IMPROVING the appearance of Yeovil town centre will “catapult” the town to greater success in the coming years, according to a Somerset councillor.

The Yeovil Refresh programme, which was initiated by South Somerset District Council, is designed to future-proof Yeovil town centre through a number of schemes intended to make it more accessible and attractive for residents, visitors and potential businesses.

The programme – which has seen numerous setbacks and delays since its launch in the summer of 2021 – is partially funded by the government’s future high streets fund, with additional funding from the Department for Transport and Somerset Council, which replaced the district council in April.

Despite the disruption it has caused to date, and the negative feedback which has ensued, the council still believes that the changes will prove beneficial in the long run and help Yeovil businesses get back on their feet after the cost-of-living crisis.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service was given a guided tour of Yeovil town centre on Wednesday morning (November 15), with councillors and officers explaining all the changes that are being implemented and the benefits they will bring to Yeovil.

Here’s what they had to say about each section which is being regenerated.

Westminster Street

In Westminster Street – between the town clock and the entrance to the Tesco superstore – work has finished on new paving either side of the road, with a lower kerb to make crossing easier.

New benches and planters have also been installed outside the Pizza Pasta Mondo restaurant (which has been recently put up for sale) to give shoppers a place to rest during a day out.

The construction of the Westminster Street section was beset with problems, with the council’s original contractor Midas Construction going into administration in February 2022.

When new contractor SWH was appointed in April 2022, it proceeded to remove all the paving laid by Midas, resulting in further delays.

But Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, said the end result was “durable, sensible and practical” for the town’s needs.

She said: “All of these improvements were consulted on some time ago – pre-covid, if we can remember that far back – and members of the public were quite clear that they wanted things which were usable for the wider community.

“A local company has added mobile planters on top of the ones we’ve installed, and that’s what we’re trying to do – encouraging businesses to make Yeovil a really good shopping experience.

“The trees are obviously without leaves now, but come the spring we will have a lot more greenery around and that will make a difference.

“It’s all part of giving people the confidence that this is going to be a great place to visit.”

Ms Wyke – who lives between Wells and Cheddar – said she had visited Yeovil for many years and enjoyed its shopping experience on top of its cultural offer.

She said: “I’ve come to Yeovil over the years to see shows at the Octagon Theatre, to see friends, to eat in the restaurants – it’s got a very useful, accessible shopping centre.”

The area near the town clock and the closed Beales department store has been expanded to make it easier to hold cultural events, markets and other things to pull people into the town centre.

Ms Wyke said: “We are investing a lot in trying to bring new businesses into the area and give them the confidence that this is a prosperous market town.

“It is disappointing that we’ve lost Beales – they were a significant part of Yeovil. But that doesn’t mean that work isn’t being done to look at what we can do about it.”

Somerset County Gazette: The area around High Street and the Borough has been enhanced.The area around High Street and the Borough has been enhanced. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

High Street and The Borough

The area along High Street and the Borough, near the town’s war memorial, has also been enhanced with lower kerbs and new paving and seating to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to move around unimpeded.

The work on this section largely finished several weeks ahead of schedule, allowing the roadworks to be removed ahead of the Remembrance weekend events held on November 11 and 12.

Ms Wyke said: “We want people to feel able to walk around the town – we want them to feel comfortable and safe. We do not want to have lots of trip hazards.

“We don’t want to make the town centre too cluttered, but on the other hand we want to make it usable and meaningful for local people – we’ve found a balance.

“We’re not punishing motorists whatsoever – we’ve actually made it easier for the drivers. We’ve kept the roadways where we can and made sure that the people who need to drive into the town centre can do so.

“As a motorist, I would rather drive down somewhere which I know is secure and where I know where I’m doing, rather than having people weaving in and out of parked cars.

“Traders do need access for deliveries, and we need to help the businesses have that access when they need it.”

Buses are not currently able to serve the stops outside the war memorial in light of the construction work which has been taking place on High Street.

Ian Timms, the council’s Yeovil Refresh project manager, said he was confident that buses would be back in the town centre before Christmas, making it easier for people to do their festive shopping without using cars.

He said: “As soon as we’ve laid the new surface and markings, we’ll get the buses back in as soon as we can – it just requires coordination with the different operators.

“The markings are currently scheduled to be done over November 30 and December 1, so we’ll look to get the buses back in a couple of days after that.”

Middle Street

Much of Middle Street is currently covered in Harris fencing as the workforce dig deep down below the paved surface, allowing for the installation of new paving, improved drainage and the planting of new trees to improve the street’s appearance.

Some sections of pavement – such as the area outside the HSBC branch – is being widened to allow pedestrians more space to move around.

For shoppers, this does mean that space to move around is at a premium – but access for all open units has been maintained.

Ms Wyke said: “We have a responsibility to keep our businesses working and accessible – that’s our primary consideration.

“When we are doing improvements, we need to make sure of the safety of the public, ensuring that people in wheelchairs or those with prams and pushchairs can move around.

“We have a number of contractors who are having to work in quite tight environments, which causes health and safely problems. Collectively, it’s not a straightforward job, and that’s why it’s taking so long.

“We’ve got a working solution with disabled parking. We recognise where people want to go and the unevenness of the land, and we need to make sure that wherever we put blue-badge parking that it is accessible.”

The work on the new tree pits is expected to finish by the end of January 2024 – with part of Middle Street expected to be completed before Christmas to allow more space for festive shopping and pop-up events.

On top of the council’s own construction work, repairs are also under way to stabilise the former British Heart Foundation building on Middle Street, which was condemned by the district council after being ruled “unstable”.

Ms Wyke said: “Sometimes you have a bit of pain to get the gain, and this is a classic example.

“When you’ve got high buildings either side of you, there can be an impact on air quality if you’re not careful.

“Trees are the most effective way of soaking up carbon dioxide, and we want to ensure we have a good flow of air without creating wind tunnels.”

Somerset County Gazette: Ian Timms, project manager of Yeovil Refresh.Ian Timms, project manager of Yeovil Refresh. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

The Triangle

The area around the former bandstand, known locally as the Triangle, is currently the site of significant disruption.

Pedestrian access near the almost-deserted Glovers Walk shopping centre is currently very narrow while construction moves forward on a new amphitheatre with water features, which will allow new events to be held in the heart of the town centre.

Ms Wyke said: “Fountains and water features bring another dynamic to what can be a very static area.

“Our society is changing, including the way we use our high streets and town centres.

“It’s not just Yeovil, it’s every single high street – and the one thing we know from all the research and all the advice which we’ve been given is that we need to make our high street slightly different.

“We’re ahead of the game here. This country is in a period of significant inflation and people’s pockets are being tightened by the cost of living.

“We’re making sure every pound we’ve got from central government is being well spent to make sure that Yeovil has a sustainable future – without this, the likelihood of things deteriorating further is greater.”

The government’s future high streets fund provided £9.75m towards the Yeovil Refresh – funding which originally had to be spent by April 2024, but which has now been extended.

Natalie Fortt, the council’s regeneration programme manager, said: “We’re in discussion with the government about the development sites we’ve got.

“The future high streets funding doesn’t have to be fully spent by April – we just have to be in contract and have viable plans which are moving in the right direction.”

Funding has also been provided by Active Travel England to install new cycle paths into the town centre, completing missing links which were identified within the Yeovil local cycling and walking infrastructure plan (LCWIP).

Mr Timms said: “We’ve got a cycleway going up Hendford from the junction with Brunswick Street, and improvements to the existing infrastructure on Central Road and South Western Terrace leading to the Yeo Leisure Park.”

Lower Middle Street and Wyndham Street

The newest stage of the Yeovil Refresh concerns the bottom of Middle Street and the junction with Wyndham Street.

New on-street parking will be installed on Newton Road, with additional planters and improved pavements to make the area more appealing to potential customers.

Work on this section will finish by the end of February 2024 – before the end of the work on much of Middle Street.

With the current financial pressures on the council – including the rising cost of social care – Ms Wyke said that the council had to be realistic about how the current budgets could be best spent.

She said: “We are working within our budgets, many of which were put together before the pandemic.

“We are being very proactive in how we spend money and being realistic about we can do – we do not have the funding to top up these projects.”

The council is currently in discussion with administrators over the future of the Wilko store, which was purchased as part of the district council’s commercial investments programme before the creation of the new unitary authority.

Ms Wyke concluded with a final, passionate defence of the programme, urging Yeovil residents to get behind it.

She said: “I believe this is a real stepping stone for the town. It’s a way for the the town to say ‘we’re on the map’.

“This is a superb place, and when the work is finally completed we’ll have a town which we can be really proud of.

“Yeovil is one of our key areas – we need to ensure it’s vibrant and is working for everybody.

“This is going be a ‘catapult area’, and Yeovil is something we should all be behind and supporting.”

For more information on the Yeovil Refresh, visit