Posted in Highbridge on Thursday 1st May 2008 at 9:21pm
Passing the Highbridge Hotel earlier in the week, I was struck by it's haunted and forlorn aspect. After much debate about how to manage it's precarious condition, the powers that be seemed to do nothing, and a little fencing to stop the public straying into it's immediate environs are all that is preventing further disaster. As you approach from the south, it's windows gape - black and empty. The very part of the building which is listed - which should inspire us with it's endurance - looks like some house of horror caricature of a building. It doesn't feel nice to walk past - and strangely, even though the pavement is open on both sides of the road, and I'm sure the onlooker could get a better view into the blackened rooms from the other footpath, at night we are all walking on the eastern side of Huntspill Road.
So, with all this still fresh in my mind I found myself agitated and distracted by tonight's meeting. I attended the Annual Town Council meeting last night and heard the Police say how they'd been unable to attend to a variety of crimes in the area last weekend because their resources were committed at the Hotel, guarding the private property which had become a public nuisance. Tonight, Derek Mead - the developer himself was the main act. Defiant and bluff, he affected a warm openness at the start of the meeting which soon collapsed, as from a room of sixty or so souls - some of them not young by any means - a collective spirit of Highbridge's own defiance rose. Again and again, the developer pressed the blame back on the community - our young people couldn't be trusted. Finally, and in a dignified and heartfelt speech, Janet Keen spoke of the people of Highbridge being good, respectful and decent in the majority and applause filled the room. A turning point, and from here on in, Mr Mead was less tactful, more combative. Perhaps now we were talking his language?
The meeting took a circular path - much was said about youth facilities, policing and the much misunderstood Section 106 process. The prospective Liberal Democrat candidate managed to make a fairly blatant election broadcast, whilst our local councillor - one of her own party - struck a much more dignified and communitarian tone. There were arguments, a face-off between Mead and a local simply wanting to tell him about metal security shutters, an older lady who asked the simply truthful question "was the hotel in your way?" menaced. As the meeting found its feet and began to challenge, Mead fell back on foul language and counter-accusation. It was the Police - they didn't guard the property, or it was the Council. Hamstrung by Mr Meads' constant references to another authority - my employer - I stayed as calm as I could and found myself frustrated and feeling worthless. The bellicose atmosphere fuelled by Mead's increasingly surly tone and repeated refusal to acknowledge that the building's security lay at his mercy. To claim indeed, that there was no electricity on the premises is absurd. The lights have been on for weeks, and someone has been at home.
So Highbridge found a voice, but naturally it's been hard for people to report how the meeting felt, and the soundbites are as carefully shored-up as the hotel with legally couched promises and pledges. A few of us chatted after, revealing our web-forum identities to each other, comparing notes on what we knew but couldn't say. Interestingly, it is the internet which has fanned the flames of this debate from the start - and Mr Mead let it been known that he hates the internet. Probably because it can't be controlled, bullied or jostled into order. It's hard to know quite where things will head next, but there are storms ahead I suspect.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.