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When the derelict Morland and Baily factory sites at Beckery were bought by the Regional Development Agency (RDA), the town council agreed to set up a committee to look at how the town would like to see the site developed. The committee, drawn from interested people in the town, prepared a vision of how the site could cater for all the town’s aspirations.
The main theme was that jobs had historically been the purpose of the site and would be the overriding priority. Housing was ruled out by the close proximity of the sewage works, and a planning inspector ruled out any retail activity.
Early on, it was acknowledged that some of the buildings merited retention, although most were unworthy 1950s and 60s asbestos sheds. Moves to have the older buildings listed had already been started, and gained new impetus.
The committee realized that we needed specialized advice. We looked to the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, which has a track record in this field. The advice and support from Fred Taggart of the Prince’s Trust has been invaluable in moving the committee to set up public meetings and eventually form the Beckery Island Regeneration Trust (BIRT).
Funds have been raised from the town, Mendip and county councils, the SRB, the Architectural Heritage Fund and the RDA. A total of £35,000 paid for architects to carry out a feasibility study and produce a business plan to show how the Mill House and Baily buildings might be brought back into economic use.
The involvement with the Prince’s Regeneration Trust has raised to a national level the importance of these buildings. Having them listed has encouraged the RDA to spend more than £50,000 so far to ensure they do not deteriorate further.
A conference entitled “Putting old buildings to productive new uses” was held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on April 25. The lead speaker was the government minister responsible for regeneration, and we were asked to present the Baily buildings as an example. This was done by Esther Scott of the RDA, as owner of the buildings.
The next day I went to London for the launch of a handbook produced by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust to help groups such as ours through the minefield of procedures and legislation to get worthy local buildings back into use. I met Marianne Suhr from the BBC programme Restoration, who had listened the previous day to the presentation on our scheme. I also met directors of the lottery and heritage funds: we will need to engage with them if our feasibility plan is acceptable to the RDA.
I think it is true to say we have saved these buildings by the high profile they have now assumed. Furthermore, the private sector has been alerted and become interested in the “Bauhaus” and red-brick buildings that were originally to have been demolished. The retention of these old buildings is having an effect on the type, style and quality of new buildings that will be built alongside, and we are pleased that the original theme of new employment is still a top priority with the RDA.
Our consultants reported on June 1. We hope to be able to show the RDA that we are a credible local organization able to play a part in the regeneration at Northover with the aim of providing start-up workplaces to nurture new businesses locally.
Meanwhile, contractors are busy levelling the adjacent site of the Morland tannery.