Plans to build new affordable and social housing in Nunney have been years in the making. Here’s a guide to what is happening.
Who decided we need more houses?
Nunney Parish Council first started discussing the need for more affordable and social housing 10 years ago in publicly-held meetings. This was based purely on what local residents told members of the parish council.
No affordable housing has been built in Nunney since the 1960s. The only properties added have been relatively few commercial houses.
Six years ago Mendip District Council asked Nunney Parish Council for help. Mendip District Council was looking at where more houses could be built in the whole of the Mendips.
There is a desperate shortage of housing in the UK as a whole. The Government is putting pressure on district councils to build more homes. That’s why Mendip looked at all possible building sites across the region and calculated how many houses could potentially be built.
If anything, Mendip District Council is even keener to build than property developers like Barratt Homes. Its stated aim is to “maximise the delivery of affordable housing”. It’s taken years to find a builder prepared to even look at building social housing in Nunney.
Any new housing development by law must have a mix of 30% affordable and social housing and 70% commercial property. If Mendip really wants to build as much affordable housing, for every 3 affordable houses built another 7 commercial properties will be built.
The parish council kept us in the dark about any construction plans
A survey hand-delivered by members of Nunney Parish Council to every house in the village 4 years ago found that many felt more affordable housing was a priority, with an estimated need for 12 more affordable and social housing properties.
That was 4 years ago though. Some of the people who completed the survey then have since moved elsewhere or no longer have a need for social housing because their personal circumstances have improved. Others have moved into the village from elsewhere and were unaware of the slow process to get more houses built in the village.
The need for more houses has been on the agenda of Nunney Parish Council for as far back as 10 years ago. Six years ago the parish council started discussing it regularly and for the past four years it has been discussed in every parish council meeting. Anyone can attend those meetings and the minutes are available to anyone too.
Draft plans to build 55 new houses were also discussed at two Annual Parish Council meetings, to which every resident of Nunney gets invited by a note through the door. And yes, you did get those invitations if you lived here at the time. They were hand-delivered by the members of the parish council, who made sure they did not miss out a single property. Very few people ever attend parish council meetings.
The 55 homes draft plans were also included in the Nunney Community Association’s newsletter, a green A4 leaflet put through every door last year.
A group of Nunney residents responded to the mention of it in this newsletter by turning up unannounced at the next parish council meeting. The parish council by law is banned from discussing anything that isn’t on the agenda 7 days before the meeting. They were given 15 minutes before the meeting, but warned that housing could not be discussed any further in that particular meeting.
Who decided where new houses should be built?
Nunney Parish Council also looked at all possible land in the village. Who owned what and who may be prepared to sell some of their land?
The parish council came to the conclusion that only two fields were realistic options: a field to the east of Catch Road (Option A on this picture, on the left as you go up to the Theobald Arms from the village) and a field between the Nunney Catch transport café and Glebelands on the Flowerfield estate (Option B on the picture).
The main reasons why these sites were potentially suitable was access (roads etc) and the fact that owner of the land was possibly prepared to sell some of the land. Both fields are owned by the Diocese of Bath and Wells – the administrative area for which the bishop of Bath and Wells is responsible. The church owns land all over the region and has done so since the Middle Ages.
Mendip District Council’s planning officer then looked at both sites in more detail. Based on the size of the fields and the average number of houses on a typical new development (in case of the Mendips this is 30 houses per hectare), it came up with the figure of 34 possible new homes on the first field (Option A) and up to 100 new homes on the other field (Option B). This calculation is purely based on 3.53 hectare multiplied by an average of 30 houses per hectare = 105 houses for Option B, for example.
Mendip’s planning authority considers 30 houses per hectare to be the lowest density viable and typically suitable for rural village developments. The Affordable Housing Viability study commissioned by Mendip District Council in January 2009, for example, looks at densities from 30 to 60 houses per hectare – with 30 considered the bottom line.
This is nothing more than a rough estimate for how many houses would fit on the site. But if you want fewer houses to be built on an area the same size, you’d have to challenge how many houses per hectare Mendip District Council thinks is appropriate for rural village settings. They use the same standard for new developments in other villages in the area.
The field east of Catch Road (Option A) would stick out into the countryside. Mendip District Council prefers any new development to fit in with the existing shape of the village, if possible. That – and the bigger size of the field – is why Barratt’s think they have a better chance of getting planning permission for the Glebelands / Green Pits Lane / Nunney Catch site (Option B).
Who came up with Barratt Homes?
The diocese, which owns both fields, invited any property developer interested in building on the sites to come forward. For a very long time during the recession not a single developer was interested.
Eventually the diocese spoke to 5 property developers. It asked them to come up with proposals – a ‘tender process’. The diocese picked Barratt Homes as the best proposal. We don’t know exactly why, but the decision is entirely up to the landowner – in this case the diocese.
Does the diocese have any influence on what gets built?
Winning the tender process means that Barratt Homes now has an ‘option’ to build; the diocese has given it permission to build on both fields but of course Barratt Homes needs to get planning permission from Mendip District Council first.
Barratt’s doesn’t want to build on the smaller field (Option A) because it thinks it is more likely to get planning permission for the larger field (Option B).
As we said, it was Mendip District Council that came up with the figure of 100 possible houses on this site. If Barratt Homes can only get planning permission for half that number, the diocese would not have to sell all of the land to Barratt’s.
But surely Barratt’s will built as much as it can get away with?
Not necessarily. Yes, the company has shareholders and will therefore try to get maximum return on investment – ‘profit’, if you like.
But even if it does manage to get planning permission for 100 homes, it is likely that Barratt’s will build in stages – for example, build 30 houses first and try to fill those before building another 30 houses.
It’s also worth noting that Mendip District Council’s draft local plan for 2006-2028 (which was never adopted, because it failed to suggest anywhere near the number of new Mendip District Council thought was needed) said: “Outside of the main towns, appropriate levels of provision for new development should be made in rural areas to meet local needs and to sustain the rural economy. Again the emphasis is upon delivering the majority of this development in the settlements where people can access local employment or where residents and businesses can make use of available services. In smaller communities that have more limited community facilities, small scale development aimed at delivering affordable homes and meeting the specific needs of rural business is considered appropriate.”
A development of 100 new homes would still be considered ‘small scale’, however, based on what has happened in other communities. In Beckington, for example, there is talk of building over 200 new houses.
This article continues