One reader responds to Ian Nockold's analysis of the Welton Bibby and Baron factory site in this week's letters column.
Ian Nockolds’ “analysis” of the Welton Bag site (issue no. 2,200) makes fascinating reading. He comes close to answering his own question as to why the process has stalled, then U-turns to seemingly offload the blame onto the planning process! Wrong!
The blame clearly lies with the organisation responsible for the planning submissions, all of which have been woefully inadequate. No planning authority worth its salt is going to approve a plan for which there is no guarantee that what ends up being built looks anything like the plan submitted, and that has been the case throughout this process.
Midsomer Norton Retail Estates sounds like a grand organisation, but MNRE S.A. (for it is registered in Luxembourg, presumably to minimise its tax commitment to the UK) appears, from what is available online, to be something of a one-man-band. Online searches fail to confirm whether or not this company actually owns any retail sites in the area. Nor does it appear to be a property development business, so it would seem to be little more than some kind of agent acting on behalf of the actual site owners, whilst searching for some suitable partner to actually finance and do the work. Such a partner might have its own ideas about what it would like to build, so you cannot blame the planning process for repeatedly turning down such submissions.
I went to a meeting on 28 September 2022, organised by one of our local Councillors and designed to update the residents of Welton on the state of this process. The representative of MNRE turned up half-an-hour late, ill equipped to make any meaningful presentation, waved a few drawings about which we could hardly see, and waffled for about 45 minutes with the air of someone who felt they needed to be somewhere else. From this level of professionalism, it is hardly surprising that little progress has been made.
As to the sought after widening of Station Road, there is a bigger picture to take into account. What happens at the Stones Cross junction? Do you demolish all or part of the Stones Cross Hotel? (Some would say yes, I am sure!). What about the bend where Station Road turns into West Road? Large westbound vehicles already have to enter West Road blind on the wrong side of the road, meeting oncoming vehicles, which frequently have to mount the pavement here. What about West Road as far as the garage – it happens to be the same width as Station Road, so do you widen that?
Simply widening Station Road will not solve anyone’s problems and none of the other locations can be addressed without a significant number of compulsory purchase orders. It is also unlikely that any developer would give away sufficient land for road widening without significant financial incentive – taxpayers’ money.
Some years ago I suggested to my local B&NES Councillor that through traffic might be better distributed by signing east – west traffic along the North Road/Northmead Road route, and west – east traffic along West Road, thus avoiding the need for 40-foot artics to blindly negotiate the tight corner at the Millards Hill junction. He told me in no uncertain terms that his constituents in North Road would not find that acceptable – politics before progress, and what about his Welton constituents? He had very ambitious plans to deal with all the route issues I mentioned above, and expressed much confidence over their achievement. That was 20 years ago! I still believe this proposal would provide some immediate relief to the problem.
Incidentally, one of the objections to this was the traffic-controlled restriction in Northmead Road.
It might be timely to remind people that this was introduced purely as a temporary measure to relieve pressure on the bridge, deemed to be unsafe, because there was no money available to do a proper job at the time.
This has now probably been buried in the archives, or, since it was in the days of Wansdyke, dumped in a skip!
Tom Randall, Midsomer Norton