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SOMERSET: Bridgwater town deal funding

SOMERSET: Bridgwater town deal funding

CREDIT: Sedgemoor District Council.

More money could be provided to projects designed to regenerate Bridgwater town centre after additional funds were secured.

Bridgwater was one of two Somerset towns (the other being Glastonbury) to receive support from the government’s towns fund, netting £22.6M for 11 projects in and around the town centre.

Two of these projects involved major improvements to local transport links – namely reshaping the Dunball roundabout near Junction 23 of the M5, and upgrading cycling links across the town.

But these improvements will now be taken forward separately following a successful bid to the government’s levelling up fund – leaving more money left over the nine remaining projects.

The town deal funding was secured through a bid led by Sedgemoor District Council, with the final funding allocation being confirmed by the government in June.

Since the council had not received the full £25M which it had sought, officers considered reducing the budgets for each of the 11 projects – just as Mendip District Council had done with the Glastonbury town deal.

While this was being considered, Somerset County Council applied to the levelling up fund for improvements to the ‘Bridgwater Northern Corridor’ – which consists of the A38 Bristol Road between the Cross Rifles and Dunball roundabouts.

Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak MP confirmed the council’s successful bid in his recent budget, with £10,058,181 being allocated.

This successful bid means that these projects will be removed from the Bridgwater town deal – leaving nine projects to share the £22.6M allocation between them.

The remaining nine projects are:

  1. The Bridgwater tidal barrier, which will provide better flood protection to at least 11,300 properties and 1,500 businesses from 2024
  2. Delivering the Celebration Mile between the historic docks and the railway station, creating “new covid-safe spaces” and holding events to promote local businesses
  3. Restoring the docks near Northgate, regenerating the area into “a new leisure and tourism destination” for the town
  4. Upgrading Bridgwater Arts Centre on Castle Street, making it a more flexible “covid-safe environment” in time for its 75th birthday in October
  5. Improvements to Bridgwater Town Hall and the enclosed theatre, including better disabled access and more office and meeting spaces for community and social enterprises
  6. Increasing the capacity of The Engine Room on High Street, allowing its media centre to engage with a large number of local creatives
  7. Creating a flexible business and enterprise hub in the town centre, allowing smaller businesses to hold taster events and host ‘pop-up’ shops so they can test ideas before taking on a permanent base in the high street
  8. Improvements to the Bridgwater Carnival production space off the A38 Bristol Road, designed to “future-proof” this flagship event and its associated activities in the post-coronavirus period
  9. Employing new town wardens and event ambassadors to “build confidence for visitors” and discourage antisocial behaviour in the town centre

Nathaniel Lucas, the district council’s economic development manager, told a meeting of its executive committee on Wednesday morning (November 3) that revised budgets for each projects could be signed off by the government.

He said: “From our perspective, the timing with the levelling up fund bid didn’t quite fit with us.

“While there are positive impacts for the town deal process, we had to submit the business case for the 11 projects with reduced budgets.

“We will be going back to the government with a different option to move around the funding.

“We will also carry out due diligence on the levelling up funding to make sure everything is right and proper.

“This approach allows us to be in charge of our own destiny, allowing projects to move forward within their allotted time frame.”

Mr Lucas confirmed none of the town deal funding would have to be returned to the government.

Council leader Duncan McGinty said: “We’re all fairly excited about this, and we’re all equally keen that there’s a successful conclusion for Bridgwater and the wider Sedgemoor area.”

The overall budget for the Bridgwater Northern Corridor upgrades is just under £14.7M, with the remaining money being sourced from housing developments.

Of this £14.7M, £3.44M will be spent on active travel schemes and improving the cycling facilities along the A38 Bristol Road, with the council hoping to deliver these elements in early-2022.

The Dunball roundabout will be upgraded at a cost of £4.23M – slightly lower than the £4.7M the district council voted in principle to borrow to fund the scheme earlier in the year.

The remaining £7M will go towards improving the Cross Rifles roundabout, with increased capacity and new traffic signals to improve the flow of vehicles.

The county council is hoping to deliver both this and the Dunball scheme by 2025.

Councillor John Woodman, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “This is great news. Working with the district council we have lobbied hard for the money improve this route, and this will transform the user experience for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

“We have a great track record for getting money from the government and delivering infrastructure – it’s core to our ongoing commitment to investing in and future-proofing our network to ensure it meets the needs of all road users.”

Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter


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