Bridgwater development passed on Chair’s casting vote
The Development Committee of Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) heard a major planning application for Bridgwater this morning. The application is for land at Folletts Farm between the south eastern edge of Bridgwater and the M5. The application has been reduced from 560 homes to 530.
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.
It would be fair to say the application is not one that has been well received by the local community. The application was objected to by Bridgwater-without Parish Council, the Ward Members and the adjoining council, Bridgwater Town Council.
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 note that infrastructure in Bridgwater could not support this many houses.
The planners disagreed. They acknowledge that the extra housing will 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. Issues over air quality and noise they claim, can be mitigated. This despite the fact the site is next to the M5. Astonishingly the NHS had not offered any objections. 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.
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.
Tim Mander 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.
Ward Cllr Rodriguez offered two grounds for rejection. He claimed the site was overdeveloped. He also noted the requirement of SDC’s Local Plan was for 30% affordable houses in development. SDC’s own officers had, he said, agreed that 20% affordable housing was viable. He pointed out 3,000 people in Bridgwater are waiting for housing. Why he asked, get officers to look at an issue if their opinions are ignored?
The debate that followed was hard to control. Clearly passions were running high. Eventually the Chair, Cllr Bob Filmer called for a proposal. Cllr Betty proposed the plans be rejected. 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 Hendry then proposed the application was approved. That was even closer, 5 votes each with one abstention. That left Cllr Bob Filmer from the Chair gave his casting vote in favour. So the application was approved.
Cllr Liz Brown told us: “There has been tremendous strength of feeling against this development and there has been poor public consultation considering the scale of this major application and its impacts.” What is clear is that many will be disappointed with the outcome today.