Important Scrutiny Victory Compels Sedgemoor Exec to ‘revisit’ Controversial Land Sale Decision

Brian Smedley
Cllr Brian Smedley , Chairman of  Sedgemoor’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee

On Monday 13 July the Council’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee chaired by Sedgemoor Labour Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) reviewed the decision by the Executive to dispose of land at Lakeside, Isleport, Highbridge to Coln Residential, following the decision being called in. At the scrutiny meeting members of the public were able to raise their passionate  concerns to the Committee and after consideration the Corporate Scrutiny Committee supported the view that the Executive should be asked to reconsider their decision.

Cllr Smedley said “The committees decision was unanimous and I’m certain that the strength of feeling expressed by the residents and the ward councillors made all the difference. There was considerable concern that green land was being built on and wildlife habitats destroyed at the same time as the Council claims to be concerned about Climate Emergency and says it reflects this in its policies. Residents and rank and file councillors clearly had concerns about this. The other key point of concern was the apparent failure to give proper weight to the consultation process which showed massive opposition to the plans yet this seems to not have been given the same consideration or at best they’ve come to a rather odd interpretation of a 95% opposition. The next step will be to take this back to the Executive on July 22nd and see what the top table now has to say on the matter. Hopefully it will be some form of contrition and redress in favour of the residents.”

A Sedgemoor statement about the Lakeside land contained the following information “The land at Isleport was acquired by Sedgemoor District Council in 1996 and at that time was intended to form an area of public open space as part of the wider Isleport Business Park.   Part of the land was subsequently developed for housing – the current Lakeside housing estate. The remainder of the land has not formally been designated as public open space, although there are footpaths that cross the area.  It is undeveloped land, not public open space.”

The call in was considered and passed 5.0 on the following grounds:

  1. The decision to sell this land acquired for Public Open Space and the failure to bring forward any such use over 20 years.
  2. The decision to sell green space in the Highbridge area which is deficient in this locality.
  3. The threat to the biodiversity of this site during a climate change crisis.
  4. The allocation of the S106 monies towards this site being transferred to the developer.
  5. The desirability of keeping open space for the health and wellbeing of local residents.
  6. Was sufficient weight given to the public consultation in making this decision?
Petherton councillor Bill Revans who proposed the motion

Councillor Bill Revans (Lib Dem, North Petherton) proposed the motion and Cllr Hilary Bruce (Labour, Fairfax) seconded it. Councillors Liz Leavy (Labour, Hamp) Paul Fineran (Ind, Cheddar) and Brian Smedley (Labour, Westover) supported the motion whilst Conservative members Filmer, Grimes and Hendry all declared interests and left the meeting without taking part, Lilley and Barber sent apologies and Cllr Dyer disappeared mid way through the meeting (presumed technical issues).

The case for the residents was put passionately by Joy Russell and Jason Edwards and Burnham and Highbridge Councillors Phil Harvey and Mike Murphy.

Councillor Hilary Bruce commented  “I believe this call-in highlights the importance of the Local Plan and the weight it carries when considering planning applications. The officer’s report to the Excutive 24/6 (Agenda Item 5 Appendix A) states with regard to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that comments regarding the protection of existing open space are not relevant as this land is not currently designated as POS. The NPPF was updated on 19th February 2019 and Sedgemoor’s current Local Plan was adopted a day later, on 20th February 2019.”

Cllr Hilary Bruce who seconded the motion

“When the current Local Plan was adopted, did it take into account changes in the revised NPPF, specifically point 97 of that document concerning the protection of open spaces? Changing the status of this land from POS to “white land” would suggest not. I would like to see a review of the current Local Plan, taking into account the revised NPPF introduced in Feb 2019, to verify that sufficient POS has been allocated and protected within settlement boundaries and to ensure that everyone has access to natural green spaces.In relation to the S106 funding, the officer’s report to the Executive 24/6 (Agenda Item 5 Appendix A) uses rather vague wording when it describes how the funding will be used to deliver POS within the development, with phrases such as “can be used to deliver”, “funds can be used”, “an appropriate opportunity to utilise the secured S106 funds”.

“I think that the executive should review and disclose exactly how those S106 funds will be used. Lastly, considering the number of objections received and the strength of opposition, I believe the decision to dispose of this land fails to honour the consultation. Yes, delivery of housing is a key council priority, but it should not ride roughshod over other priorities such as people’s health and wellbeing, their right to access green space and the council’s aim to become a carbon neutral district by 2030.”

Executive Meeting on 22 July

The Executive will hold a virtual meeting on Wednesday 22 July 2020, via Skype for Business, to deal with the Corporate Scrutiny Committee’s six points. The public and press are welcome to listen in to the meeting. They can also speak at the meeting in line with the normal requirements for council meetings, which permits one person to speak in support and one against any item of business on the agenda. This is limited to 3 minutes per speaker. If you wish to register to speak at the meeting please contact Democratic Services to register. The public and press will be able to listen to the meeting, but you will need to pre-register with the Democratic Services Team and provide a telephone number so they can invite you to join the virtual meeting. Please email or telephone 0300 303 7800. All public meetings will be recorded and the recording of the meeting will be available to view via the Council’s website or on the Council’s YouTube Channel, normally within 2 days of the meeting.


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