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A group of protesters claimed squatters’ rights in the abandoned redbrick buildings at the Morland site on January 5 to stop their demolition. They say they will not leave until the Southwest Regional Development Agency gives a written promise of proper public consultation.
The RDA timed its announcement for Christmas Eve, in an apparent attempt to bury the news. Demolition would begin on January 5, the agency decreed, because of “serious safety issues”. Young people had been breaking in and using the empty buildings as a clubhouse.
Protesters, however, say the redbrick buildings are sound. “I’m walking around in my socks: that’s how dangerous it is,” said Hazel Pegg, by mobile phone from inside the building with her daughter. “There was broken glass and bits, but we have cleared the immediate hazards. The roof doesn’t leak. The floor is rock-solid; you could walk an elephant on it. In my opinion, this building could be restored — as Urban Splash promised would be done in 2007.”
Urban Splash and Priority Sites are the two developers appointed by the RDA in 2006. They said work would begin in spring 2007 and business would move onto the site in 2008.
The Conservation Society committee, also meeting on January 5, was reminded by Paul Branson that Urban Splash was to turn the redbrick buildings into affordable workshops for artists and craftspeople. But Urban Splash is in economic trouble (based in Manchester, it began laying off staff in September) and now finds it more convenient to demolish than to restore, he suggested. The boarded-up terrace of houses in Beckery Road could go the same way; why has no work begun in all this time?
The meeting asked John Brunsdon as chairman to contact the Member of Parliament. John reports that the MP is already asking the public auditor to look into the RDA’s handling of the site.
The Morland buildings are not listed and nor are they in a conservation area, said another committee member. The old Northover Mill Cottage, however, is listed Grade II and would benefit from new buildings next door more sympathetic than the jerrybuilt Morland redbrick. Members of the society have helped the Beckery Island Trust to clear brambles and rubbish around the cottage while funds are arranged to refurbish it for community use.
Members of the public can submit questions for the Regional Development Agency to answer at a special meeting of the town council on Wednesday January 21 , at 7pm.
Questions must be in writing, sent to the town clerk by Monday 19. Councillors, but not the public, will be able to put supplementary questions at the meeting, in order to prevent the session becoming a slanging match.
Carl Budden, the RDA’s head of regeneration, made a presentation to the council’s regular meeting on January 13, defending its controversial decision to demolish the Morland redbrick buildings.
One councillor said after the meeting, “He took rather a long time to tell us not very much.”
The protesters had ended their occupation of the 107-year-old buildings earlier the same day, on the RDA’s promise of public discussion.
• Cottages to be restored: At the opposite corner of the Morland site, Mendip Housing recently took over the terrace of boarded-up redbrick cottages in Beckery Old Road. Action on refurbishing them should start soon.
• Avalon Plastics is advancing its plans to build a new factory. The Glastonbury company would be the first new building on the Morland Enterprise Park.
• Strode College intends to move some of its hands-on activities to the site, but its plans are yet to be shown.
• Former employees comment: Some of the people who actually worked in the Morland factories in their heyday were not so enthusiastic about preserving the buildings, we hear. “They were difficult spaces to work in even back then, and very difficult to heat. ”
Press releases archived from the Southwest Regional Development Agency before its abolition