Somerset Council plans to buy Glovers Walk to protect Yeovil bus station

Somerset Council has confirmed its intent to purchase the Glovers Walk shopping centre - and has promised to protect Yeovil bus station in the years ahead. The council has been making improvements to Yeovil town centre under its Yeovil Refresh regeneration programme, which includes aspirations to redevelop the Glovers Walk site at the bottom of Middle Street.

The council revealed in late-April that it would spend up to £1m demolishing the vacant shopping centre, with reports indicating the land would be taken into public ownership ahead of a major redevelopment. Officers have now confirmed the council does intend to buy the site, and is committed to keeping the bus station open as a "key transport hub" for the local area.

In a statement released on Wednesday evening (May 15), the council said it was "currently involved in commercial discussions with the owner with a view to buying the site", adding that these discussions "are ongoing and have been for some time". Glovers Walk was acquired by the Martin Property Group in 2018, but the shopping centre, bus station and part of the adjoining land on Lower Middle Street was put on the market in late-October 2023 at a guide price of £1.75m.

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Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, hinted in late-April that remaining grants from the government's future high streets fund would be used to purchase different sites in the town centre to drive forward their redevelopment (including the delivery of new housing).

She said: "£5m of funding will be reallocated to provide residential accommodation for young professionals, key workers and student apprentices, over retail at three key locations, plus the acquisition of a major town centre redevelopment site.

"Although the premises will initially be demolished to form a temporary ‘meanwhile’ use, it will then be redeveloped in accordance with master-planning work. This master-planning work started in March, funded by Homes England, and a scoping study report was produced which will, subject to more Homes England funding, be the basis for wider consultation with businesses, the community and stakeholders to produce a mixed-use redevelopment vision for Yeovil town centre."

Yeovil bus station's future has been a cause for concern since the council passed its annual budget in February, which included cutting funding to keep open the existing waiting room and public toilets. These facilities were originally due to close on May 31 after Yeovil Town Council stated it could not afford to keep them open on top of other local services it had taken on, including the Yeovil Country Park and the Yeovil Recreation Ground (also known as Mudford Rec).

Numerous campaign groups have called on Somerset Council to reverse this decision, with the Wells Bus User Group describing the toilets as "indispensable" and the Somerset Bus Partnership organising a rally outside the bus station on Friday (May 17) at 3pm. Councillor Richard Wilkins, portfolio holder for transport and digital, has now confirmed the waiting room and toilets can remain open for "at least another few months" following an agreement with First Bus South West (and the support of the Somerset Bus Partnership).

He said: "It is clear people are worried about the future of the bus station. That is why we are underlining our commitment to keeping it operational - there are absolutely no plans to close it.

"We have had to take the decision to close the toilets and initially the waiting room to save on cleaning and maintenance costs - we have been very clear that, due to our financial situation, this needed to happen. This is in line with difficult and heart-breaking decisions we’ve had to make across Somerset.

"However, I’m really pleased we can now keep the waiting room open for the immediate future, following an agreement between the bus user group and operator. Please be assured that we remain committed to seeking further funding from the government's bus service improvement fund, and working with partners, to maintain facilities at the bus station in the future - this is an evolving regeneration process.

"You are likely to see some changes in the coming months – some of the buildings will be demolished as part of the regeneration, but the bus station will remain operational throughout and into the long-term future."

The Somerset bus service improvement plan (BSIP) lays out a number of improvements intended to make services more reliable and increase passenger numbers.

These include the subsidy of tickets across Taunton, funding to keep bus routes in Yeovil and Taunton afloat, and the implementation of new bus lanes and bus gates across Somerset's county town. The revised BSIP for the next 12 months will be submitted to the Department for Transport (DfT) following approval by the council's planning and transport policy sub-committee, which is due to meet in Taunton on Thursday afternoon (May 23).

The revised BSIP includes a commitment to "enhance bus services in Yeovil and its surroundings", with funding being sought for feasibility studies to "help determine what parking restrictions and bus priority measures to apply that will reduce bus travel times." Peter Travis, co-chairman of the Somerset Bus Partnership, called on the council to provide "a cast iron guarantee" that the bus station would remain open, regardless of how the surrounding land ended up being redeveloped.

He said: "In the short term, essential features like toilets must be kept available for the users of Yeovil bus station. In the longer term, bus users need a cast iron guarantee that in the redevelopment of Yeovil, there will still be a bus station in the centre of the town."

Further details on the future of the Glovers Walk site are expected to emerge in the coming months, once the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has approved the council's preferred use for the remaining funding.