THE WEIGHT of public opinion against proposals to sell off a section of Bridgwater’s St Matthew’s Field has been ignored, say community leaders.

In a meeting this morning (April 10), Sedgemoor District Council’s Executive agreed to sell a small corner of the field to Summerfield Developments, which wants to build an access road to its development of 120 homes near Durleigh Road.

Leader of SDC Duncan McGinty, who chaired the meeting, said the decision would mean enhanced access to the area and the transfer of 42 acres of the Meads into public ownership.

Before the majority voted in favour of the sell-off, Mr McGinty added: “This is an opportunity which comes along once in a lifetime. I would have no hesitation in supporting this proposal.”

But the plans received 11 objections from residents, Bridgwater Town Council and Bridgwater Heritage Group, citing fears over road safety and congestion issues, flood risks, a restrictive covenant and an understanding the land was gifted to council by King John.

At the meeting, Bridgwater Wyndham Ward councillor Gill Slocombe urged for public opinion to be taken into account.

She said: “There has been so much public interest and concern. Now we have the developer wanting to take part of the Fairfield - which is a step too far.

“Public opinion must be taken into account against the desires of a housing developer or the taxpayers will have no faith in the process.”

She added a new access road would be both “noisy and noxious” and believed it would breach a covenant imposed on the land acquired from a Maria Stiling in 1929, of a property known as ‘Heathercroft’, preventing the owner carrying on activities of a ‘noisy, noxious or offensive nature’.

County councillor for Bridgwater West division, Ann Bown, agreed with Cllr Slocombe and said she wanted the decision deferred for further consultation.

But Cllr McGinty said: “I believe we have gone over the legal procedure in giving people time to make their feelings known. Many of the comments are not technically relevant today.”

In a report, Tim Mander, team leader for Property Management at SDC, confirmed there had been some “misunderstanding” of the status of the field, which was not gifted by King John in the 13th Century, but acquired from Maria Stiling in 1929.

He added a charter gave the borough the rights to hold markets and fairs, but was never site specific, and that Somerfield Developments was aware of the Maria Stiling covenant and was comfortable acquiring the land, subject to such a covenant.

A spokesman for SDC confirmed the only person/persons who could enforce the covenant would be Maria Stiling or her “successors or assigns” or the owners of the house or premises known as Heathercroft, Durleigh Road.

The spokesman added: “In reality it means no other member of the public has the power to do so.”