After nearly two decades of decay in the hands of private “developers”, the derelict Morland-Baily site at the entrance to Glastonbury has at last been taken into public ownership.
The South West Regional Development Agency bought the 31-acre shame this spring from GR Holdings, based in London. It is the largest derelict industrial site in Somerset. The RDA would not reveal the cost, calling it commercially sensitive, but it was “at open market prices ... a substantial amount,” many million. Mendip council has owned a further 14 acres, on the town side of the site, for the past six years.
First priority for the RDA is health and safety and making the site secure, said Chris Foley, based in Bristol with the job title of principal regeneration manager. This phase will continue into summer.
Meanwhile the sheepskin shop facing the Street Road, still trading under the Morland name, along with its small factory downstairs, will continue as before, except that the RDA is its new landlord.
Next will come a lengthy stage of fresh consultations, including formal public meetings, with a wide variety of councils, businesses and community groups. A presentation has already been made to the Glastonbury Forum this month. The RDA will appoint consultants to carry this stage forward.
All proposals for the eventual use of the site are up for a total rethink. “We’re always interested in hearing what people think about it,” said Mr Foley. “I want to understand what all the different interest groups think so we can get it tabulated to see where there is agreement and disagreement.”
The bulk of the finance needed to develop the site — £30 million? — will need to come from the private sector, so any use will have to be commercially viable.
When the project gets to the demolition stage, probably within a year, “we would look to recycle materials where it is feasible.”
A tour of the site may be possible for Conservation Society members in summer, after the RDA has dealt with health and safety. See details in the next newsletter.
The SW RDA was set up in 1999, with an appointed board of businesspeople and a wide cross-section of the community. The region stretches from Gloucestershire to Swindon and Poole and west to Cornwall and the Scillies. Registered office is in Exeter. It so far has £422 million of European Structural Funds to administer by 2006. To say the RDA reports to the South West Regional Assembly is a bit too clear, because the role of the assembly is still taking shape. One school of political thought would have the seven English regions become equal to Wales and Scotland as members of the European Union.
The RDA also administers the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB). Last August, Glastonbury was awarded £713,000 from this government fund out of a total £4.2m for the South West for projects dealing with social exclusion and bringing jobs to the area.
Clark Son and Morland, the tannery and sheepskin business, failed in 1982. A Baily & Co, a similar business at the northern end of the site, was owned by a London company, which bought the Morland assets as GR Holdings. Ian Moore, a property developer, assembled parcels of land and brought us Safeway, B&Q and the Wirral Park industrial estate; he still owns a small tract of land near the Morland-Baily site but not part of it. Welbeck Land, a development company in London, has never owned freehold in the site but was appointed by GR to help with planning applications; Welbeck is no longer on the scene.
Why wasn’t the site compulsorily purchased 18 years ago? I asked Malcolm Williams, the Mendip development officer whose files have bulged with the case for much of that time. “We obviously thought long and hard about this. But to be fair, the owners have been very cooperative over the past five years.”
Couldn’t the owners at least have got on with taking down buildings and reclaiming materials instead of suddenly being in a rush with bulldozers? Mr Williams explained that demolition would have limited the owners’ options: they could always bring an existing building back to its original use without new planning permission.
“But the RDA move is definitely a milestone,” he said, “and we’re all glad about it.”
Contact: SW Regional Development Agency, 100 Temple St, Bristol, BS1 6AE; phone (0117) 933 0200; email email@example.com