Shock as Barratt Homes announces new plans to build

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Green Pits Lane Nunney

David Wilson Homes, a subsidiary of Barratt Homes, has announced new plans to build around 82 new homes at Green Pits Lane in Nunney.

A planning exhibition will take place in the George Inn on Tuesday 17 December from 2.30pm until 7.30pm.

The site at Green Pits Lane has recently been included as a proposed allocation for residential development in Mendip District Council’s emerging Local Plan Part II (Policy reference NN1).

All district councils are required to prepare a local plan but, by law, they must be scrutinised by a Government Inspector before they can come into force.

The Local Plan Party II does not reject new housing development in Nunney – without specifying a specific site -, but calculates the number of new properties required by 2029 at 55 – the construction of one of which has already been approved elsewhere in Nunney.

Barratt Homes Nunney
The previous plans have been controversial in Nunney
The next step is for David Wilson Homes to submit a planning application to Mendip District Council. This will initiate the Council’s formal statutory consultation process.

The purpose of the planning exhibition on Tuesday is to view the current plans, record the views of local residents and ask any questions.

Stop notice

The holding company for David Wilson Homes, Wilson Bowden plc, was acquired by Barratt Homes in April 2007 for £2.2 billion, after David Wilson had run the Coalville-based family firm for 40 years.

Last month, David Wilson Homes was issued with a stop notice by Council officials in Market Harborough in Leicestershire for illegally using part of a farm track to get construction vehicles to a 128 homes development. The illegal route was too close to existing homes and threatening a colony of Great Crested Newts.

David Wilson Homes in Exeter offered a £10,000 John Lewis & Partners design package when buying a new home at its Minerva development before the end of March.

Inspector

In 2014 Barratt Homes unveiled plans to build up to 100 new homes at Green Pits Lane. After protests by local residents (including Lisa Ramsay, who now chairs Nunney Parish Council), these plans went all the way to the top and were rejected by a government inspector in 2015.

Serious concerns at the time included the extra traffic through the village that potentially posed a risk to pedestrians down the narrow High Street.

Inspector Schofield concluded in 2015 that the Since Mendip’s development plan is not absent, silent or out-of-date, he concluded that Barratt Homes’ proposal would contradict local housing policy by being outside the development boundaries of Nunney.

The Inspector noted that the sheer size of the development was “significantly over and above” the level of development recommended for Nunney in Mendip’s Local Plan.

Nunney is defined as a Primary Village in Mendip’s Local Plan. This means that the District Council considers that our village and other specified villages offer key community facilities (including the best available public transport services) and some employment opportunities, which makes them best placed to accommodate most new rural development.

Mr Schofield made clear in this appeal decision that although 55 houses could be considered a minimum for Nunney, it did not automatically follow that just because a figure is minimum it must be exceeded – particularly when Mendip was able to demonstrate that it has sufficient building sites available elsewhere in the next five years.

Effective planning

David-Wilson-Homes-SandymoorBarratt’s QC pointed out that according to Mendip’s own Local Plan it was acceptable to build a few extra houses “where the most effective planning of sites needed to meet the requirements of individual settlements would naturally enable somewhat higher levels of development”.

According to Mendip this should mean minor increases over and above the allocated figure for a settlement, proportionate to that allocation, where appropriate or desirable.

The Inspector dismissed Barratt’s argument that just because the Green Pits Lane site was large enough to accommodate 100 houses, it was therefore “effective planning” for Barratts to build 100 houses on it.

Barratt Homes then argued that at some point someone would have to build on the Green Pits Lane site if Mendip’s own estimates of housing required in Nunney in coming years were to be met.

Schofield accepted that some houses might have to built in Nunney at some point, but said that this did not mean building on the entire field and building considerably more houses than would be appropriate for Nunney.

Bus services

Mendip’s own policy documents therefore calculate that Nunney should get 55 new houses, but this is over a period of 29 years. This is based on an increase of 15% of existing housing stock, with 70 new houses set as the upper limit for any Primary Village.

Mr Schofield questioned whether Nunney did indeed have the best available public transport services. “Nunney is served by three bus services,” he wrote in his report. “Of these, the 31 is solely for children attending school in Bruton and the 662 is only a single service to Shepton on weekdays and Saturdays, which does not return.”

“The main service, therefore, is the 161 between Wells and Frome. This is an approximately two hourly service, with a three-hour gap between two of the afternoon weekday services. The earliest weekday bus into Frome is 0958 and the latest return is 1920. This changes to 1053 and 1945 on Saturdays, with no service on Sundays.”

“Thus, it cannot be considered that there is either a frequent bus service to the main centres or that the services are convenient for the majority of those who may seek to use them for work.”

The Inspector said that although Barratt Homes had promised improvements, including a contribution to the running costs of bus services near the development, there was no clear commitment in the proposals.

Even if Barratt Homes did make a financial contribution, this would also be limited to the first five years. After which Somerset County Council – already under pressure – would have to foot the bill.

That’s why he concluded that any long-term reduction in the amount of extra traffic generated by the new housing was doubtful.

He pointed out that not that many people in Nunney work in Frome or would want to work there; so even if a new commuter bus service was added, this would be unlikely to make much of a difference.

Play area

Barratt Homes had put forward that the new development would have major benefits for Nunney. Mr Schofield appeared to take some of these alleged benefits with a pinch of salt.

He pointed out that it was a policy requirement rather than a bonus for Barratt Homes to create a play area and public park for any development of this size, for example.

He added, “While some day-to-day needs may be met in Nunney, it is clear that most residents will need to leave the village for larger settlements in order to access higher order retail, employment, secondary education and health services.”

“Walking to such settlements, although possible, is very unlikely to be an attractive, regular option for most residents given the distances (over three miles to Frome) involved.”

“Similarly, although it is feasible to cycle to the nearest town of Frome [Barratt Homes] accepted that the busy, high speed nature of the A361 would make it unattractive for many.”

“The alternative route proposed, along Frome Road, is along winding, hilly, unlit rural roads, which are narrow in places. Consequently, although it may be quieter, in my judgement it is not likely to prove a significantly more appealing option.”

Access

Lisa Ramsay told the Frome Times in 2014: “The local people have major concerns about road safety, sewerage, the entrance/exit of the proposed site, the extra traffic, and general lack of consideration given to those whose properties overlook the site. The scale and size of the development is inappropriate – 100 houses being added to a community of only 300.”

It is unclear as yet how the current proposal differs from the one previously rejected. The proposal includes a main access west of the Nunney Transport Cafe’s lorry car park, on Green Pits Lane. Emergency access is planned at the westside of Glebelands.

The proposed site layout distributed to Nunney residents appears to include a green barrier between existing residential properties on Glebelands and the new development.

Lisa Ramsay told Visit Nunnney about the new proposals: “I will be looking at the facts and asking questions before I decide whether I am in support or against it.”

The land at Green Pits Lane belongs to the Diocese of Bath & Wells, one of the few landowners in Nunney prepared to sell land.

Nunney Parish Council has been discussing for years the need to create more affordable housing in Nunney to make it possible for local people to stay in the community.

Nunney Parish Council was hoping to get 23 new houses, including 7 affordable homes. Mendip District Council wanted 54 homes to meet its building targets.

Barratt Homes’ previous plans included 16 homes identified as ‘affordable’, of which 80% would have been rent or part-buy with priority for people who had a clear link with Nunney.

Significant over-provision of housing

Barratt Homes had applied for outline planning permission, which meant in essence that all details of the plans were up for negotation. Halfway through the procedure, the developers submitted revised plans that changed the location of car access to the development to Green Pits Lane instead of Glebelands, along with changes to pedestrian access.

Mr Schofield said that the proposed housing “would not be located where the need to travel would be minimised and where services, facilities and employment would be accessible from the site by a range of modes of transport other than the private car.”

He added, “I am not persuaded that there is a compelling need or requirement for such significant over-provision of housing above the indicative figure for Nunney [i.e. 55, ed.] that would outweigh this conflict or that the proposed S106 travel provisions would overcome it. This is also a matter to which I afford significant weight.”

Ossifying

The QC for Barratt Homes had suggested during the hearings that 100 houses in Nunney would be beneficial to the village as the population was ‘ossifying’ (i.e. stagnant) and its services and facilities suffering a decline as a result.

Inspector Schofield agreed that new development would bring extra residents and additional spending, did not dispute that Nunney’s population is not growing and accepted that Nunney First School would welcome more pupils.

“However, no evidence was presented that could lead to the conclusion that the overall vitality of Nunney’s community is under threat or that, even if it was, 100 dwellings rather than any other figure would be needed to enhance or maintain such a state of affairs. Consequently, I give this factor little weight,” he commented.

Harm

Mr Schofield acknowledged that building houses at Green Pits Lane would have moderate economic benefits and minor biodiversity benefits, but said that the additional housing – including affordable housing – was of only moderate importance to him in his decision.

“I find that the suggested benefits of the proposed development would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the harm,” the Inspector wrote. “In the circumstances I conclude that the proposal would not represent a sustainable form of development and that the appeal should be dismissed.”

Barratt Homes could now submit a new outline planning application for a much smaller development in Nunney. This would be costly, risky and time-consuming after the failure of the current application, however, while it is also not clear that a smaller development would avoid problems with development boundaries and traffic increases.

Unjustified encroachment

In total 61 members of the public wrote in to comment on the original outline planning application in 2014, all of whom were against it.

Case Officer Matthew Wiliams of Mendip’s Planning department recommended at the time that outline planning permission be refused. He argued that the proposed development of up to 100 dwellings would represent “a significant, unnecessary and unjustified encroachment of built development which harms the scenic and distinctive rural character of the site and significantly degrades the quality of the local landscape.”

Many of the arguments brought up by Barratts in the first round were dispelled as misleading and inaccurate – from throwing the school a lifeline to making any meaningful financial contribution to our village hall and other community facilities.

Barratt Homes presented reduced plans on 21 October 2015 after failing to get outline planning permission – and still failed.

Housing developments in villages around Nunney have been realised in recent years in Beckington, Norton St Philips, Frome and Bruton.

Free and independent professional advice on town and planning issues to people and groups who cannot afford consultancy fees is available from Planning Aid:

Planning Aid England
41-42 Botolph Lane
London EC3R 8DL

Advice Line 0330 123 9244
Email [email protected]
Web www.rtpi.org.uk/planningaid