual democratic processes for important planning matters.”
Before making the decision on the gate's installation, the council heard from Derek Gibson, president of the civic society, who implored them to take into account the town's heritage, and to defer it the decision to the council's development control committee.
However, the council approved the gate, and said it had done so in a bid to clamp down on anti-social behaviour in the area.
Mr Chapple added: “The council’s answer was to ignore Derek’s plea. that the planning application be put before the council’s development control committee.
"If one of Somerset’s most respected architectural and heritage experts can be so rudely treated, what hope is there that Sedgemoor Council, a majority of whose members do not represent Bridgwater at all, will ever be trusted to look after Bridgwater’s rich heritage in the future?”
Derek Gibson, Bridgwater and District Civic Society president, spoke passionately to the council before the decision, saying: “In February 2000, Sedgemoor Council’s own townscape heritage initiative had proposed the conservation and enhancement of the Watergate.
“The civic society looks to the council, by asking it to take the utmost historic and technical care in any planning scheme.”
Following the approval of the gate, the society is now urging the council to make a u-turn.
Sedgemoor District Council said that the landmark is private property, and the gate is being introduced in a bid to clamp down on anti-social behaviour such as graffiti and litter dropping which is currently blighting the area.
A spokesperson for Sedgemoor District Council said: “The space is very secluded and provides a very attractive environment for anti-social behaviour, which has blighted this area.
“It is therefore important to make the area unattractive to people looking to engage in these types of activity.
“The proposals are to install a gate which will still allow full interpretation of the Watergate and an interpretation board which is suggested within the comments from the Bridgwater and District Civic Society will help to encourage a more frequent presence which is likely to [and] make the area far less attractive to those engaging in anti-social behaviour.
“The provision of a gate will not cause substantial harm to the character and appearance of the Watergate, especially if situated within the stone arch, replicating an historic form of enclosure.”
Brian Smedley, leader of Bridgwater Town Council, said: “Bridgwater Town Council has sought to respond to requests to improve the historic Watergate which we recognise as a major asset.
“By attempting to influence Sedgemoor planning decisions, and working with the conservation officer we have supported the installation of interpretation panels, new lighting and extra cleaning patrols to prevent litter and tackle the anti-social behaviour.”