Bridgwater is the fifth largest town in Somerset and a major centre for industry and manufacturing in the South West which has seen significant growth in recent years. Kelly Davies, Partner with Thomas Westcott in our Bridgwater office examines whether it’s boom time for the town…
You would be forgiven for thinking that there’s not much going on in Bridgwater and this part of Somerset – a thriving agricultural economy and growth in distribution and logistics networks would naturally spring to mind but scratch the surface and dig a little deeper and you will find so much more.
Bridgwater, on the edge of the Somerset levels, is traditionally recognised as a large historic working-class market town with a population of around 36,000 but it has been the epicentre for rapid growth in recent years. While it might have had a bit of a chequered past, the town and surrounding areas are starting to bloom – some might say ‘boom.’
The area is fast becoming a hub attracting companies with world-leading expertise in science and technology, opportunities in high-growth sectors employing thousands of skilled staff and supply chain companies.
Explosion in manufacturing and distribution
Industries involved in the production of plastic, engine parts, industrial chemicals and foods are now the staple of the manufacturing sector in and around Bridgwater. Large companies such as Morrisons has invested significantly in making the town its home. You cannot fail to miss its ‘strikingly green’ £95 million regional distribution centre just off junction 23 of the M5, which has created over 700 jobs for the local area.
Alongside this there are whole swathes of companies setting up on the Express Park and Bridgwater Business Estate on the outskirts of town. Construction firms sit alongside steel works, hauliers and food and drink producers. Butcombe Brewing Company has invested millions of pounds in its state-of-the-art bottling, kegging, and distribution hub, as well as Refresco, part of the world’s largest independent drinks producer.
Unrivalled transport networks
Coupled with that, Bridgwater, Wellington, and Taunton are right next to the M5, as the motorway cuts through the heart of Somerset, so the road network is first-class. Although Bridgwater is not on the main train line, you can still reach London in less than two and a half hours – this makes it a very enticing proposition for relocation, especially given the hybrid and remote working models that have increasingly been adopted.
Education, education, education
Bridgwater and Taunton College ranks in the top quartile of UK colleges, a top-class further education provider and houses the University Centre Somerset. The prestigious Brymore Academy state boarding school for boys is also located here. Undoubtedly having these two leading educational institutions can only serve to attract and produce future innovators – our next priority must be retaining that talent.
At the agricultural heart
The agricultural sector is huge for Bridgwater and surrounding rural districts – it’s largely what the economy of Somerset is founded on. Sedgemoor Auction Centre, a multi-million-pound regional agricultural business centre at Junction 24 Bridgwater Gateway attracts buyers from Wales, the Midlands, and the South East – the market is the driving force for the success of the industry. Cannington agricultural campus also delivers land-based programmes for the college, feeding into the sector.
A nuclear boost
One of the biggest economic generators, if not the biggest, is Hinkley Point. HPB, operated by EDF Energy, generates hundreds of local jobs and even more when you consider the supply chain.
HPB is winding down, but work is underway on HPC on the West Somerset coast – the first new nuclear power station to be built in the UK for more than 20 years. With the creation of 25,000 skilled jobs, it is one of the largest construction sites in Europe.
Sedgemoor and Hinkley campuses provide official accommodation for contractors working on the project and so, of course, this can only be a welcome boost to the local economy and a shot in the arm for spending power locally.
One of the most exciting and innovative developments taking place locally over the last decade is the Gravity Smart Campus, strategically located next to junction 23 of the M5. It promises a ‘blueprint for a smarter, cleaner future where companies will make a difference socially, economically and environmentally.’
The 616-acre site has consent for 1.1 million square metres of commercial floorspace and up to 750 new homes, creating 7,500 new jobs in resilient and growing sectors. Being billed as a ‘work-live-play’ campus, its aspiration is to become an ‘innovation micro-climate’ for the region, working towards net zero carbon targets, developing modern technologies, and providing a home for some of the UK’s most environmentally conscientious companies.
Back in the town, much has been heralded of ‘re-energising’ the centre of Bridgwater with a strategy to ‘build back better’ – the Town Investment Plan was awarded £22.6 million of government funding. This money will be spent on creating a ‘Celebration Mile’ of pedestrianisation and public realm work, restoration of the docks, the tidal barrier and Dunball junction, as well as seven other long-term projects to benefit the local economy. Separately, the £16 million Northgate Yard development, due for completion later this year, will provide entertainment and leisure facilities aimed at attracting more visitors.
While there are many exciting prospects, we still face some big challenges going forward. There are areas of severe deprivation, higher rates of unemployment and low incomes, rising house prices, as well as underinvestment in core urban areas and traffic congestion. These all need prioritising, but we are well placed to take advantage of these opportunities.
I think over the next five to ten years, we will be in a hugely different place. I am invigorated and excited by what this will bring. Although we might have once been modest and understated, we have a bright future - it is not the time to hide our light under a bushel.
By Kelly Davies, Partner