Cllr Tim Mander Deputy Chair of Bridgwater Town Councils Planning Panel was bitterly disappointed when the Conservative dominated Development Committee of Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) agreed to grant consent for the development of 530 new homes on land at Follett’s Farm on the Eastern side of Bridgwater and the M5. Cllr Mander said “It had already been deferred from November meeting of the Committee as the information was incomplete. This largely related to traffic and highways matters, NHS capacity and air quality and noise issues. The application was hugely controversial with the local community with the only supporters seeming to be out of Town Tories on the Planning Committee.” The application was objected to by Bridgwater-without Parish Council, the adjoining District Councillors Alexia Bartlett (Labour) & Diogo Rodrigues (Con) plus Bridgwater Town Council itself. The day before the meeting the Committee received a petition containing 600 signatures objecting to the plan. It claimed that the number of homes in the Local Plan for this area would have been exceeded if this application was agreed. The petitioners noted that infrastructure in Bridgwater could not support this many houses.
Cllr Mander said “Not surprisingly the planners disagreed. They acknowledged that the extra housing would cause traffic problems, both once built and during the construction. However, if the application was approved, the council would seek £883,445 from the developer to improve the transport network which included the bizarre claim that somehow the mini roundabout at St John Street/Westonzoyland could in some way be improved. To the numerous objectors present the fact the NHS did not object was incredibly surprising. It was expected they would object on grounds that the local NHS capacity would be overwhelmed because of the new housing. “
Overall, the planning officer, Adrian Noon, recommended approval of the plans.
One other significant matter of note was the developer refusing to agree to build 30% affordable housing. They claim that it would be uneconomic to build that many and offered instead just 10%. That remains controversial in a town was an acknowledged need for affordable housing. And SDC’s planning policy seeks 30% on all developments.
Development ‘not sustainable’
Cllr Liz Brown for Bridgwater Without criticised the impact of the scheme on local NHS. She asked the planners ‘who exactly had said that the NHS didn’t have capacity issues resulting from the new development.’ She did not receive a response.
Cllr Tim Mander (Labour, Westover) from Bridgwater Town Council (BTC) pointed out the development would not be sustainable. The site has no public transport connections and noted the impact on traffic in the area. BTC were also especially critical of the lack of affordable housing and pointed out that SDC’s affordable housing policy had been in place for over 10 years and both developers and land owners were aware of this but time and time again Sedgemoor had given in to developer pressure to reduce the requirement in this case to just 10%.
The debate that followed was hard to control. Clearly passions were running high. Eventually the Chair, Cllr Bob Filmer(Con, Knoll) called for a proposal. Cllr Anthony Betty (Con, Kings Isle) proposed the plans be rejected and was seconded by Cllr Kathy Pearce (Labour, Westover).
Cllr Mander adds “What followed was astonishing. The Chair having called for a proposal, didn’t encourage a vote. Instead, he kept bringing officers in to challenge the logic of the proposal. So, more officers were invited to contribute. Councillors arguments were whittled down by the officers. Eventually and reluctantly the Chair called a vote on the proposal to object. It was lost with 5 votes for refusal 6 against. “
Cllr Alastair Hendry (Con, Burnham) then proposed the application was approved. That was even closer, 5 votes each with one abstention. That left Cllr Bob Filmer from the Chair to give his casting vote in favour. So the application was approved.
Cllr Tim Mander commented “I am bitterly disappointed at this decision on what is a sad day for democracy as we once more see Sedgemoor’s Development committee forcing through a major development against the wishes of the public and local community…….all we can do is hope that in future the new authority will pay more attention to the views of the public and Town and Parish Councilors”