Is Bridgwater on a fast track to glory or on the road to nowhere? We ask whether a projected 1.5m sq ft development is destined for success or doomed to failure
When the M5 took traffic moving between Bristol and the south-west from the centre of Bridgwater, it did the town a big favour. But have the strategic advantages that Bridgwater held as a key location on the A38 been lost since the M5 took away the jams?

It's a moot point. Industrial agents such as Paul Baker, associate at King Sturge, say that Bridgwater is seen as something of a no man's land for distribution. And, while land is available for distribution, Baker says: 'I'm doubtful whether the demand exists.'

On the other hand, Geoff Revel, partner at Alder King, says the locational gains of Bridgwater are 'undoubted'. He notes that the town has two junctions to the M5 and is well situated for lorry routes, to the bottom of the south-west peninsula, the Midlands and to London. Most importantly, it has an experienced manufacturing labour force. He describe this as 'a somewhat unusual factor in the south-west'.

But despite such benefits, Bridgwater has regularly lost out in the fight for sheds to Portbury, Clevedon and, recently, Weston. With English Partnerships ready to pump-prime Weston Airfield and Severnside opening up at a rate of knots, could the town have missed the boat?

Several interested parties hope this is not the case. One is Dutch consortium Express Park Development Company. It has picked up 40.5ha (100 acres) near junction 23 and has ambitious plans to develop 139,353 sq m (1.5m sq ft) of distribution warehouses (see picture above right). Opportunities for hotel, pub, fast food and petrol filling station operations are also on the agenda. There is £8m to make the site available for investment and an eventual development cost of around £60m, which is massive by Bridgwater standards.

Another example is Roselea Properties. It recently acquired the 4.25ha (10.5 acre) Optima development site at Huntworth from Wickes for a reported £850,000.

Further room for developments

Yet another example is Rockeagle, which has taken over the old showground site near junction 24. It has 2.6ha (6.5 acres) ready for use, and another 6.8ha (17 acres) which would need infrastructure put into place. Add the three together, and that's a lot of faith.

There are two issues to consider here. One is the all-powerful tachometer. Bridgwater is neatly placed to service the south-west but is half an hour shy of Severnside going north and west.

The other is the sheer will-power on the part of local agencies and landowners to pull business into Bridgwater. The town has been in the doldrums for a number of years and is crying out for jobs. English Partnerships has declared that Bridgwater is 'in its sights' for the next wave of development in the south-west – presumably under the aegis of the south-west Regional Development Authority (RDA).

'Bridgwater has had a tough time,' says Kevin Higgs, associate director at Gooch Webster's Bristol office. As head of business space, he was involved in the Optima disposal. 'There's no doubt that the other sites have stolen something of a march in offering oven-ready land. But it seems to be fighting back now. Land is cheap, typically £100,000 an acre or under for serviced land. Labour is plentiful and much less expensive than it is further north. The town also has indigenous companies that have the potential to expand. It deserves to succeed.'

King Sturge's Baker begs to differ: 'The mere availability of land does not create demand. None of the occupiers looking at Western Approach is looking at Bridgwater – it's too far south. Only local companies looking to relocate will seriously consider Bridgwater as a distribution location and the last major design-and-build in the town was 18 months ago.'

Alder King's Revel, however, insists that Bridgwater is the only location between Bristol and Land's End that can provide a fully serviced option for buildings of more than 27,867 sq m (300,000 sq ft) with excellent access to the motorway network.

So who is right? With Alder King acting for Express Park and King Sturge representing Western Approach, both sides will emphasise the positive on their own sites.

But the same wide diversion of views is apparent from a straw poll of other local agents. Some think that Bridgwater's time is about to come; others that it simply hasn't got the appeal of nearby locations.

But all agree on one factor – Bridgwater now has the land and developers that have put their money on the table.