Early in 2013 Bridgwater’s twin town of Uherske Hradiste gained European funding to help it’s workforce investigate Local Government practices in their EU Partner towns. From Mayen in Germany they chose to study the Education system, from Priverno in Italy they looked at Tourist and the Museum service and in Bridgwater they looked at Town Planning and the Environment.
In June this year they visited Sedgemoor District Council – the relevant service provider in these areas for Bridgwater, thus concluding their tour of European Council offices. In October a major Conference was held in Uherske Hradiste to bring together the findings.
|The Sedgemoor Delegation + Martin Sevcik|
The Bridgwater delegation was led by Conservative District Chairman Cllr Peter Downing from Cheddar and Bridgwater Labour Cllr Brian Smedley along with Senior Planning Officer Nick Tait and Head of the Environment Section Adrian Gardner.
The Sedgemoor group were able to spend a night in Prague before driving the 3 hours eastwards to the Moravian twin town where they were joined by the German Delegation which included the Burgomeister and 3 Head teachers from the Rhineland towns schools.
On this occasion there was no show from the Italians as elections had got in the way and the new administration was ‘re-looking at’ the towns apparently extensive list of twinnings.
|UH-Azilovy Dum / Homeless hostel|
For the Sedgemoor team the visit included not only the usual ceremonial fanfares and touristic ‘look at our town and how lovely it is’ programme, but an insertion into the rougher end of the townscape and the councils work. One visit included a Homeless hostel, which was essentially a line of ‘containers’ fenced in and clumped together. One ‘inmate’ described how they obviously got ‘very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter’. And of course there had been protests from the (somewhat distant) neighbours against even siting it near them on what was essentially an industrial estate in the first place.
|Adrian is shown around a typical residents flat|
Another visit included a Womens refuge. On this occasion in the suburb village of Vesky which was a remarkable contrast being a several story high Moravian country house run by caring staff and in a pleasant environment. The residents were happy to invite the Sedgemoor officers into their homes, to take photos and even had tea and biscuits ready for us.
The conference itself saw extensive presentations by the Czech Council departments into what they found in their partner towns and how they operated. For the Czechs, Jaroslav Bican and Martin Sevcik, the heads of the planning department in UH found several similarities – noticably the opposition they had run into in the siting of a major supermarket on the edge of town site of a former military barracks and a narrow 14-13 vote to get the development through, yet the conclusions were odd. They admired the ‘strategic’ perspective of Sedgemoor and it’s District overview, because their town, Uherske Hradiste, had to stop it’s planning at the town boundaries and couldn’t influence it’s neighbours – meanwhile in Bridgwater the issue is our town can’t seem to influence the wider Sedgemoor District planners NOT to do what they like with our townscape.
|Bican & Sevcik outline Czech planning policies|
But the conference wasn’t about trying to say who was right or who was wrong but to compare and contrast , learn-if necessary, and reject where useless.
The UH planners were very impressed by the ‘Bridgwater Vision’ approach to longterm planning especially it’s end target of 2060 and also to the Developer surcharge on planning in floodable areas to ‘build up a kitty for future flood defences’. The Czechs saw this as the Brits taking seriously global warming and environmental change and considered their own strategic and longterm approach comparatively weak. They were also very impressed by the water harvesting scheme planned for the Steart peninsula in the same vein. This controlled inundation was something they would consider for management of the Morava river and nearby floodplains. They were also attracted to the idea of constant evaluation of the projects and plans and keen to know from Sedgemoor about their approach to wider ‘consultation’ .
|Nick Tait discusses supermarkets|
At the subsequent workshops and roundtable discussions both sides got to grips with practical approaches to problem solving and questioned each other on policies and reality. Nick Tait observed that the Czech town plans were far more detailed and prescriptive than the UK ones leaving ours more flexible. In theory.
It was of course made clear that ‘planning’ was associated more with the Communist period which involved ‘5 year plans’, and whilst officers appeared to crave this security, it was an uncomfortable absence in the modern capitalist Czech Republic for fear of this ‘association’.
The conference came to it’s wash and brush up session and Nick Tait was pushed behind the main michrophone to give the verdict of the UK jury. Very impressed by the barrack development and it’s perceived ‘regeneration’ but on the whole hoped that ‘we’d all learned from each other and the co-operation would continue into the future as a practical example of the benefits of our twinning’.
|Barbora and Pavel share a glass of Moravian vino|
The Moravians then let us let our hair down. Which isn’t easy with a bald patch as it may never return.
Thanks to the UH council for organising the event and to Barbora Szolonyova for her 24 hour assistance.