Weston-super-Mare cannot wait another 75 years to see key sites redeveloped.
That was the message from councilors as they backed ‘meanwhile uses’ that could turn Dolphin Square into a diner destination like Bristol’s Wapping Wharf before hundreds of new homes are built.
North Somerset Council is set to seek a partner to reduce the risk of developing difficult sites in Locking Road, Sunnyside Road and Walliscote Place, and could sweeten the deal with land in Parklands Village.
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Councilors have said they want the homes to be sustainable, affordable and family-friendly – but Deputy Chief Mike Bell has warned against creating artificial barriers that mean the project is stalled for decades.
Councilor Mark Canniford, Executive Member for Placemaking and the Economy, told the council meeting on February 15: ‘These sites are a long-standing ambition. Without the interventions of North Somerset Council it will fail.
We won’t be able to control the standards we all want to see if we just let it be sold to the highest bidder by Homes England. Developing these sites will show local residents and inward-looking investors that we are ready to invest in our own regeneration.
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Dolphin Square is allocated for 220 homes – although its redevelopment is complicated by the presence of a large electricity substation which could cost £2million to move – with another 300 sets to be built at ‘Station Gateway’ in Locking Road and Sunnyside Road.
A further 70 homes could be built in Walliscote Place, the site of the former police station, where the council secured more than £1million to remove a fuel tank that had put off investors.
It is also offering nearly £700,000 to provide affordable housing and make properties more sustainable, and the option to build 275 homes as part of the Parklands Village project to “reduce and offset financial risk”. Measures will be put in place to ensure that the partner does not only focus on parks to the exclusion of the city centre.
Councilor John Crockford-Hawley said the designs should be “striking”, but told colleagues not to expect too much from the sites.
“I am your heritage champion and so I hope you will please me if I go back three quarters of a century, because that is precisely how long we have been looking at these sites and we still have not solved the problem , ” he said. “History repeats itself again and again at these sites.
“We have to make sure we have a package with developers who will be successful, otherwise we will continue with these very difficult sites indefinitely, without achieving anything.”
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Councilor Bridget Petty said the council should match the ambition of her draft local plan and ensure 40 per cent of homes are affordable, rather than the report’s target of at least 30 per cent, while the Councilor Catherine Gibbons has called for the properties to be child-friendly and family-friendly, an issue she says is often overlooked.
Mr Bell agreed that the council wanted high quality, affordable green homes, but added: ‘We also want something to happen and what I don’t want us to see is put so many barriers on how we still have 75 years of inaction and debate.
“Let’s be realistic and move forward and not create artificial barriers that would make it more difficult to quickly implement a program that will benefit the community for years to come.”
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Where a partner has been appointed, they will obtain planning permissions and funding, reducing the risk to the council. Work is expected to start in March 2024.
Before development continues, the council will explore uses of the site in the meantime. The meeting report said: “It helps enliven the space prior to development and raises the profile and attractiveness for future residents and investors.
“Where businesses thrive and grow, they have the opportunity to move to permanent premises nearby. Careful curation and purposeful place-making are essential, and the community/neighborhood focus helps sustain activity throughout the year.
JLL consultants said there was a good level of interest, particularly from the food and beverage industry, in a program like Wapping Wharf and recommended providing around 20 shipping containers initially to accommodate seven operators.
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