A BRIDGWATER bookshop owner believes the town’s high street has been "forgotten" by local authorities in the last year while work has continued on the Northgate Yard development.

Last Wednesday (September 29), around 40 people attended a meeting at Bridgwater Town Hall to discuss the £16 million project, which will see a seven-screen cinema, bowling alley, shopping and dining facilities built on the town centre site.

The meeting was hosted by Doug Bamsey and Stuart Martin of Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) and Roger Smith of Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce.

It came as work on the first phase of the project was recently completed. 

The development's initial groundworks are finished and the steel frameworks are in place. 

Construction of the Northgate development is set to be finished in autumn 2022.

But Sam Carr, owner of The Snug Bookshop and Café in Bridgwater’s East Quay, said independent businesses' "frustration and disappointment" was made clear at the meeting.

She told your Mercury that some business owners raised concerns about the new development’s lack of electric car charging facilities, solar panels and long-stay car parking.

The district council said sustainability is a "core priority" and that electric vehicle charging points will be introduced when the scheme launches. 

Bridgwater Mercury:

Sam said: "The high street is dying. We need investment there.

"For them to be spending £16 million on a new cinema – it didn’t go down very well.

"Somebody asked if there will be electric car charging points and the answer was 'no, you can’t charge your electric car there'."

Sam says that local businesses are struggling because of high business rates (The Snug Bookshop pays £500 per month), the rising cost of energy, and problems caused by the age of some of the high street's buildings. 

The local economy is still recovering from the pandemic, with Sam estimating that her business and others are currently working at between 60-75% of the income they had before March 2020.

"Buildings in the town centre are very old. They’re all collapsing, and we need regeneration," she said. 

"They just need a bit of love. They need the roof repairing, the gutters repairing.

"I think Bridgwater’s one of the wettest places in Somerset – maybe that’s why we have a lot of leaking."

Bridgwater Mercury:

Some of Bridgwater’s independent shops are part of a Totally Locally campaign, which aims to help local businesses support each other and keep money in the local economy.

"We do think we have been forgotten over the past year," said Sam.

"SDC has been very absent. I think all this pent-up frustration and disappointment came out from local businesses (at the meeting).

"There’s going to be a hub for businesses starting up in Bridgwater, which is great, but we need something for the old dogs.

"We’re being proactive, and we are not going without a fight.  

"Hopefully, people start their Christmas shopping soon."

Malcolm Calladine, of Bedrock Furniture, said the meeting was constructive and thinks the Northgate development is "ideal for Bridgwater". 

He told the Mercury that it will allow families to visit entertainment venues without needing to walk through the town in the dark. 

Malcolm said: "It was quite an intelligent meeting. I think the Northgate development will be a roaring success." 

SDC said the response to the Northgate development at the meeting was "overwhelmingly positive" and believes the high street will benefit from it. 

A spokesperson for the district council said: "There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the Northgate Yard development and the investment in the town centre by Sedgemoor District Council at the Bridgwater Chamber meeting held last week.

"We were pleased to hear such supportive and enthusiastic comments from businesses.

"We recognise the challenges there are within retail and town centres, not only in Bridgwater but countrywide.

"We are seeing some concerns with properties in the town centre with private landlords who have been unable or unwilling to maintain their properties – an issue which was rightly highlighted in the meeting last week.

"The council has and will continue to do its upmost to support owners and tenants to find solutions.

"Northgate Yard will bring increased footfall and improved dwell time to the town centre and the businesses already based there."

READ MORE: First phase of Bridgwater's landmark Northgate development finished
READ MORE: Bridgwater's Northgate cinema and leisure scheme given £750,000 boost

Addressing the concerns raised at the meeting about the Northgate development’s measures to protect the environment, the council spokesperson said: "Sustainability is one of our core priorities.

"There will be provision for electric vehicle charging points once the scheme has launched, we are working with other local District Councils to develop a joint approach to EV charge points in council car parks, this is in development.

"More information on other sustainability measures can be found on the Northgate Yard website.

"The Northgate Yard development is supporting local businesses and employment, ensuring that the local economy is benefiting.

"55% of the suppliers working on the development so far are based within a 20-mile radius of Bridgwater.

"This is a huge investment in the town, and we’re committed to it benefiting Bridgwater and Sedgemoor at every stage of the process."

Roger Smith, general manager of Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce, co-hosted the meeting last week alongside the district council representatives.

He highlighted the chamber’s plan to improve the connection between the development and the town centre.

"The event in question was organised by Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce to give local businesses the chance to hear about the developments first hand and we have received some very positive feedback from a number of attendees,” he said.

"The high street environment is changing throughout the country and whilst we recognise the very obvious challenge faced by town centre businesses, the chamber sees the Northgate Yard development, along with the other projects discussed in last week’s meeting, as an opportunity to bring people into the town centre and increase the length of time they spend there.

"A very important part of the development will be ensuring that the linkages from the Northgate Yard site and the rest of the town centre are improved, and this is where the funds being allocated to the Town Investment Plan will play a key part in the overall opportunities presented as highlighted by Doug Bamsey and Stuart Martin.

"The Chamber thanks everyone that attended for an interactive question and answer session and also the council for their co-operation."