Agenda item

Planning Application 2022_1427_FUL Land at Underhill Lane, Ston Easton, Wells, Somerset

To consider an application for the demolition of Nos. 26 and 28 Orchard Vale and development of 54 new homes with open space, landscaping and all associated infrastructure.

Decision:

That planning application 2022/1427/FUL be REFUSED contrary to the Officer’s recommendation as the site is located in open countryside and is therefore contrary to the District's settlement strategy, as outlined in Policies CP1, CP2 and CP4 of the Mendip District Local Plan. It was considered that the proposal would result in an unsustainable development and the harm of the proposal would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

 

Votes – 6 in favour, 5 against

 

Minutes:

The Officer’s Report stated that this application had been referred to the Committee as the recommendation was for approval, thus representing a departure from the existing Local Plan.

 

The Report continued that it was a cross boundary application with Bath and North East Somerset Council (BANES) and there had been detailed discussions with BANES’ Planning Officers during the course of the application. The main part of the application site was within Somerset Council’s area. However, Nos. 26 and 28 Orchard Vale (3-bed social rent dwellings) was within BANES’ area.

 

Ston Easton Parish Council had made a number of comments on the application including the following:

 

  • Contribution to Clapton Village Hall requested.
  • Consideration should be given to investing into the adjacent community hall to support social objectives.
  • Request consideration of connecting the village of Clapton to mains drainage via the new development. New drainage system could be left ready should mains drainage be installed in Clapton at a future date.
  • Surface water management arrangements are important.

 

There had been 32 objections from local residents for reasons including the following:

 

  • Insufficient public enhancement.
  • Insufficient affordable housing.
  • Principle of development - unsustainable development; lack of local jobs; pressure

on services; insufficient local services; contrary to BANES planning strategy; would

set a harmful precedent; not respecting the outcome of the JR; JR ruled there

should be no development on this site; there is no duty for BANES to cooperate

with the access.

  • Harm to neighbouring amenity.
  • Ecological harm including protected species.

 

There were no objections from any of the statutory or other consultees, subject to various conditions and the provision of a S106 agreement. However, BANES Council did have various objections and stated:

 

“Permitting the proposed development site would be contrary to the adopted B&NES

Development Plan, worsening the imbalance between jobs and homes and resulting

in unsustainable levels of out commuting for work. Furthermore, the proposed

development would add cumulative impacts on key infrastructure within Westfield

and Midsomer Norton, including highways and, potentially, education. The principle of the proposed development within Somerset is therefore not supported.”

 

The Officer’s Report advised that the ‘tilted balance’ of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) applied when assessing the application. This policy says that permission should be granted unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the policies in the NPPF taken as a whole.

 

The Officer’s Report concluded that the application proposals would deliver simultaneously, economic, social and environmental benefits. The development would generate economic benefits through the construction period. Economic benefits would also be associated with the future spending of occupants of the development in local shops and services and council tax receipts.

 

Further, the provision of 52 homes (or 50 homes if Plots 6 and 7 are transferred to BANES as affordable units), including 16 affordable units in Somerset, should be given significant weight in the planning balance, particularly in the context of the significant lack of 5-year land supply in the Somerset East area. Public open space and ecological enhancement measures above Somerset Council’s policy requirements would also be provided which would offer potential biodiversity enhancements.

 

The Officer’s Report advised that the proposals had been developed to achieve a sustainable extension to Midsomer Norton. Although some harm would be caused to the balance of jobs and homes in the area, it would in part be mitigated by the local infrastructure improvements. Whilst there would be a landscape impact, particularly before the mitigation was fully established, this harm was not considered significant given the surrounding built form in the context of the site. The development would result in the loss of agricultural land, but this was not the highest quality or most versatile land.

 

Overall, Officers concluded that the adverse impacts identified were not considered to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of the proposal and, therefore in accordance with the NPPF, the application was recommended for APPROVAL, subject to a number of conditions and planning obligations secured by legal agreement(s).

 

The Planning Officer explained the application to the Committee with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation.

 

The Committee was then addressed by 3 objectors to the proposal. Their comments included:

  • Should not be building on a greenspace.
  • Should not be demolishing 2 good houses.
  • The road is very congested and not wide enough to accommodate lorries as well as commuters.
  • Parking on pavements is already an issue which will be exacerbated.
  • There are not enough local services and additional Council Tax will go to Somerset Council, rather than BANES Council.
  • The development will not be in accordance with the Westfield Parish Council development plan.
  • No consideration given to social measures and the needs of local residents.
  • Concerns regarding flooding.
  • The site is home to lots of wildlife including protected species and there are TPOs in place.
  • The development is in open countryside.
  • The development will not benefit any of the current residents of Midsomer Norton.

 

The next speaker was the applicant’s agent who made the following points:

  • The applicant, Curo, are a not-for-profit organisation so any profit made would be reinvested in the delivery of affordable homes.
  • The need for more affordable housing is rising and approval of this application would allow more families to live in modern, energy efficient homes.
  • If approved, the site could be re-allocated and could contribute to the housing shortfall.
  • In addition to the 30% affordable housing, approval of the scheme will contribute to education, public open space, transport and green space.
  • The professional consultees have assessed all the concerns raised such as traffic congestion, ecology and drainage, and have found them to be acceptable.

 

In the discussion which followed, Members made a number of comments including the following:

  • Concerns over road congestion and car parking allocation.
  • Concerns about how practical the 3 storey dwellings will be for an aging population.
  • The design and quality of the houses seems of poor standard. Suggestion that fewer, higher quality houses should be built.
  • Concern that due to the road congestion and pavement parking, emergency services will struggle to access the site in a timely manner.
  • Note that permitted development rights would be removed for some dwellings. Could these be removed for all dwellings to protect the already small gardens provided for?
  • The proposed use of gas boilers to provide internal space heating was considered very short-sighted as they are not environmentally friendly and will need to be replaced in a few years.
  • All properties should have Ground Source Heat Pumps to provide the internal space heating, EV charging points and an electric bike provided to encourage less reliance on car travel.  The gardens are too small to grow fruits and vegetables.
  • Concerns were expressed about the sustainability of the site in terms of accessing services and facilities and a suggestion was made as to whether the infrastructure and facilities available Midsomer Norton should be improved in order to support the development.
  • Overall members considered that the application scheme was contrary to Core Policies 1, 2 and 4 of the Local Plan.

 

In response to the comments made, Planning Officers advised the following:

  • The Somerset Parking Strategy sets out the number of parking spaces required and the number provided within the scheme is in accordance with this Strategy.
  • The removal of permitted development rights had been considered. There must be strong justification to remove them. Officers recommend removal of just the ones highlighted in the Officer’s Report.
  • There is currently no suggestion that a bus route will run through the estate. However, there are proposals for the bus service to the estate to be improved.
  • There has been a comprehensive review of the drainage and porous materials proposed and these would be subject to the standard conditions for drainage.
  • Highway Authority is satisfied that road safety is satisfactory and that emergency vehicles will be able to access the site. If people choose to park on either side of the road, access may be more difficult but nothing in the application can be changed to solve this potential problem.
  • If considering refusal, the Committee must be clear on the significant and demonstrable harms which outweigh the benefits of the scheme.

 

At the conclusion of the debate, it was proposed by Councillor Edric Hobbs and seconded by Councillor Tony Robbins to refuse the application contrary to the Officer’s Recommendation due to the unsustainable nature of the scheme and therefore contrary to Policies CP1, CP2 and CP4. There was particular concern about the travel distance to services and facilities, including the doctor’s surgery and senior school.

Officers and the Legal Advisor advised that if the application were to be refused on those grounds, these would be difficult to sustain on appeal due to the ‘tilted balance’, with the potential that the Council could be found to have acted unreasonably.

On being put to the vote the proposal was carried with 6 votes in favour and 5 votes against.

RESOLVED

That planning application 2022/1427/FUL be REFUSED contrary to the Officer’s recommendation as the site is located beyond the settlement boundary of Midsomer Norton and is therefore contrary to the settlement strategy, as outlined in Policies CP1, CP2 and CP4 of the Mendip District Local Plan. As the Council cannot currently demonstrate a 5-year housing land supply, the presumption in favour of sustainable development applies, as outlined in the National Planning Policy Framework. Although the site is adjacent to Midsomer Norton, the harm of the proposal due to travel distances to services and facilities would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

Votes – 6 in favour, 5 against

Supporting documents: