Morland buildings are occupied at last … but it’s not what the RDA intends
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
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
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
Public can put questions to RDA for special meeting
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
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
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. ”