Nunney Parish Council’s meeting on Monday 7 March proved acrimonious, over plans to build a covered seating area in the Market Place.
All parish council meetings are open to members of the public, but it’s not every month that visitors outnumber parish councillors by quite such a margin as at this meeting.
Due to personal circumstances, six of the eleven parish council members were unable to attend.
Members of the public were out in force, however, to witness the parish council’s discussion about the proposed bus shelter in the Market Place.
“Bus shelter is actually a misnomer,” Chairman Ken Lloyd explained. “We only called it that because parish councils can replace an existing bus shelter without planning permission.”
“There are only four buses to Shepton Mallet a day on that side of the square, plus the school bus; if it rains, people wear a coat and bring an umbrella.”
As it turned out, plans to put a 3m x 3m (9’8″ x 9’8″) covered seating area across the wall in the Market Place do require listed building consent, since Nunney’s historic centre is a Conservation Area.
The Conservation Area also means that any improvements must fit in with the listed buildings that surround it. This obviously makes any improvements more expensive.
A modern, plastic bus shelter as placed at Dallimore Mead is highly unlikely to ever get planning permission.
Significantly reduced plans
The meeting started with the parish council unanimously deciding to apply for listed building consent for the shelter.
Ken Lloyd set out the ongoing programme of improvements to the Market Place since 2011, which included removing unsightly telegraph wires, repainting the listed telephone box and fingerpost and removing te derelict old bus shelter gifted by the late Lord of the Manor, Rob Walker – all at no cost to the parish council.
He explained that the current plans are significantly revised and scaled down. The original plans were estimated at £14,800 and included a Cotswold stone roof – heavy and therefore requiring a more expensive support structure – and a balcony with seating sticking out over the bank of the brook.
“Since 2011 the parish council has invited suggestions for the Market Place, held consultations, organised an exhibition, distributed leaflets and discussed how to improve the historic centre of the village at length in practically every meeting,” he added.
Councillor Francis Hayden explained that the current proposal was much smaller than the original, but still incorporated many suggestions backed by a majority of the 82 responses received during the village consultation.
“This includes a sheltered seating area and lowering part of the wall to open up views of the brook.”
The wall is thought to have been constructed at the same time as the current bridge, listed by English Heritage as ‘mid 19th century’.
This was possibly a strengthening of the original bridge, which is thought to have been constructed by Lord of the Manor James Theobald after 1760.
Before this, there was thought to have been only a ford to wade through the brook, roughly where the footbridge by the castle now is.
The original bridge was first described by the antiquarian Rev. John Collison in 1791: “This stream contains excellent trout and eels, and has a bridge of three arches over it in the street of Nunney village, through which it runs.”
Intriguingly, both the large 1760 and 1786 maps of Nunney created for Lord of the Manor James Theobald appear to show two bridges in the Market Place: one where the current bridge is and another – possibly a footbridge – where the gap in the wall by the current SPAR shop is. Is that why the wall stopped so abruptly?
The stonework of the current wall appears to match the bottom half of the bridge in photos taken around 1910. This would mean that it could be considered to be an integral part of the bridge, a Grade II listed monument.
Francis Hayden set out that the wall was originally intended for purposes that were no longer relevant to the community, such as preventing animals from wading into the brook during markets.
Substantial work done in recent years also means that the wall no longer plays an important part in preventing the market place from flooding. In any case, it has always left a sizeable gap between the end of the wall and the SPAR shop.
Ken Lloyd said, “Moving the market cross or war memorial to the Market Place proved impractical because it would reduce parking and turning space outside the shop for customers and delivery lorries.”
The latest proposals, by contrast, are for covered seating across a lowered section of the wall, substantially back from where the old shelter used to be and with a smaller footprint.
Rather than to reduce parking spaces, the new design will actually create more space in the Market Place. The design – described as a ‘grand stand’ by Mr Bird – is the size of a standard gazebo but built largely in oak.
Instead of Cotswold stone, the roof is expected to be covered with cheaper and lighter shingles or tiles that match the surrounding properties. The ultimate decision will be subject to planning permission.
Mr Lloyd described the design as “pretty and hopefully vandal proof”. “The old bus shelter lasted for 60 years; we think that we’ve come up with a design for a sturdy structure that can last 100 years or more.”
Guests are allowed to address the parish council only with permission of the Chairman. David Bird, owner of the SPAR shop in the Market Place, had asked to speak. He presented 131 signatures of villagers objecting to the proposals as part of what he described as “a proper village consultation”.
Mr Bird explained that many in the village objected to spending nearly £15,000 on a new bus shelter and knocking the wall along the brook down.
It became clear in the meeting, however, that people had not been given the correct information.
Ken Lloyd noted that the £14,800 cost estimate was based on parish council minutes relating to the previous, much larger design that had already been turned down by the parish council as too big and too expensive.
This included foundations for a balcony on the banks of the brook and Cotswold stone tiling.
He also pointed out that Mr Bird had been the first person to ask the parish council for a replacement bus shelter, as minuted in 2014. David Bird had also suggested lowering the wall to open up views of the brook.
Mr Bird said that a builder had already been to examine the wall with a view to taking it down later this month. Mr Lloyd explained that the wall was in a poor state of repair and had holes in it already.
Under the current proposals it will not be knocked down, but stopped from falling down and only lowered over a small stretch next to the SPAR with seating placed across it.
The parish council asked the builder to provide a quote for any repairs or alterations as part of the list building consent application. A previous quote estimated the cost of repairs at £2,200.
The rest of the cost of the plans are likely to be covered out of money saved by the parish council for this purpose since 2011, grants received from Somerset County Council for improving the environment and donations.
“The parish council has actually been very careful with money,” Ken Lloyd explained. “We have managed to keep the precept (funding received by the parish council from Mendip County Council, paid for out of Council Tax) at the same level for three or four years now; this year it is actually going down.”
David Bird accused the parish council of changing it plans repeatedly in response to feedback from villagers. “Now you no longer call it a shelter,” he added.
Since both the original design and the scaled-down current design were circulated in the meeting, he admitted that most of the objections were largely based on the previous designs and costings.
“I think this new design is an excellent plan and very pretty, but the wall is listed and I have a list of things to spend the money on correctly.”
He added that for all his life he had always known Rob Walker, the late Lord of the Manor, to be the owner of the Market Place. He said he had signed contracts with him on that basis.
Penny Walker, Rob Walker’s daughter-in-law, was present at the parish council meeting. She explained that Mr Walker had bought Nunney Castle and title of Lord of the Manor during the auction of the estate of Robert Bailey-Neale in 1950.
He had subsequently also bought the rights to a second manor of Nunney, which was thought to have included certain rights and possible outright ownership related to the Market Place.
Following the death of Mr Walker and his widow, the family had been unable to find any deeds relating to the manors and associated rights of ownership. The documents were thought to have been lost in a fire at Mr Walker’s racing workshop at Dorking.
Nunney Parish Council can legally not spend money on assets it doesn’t own. “This turned out not to be such a barrier after all, however, as this is part of an ongoing plan to improve the centre of the village,” according to Mr Hayden.
When the Walker family was unable to find proof of ownership, the parish council adopted the market place to enable it to make improvements.
“The parish council has incurred all the costs of maintaining the Market Place for 60 years,” Ken Lloyd said, “But we would be happy to assume that Robbie Walker owns it.”
It was pointed out, however, that the parish council established in 2011 that it cannot sign a lease with someone who can’t prove that he owns it.
“The revised design is expensive,” Francis Hayden added, “but it must stay looking good for a long time. That’s why it will be built in oak, designed to last for 50 to 100 years.”
Nunney resident Henry Pomeroy suggested that the smaller design was more appropriate to the village. Mr Hayden said he thought that the revised design was a bit of a shame. “The larger design made more of a statement.”
David Bird said that the parish council had come up with “strong arguments” for “very wonderful things”. “But 131 people don’t want it,” he concluded.
Several villagers told the meeting that they had signed against the proposals without access to the full facts and were now in favour of the latest design.
Mr Bird questioned what the parish council was going to do opposite the school, if the plans went ahead. “Ironically, we actually offered to replace the bus shelter there,” Francis Hayden replied. “But the residents turned it down.”
The plans will now go to Mendip District Council for listed building consent. This means that they will be published on Mendip’s planning website and that members of the public can comment as part of the formal consultation.
This process will take six weeks if a planning officer approves the proposals or longer if they are referred to Mendip’s Planning Board.
The parish council also decided to create a list of community assets, such as the SPAR shop and the pub. This will be discussed at the next meeting.
If such a list is adopted by the parish council, this would strengthen the council’s right to object to a change of use.
David Bird confirmed that he intends to apply for change of use to turn the shop into apartments if it is not sold within three years, which was duly minuted.