Work to start at last!
AFTER years of wrangling over an historic Yeovil landmark, work on a £7 million redevelopment project will start next week.
Foundry House in Summerhouse Terrace has been at the centre of plans to regenerate the town centre for more than a decade.
A symbol of Yeovil's industrial past, the former glove factory was due to be demolished under original plans to build homes on the site. After a successful campaign to get the building listed in 2006, site owner South Somerset District Council and developer Zero C agreed to convert it into a restaurant and offices instead.
Final negotiations on the plans concluded this week, clearing the way for work to start.
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While the grade II listed Foundry House will be retained, three shops, 27 houses and 10 flats will be put up alongside it on the one acre site.
The project is expected to last two years. It will feature an outdoor courtyard eating area facing Summerhouse Terrace and Old Station Approach. Dodham Brook, which divides the site from Yeovil Country park, will be landscaped into a water feature with a waterside walkway and cycle route.
Temporary diversions of the existing cycle route will be put in place to avoid disruption. Preparation work on the walkway should be complete by the summer.
Construction of nine town houses facing Yeovil Country Park and a new retail unit beside Foundry House will then begin with builders working to a November or December deadline. The conversion of the former factory will follow.
District councillor Tony Fife, Yeovil Vision portfolio holder, said: "This is just what Yeovil needs.
"South Somerset District Council is investing in a high-quality scheme to continue the regeneration of the town centre. This is a landmark site and links in with the newly-improved South Western Terrace and Reckleford areas. It is part of a much larger picture that will help deliver the town's potential.
"We have worked closely with the developers to negotiate a viable scheme and it's a great example of public and private sectors working together. This has been one of the most complex sites to develop I have ever experienced, in the oldest part of the town with so many services to divert. We have worked through these one by one and now we can hand the site over and Zero C can get going.
"It will kick-start further improvement schemes around the town as per the Yeovil Vision and will set the precedent for quality development."
Zero C Holdings managing director Kim Slowe said: "We are delighted to be developing this very high-profile and important site in the heart of the town. We see it as an excellent opportunity to develop a scheme that represents the very best in urban design and sustainability."
Foundry House was built in the 1870s and for most of its existence was used for glove making and leather work. It was also used as a foundry for some years, acquiring its name.
The district council first appointed consultants to examine ways of redeveloping the site in 1999. It was originally considered alongside plans for the Old Town Station car park next door, which is now home to a leisure complex which opened in 2002.
In 2004, a temporary ice rink in the former car park at Foundry House failed to cover its costs when only 606 people used the facility, leaving the district council nearly £8,000 out of pocket.
Remaining businesses in Foundry House, including clothing manufacturer B & C Leather, were told they would have to relocate in 2004, as plans were unveiled for its destruction.
But opposition quickly grew and Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development, led by former councillor David Gordon, mounted a bid to buy the building and regenerate it.
Eviction notices were served on the last occupants in 2006 as the council maintained its view that saving and restoring the building would be too expensive. But a petition to halt demolition gathered 3,000 signatures and the campaign was backed by TV architectural presenter Kevin McCloud.
Campaigners scored an 11th-hour breakthrough in March 2006 when the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, made Foundry House a listed building on the recommendation of English Heritage, protecting it from demolition.
The department said it was a "finely-preserved example of a medium-sized glove-making factory".
The council went back to the drawing board and initial plans for a £7.4 million project were put forward in 2007. In 2008 fresh plans were unveiled by Zero C. A downturn in the economy meant retail and restaurant elements of the project had to be scaled back and planning permission was granted last September.
The issue of Japanese knotweed on the site slowed progress last year but after site clearance, work is now due to start early next month. The temporary car park on part of the site will remain open for the time being, a district council spokesman confirmed.