Residents of Ilminster were shocked when they read a revised plan prepared by South Somerset District Council. Yes Shudrick Valley is back in the Local Plan for South Somerset District Council (SSDC).
During the preparation of the last Local Plan a row broke out over the direction of growth. Local people, the town council had all argued against developing the Shudrick Valley area, with Canal Way being the preferred option.
SSDC ignored them and chose Shudrick Valley. The then council Leader, Rik Pallister, had to face an angry meeting of residents at the Shrubbery Hotel. At least he had the guts to turn up and face the music and he did it with calmness and good grace.
When the plan was published the Planning Inspector criticised SSDC for choosing the direction of growth for Ilminster as along Shurdrick Way. SSDC took on board the comments of the inspector and the final agreed plan was to have Canal Way as the direction of growth
At the time it was understood that the growth of the town would either be along Canal Way, (where planning has since been agreed for a substantial housing development) or the Shudrick Valley.
Now looking at SSDC’s plans for Ilminster it looks as if both are going to be heavily developed.
The question many Ilminster residents are asking is why?
After all the decision to develop Shudrick Valley was criticised by the Planning Inspector. The direction of growth was then changed to Canal Way in order to get agreement from the Inspector.
Even after the Local Plan was agreed and approved by the Inspector, a planning application was received for 330 houses along Shudrick Valley. This was rejected, moderated to just 220 houses and then rejected again. The developer appealed and then lost the appeal.
So why is it now back in the Plan?
SSDC do not seem to have much of an answer. The Local Plan Review duly notes all the sad history and then simply dismisses it in fluffy words:
“However, the Local Plan Review provides the opportunity to reconsider the allocation.”
“The site is in a sustainable location adjacent to the town centre, and in particular, a supermarket.”
“A sensitively designed scheme could potentially address the issues previously raised.”
Once more it seems as if the climate emergency and green agenda that is supposed to inform SSDC planning policy is nowhere to be seen. Another green field site set up for more development with housing that (based on other approvals given by SSDC) is unlikely to be energy efficient.
More concerning though, it is as if the views of residents, and the old arguments around Shudrick Valley had never happened. Lets just reconsider sounds awfully like: let us keep going until we get the answer we want. Once again it looks as if SSDC are ignoring the wishes of residents. A trait that many in Bruton, Mudford and Martock will recognise.
The Save Shudrick Valley Group were already concerned that attempts have been made to lobby the Town Council to change the Neighbourhood Plan to include Shudrick Valley. They noted that “With 839 homes already suggested in the (Ilminster) Neighbourhood Plan, opening up Shudrick Valley once again to the possibility of housing development could mean Ilminster facing a total of over 1,000 new homes over the local plan period. That would be 2,500 people. Ilminster would change completely and virtually overnight from a lively, friendly, community spirited market town to a sprawling dormitory town with services that cannot cope.”
But it also begs more questions still. What is SSDC for? Is it their to represent the interests of residents and taxpayers, or of developers?
What was especially interesting was when we asked SSDC a simple question about whether they had been contacted or lobbied by the developer, the landowner or their agent before making the decision to put Shudrick Valley back in the Local Plan Review.
Instead of explaining, offering a reason or outright denying the fact, any one of which might have been entirely justifiable, the council instead noted “your request would appear to be more appropriate as a Freedom of Information request.”
They kindly offered to treat our question as an FoI request and we have taken them up on their offer.