SOMERSET: 250 new homes in Watchet approved
A traffic “nightmare” awaits schoolchildren in a Somerset coastal town after plans for new homes near their school were approved.
Summerfield Developments put forward plans to build 250 homes on the Liddymore Farm site in Watchet, a short distance from the Knights Templar First School.
Both residents and local councillors urged Somerset West and Taunton Council to refuse permission, arguing it would create “chaos” on the local roads at pick-up and drop-off times.
But in spite of these concerns, the council’s planning committee voted to approve the homes by a large margin when it met in Taunton on Thursday afternoon (June 10).
Outline permission for the site (which was not allocated within the council’s Local Plan for housing) was granted by West Somerset Council back in January 2018, just over a year before the council merged with Taunton Deane to form the current authority.
Rosemary Woods, who represented Watchet on the council between 2015 and 2019, told the committee that it was “absurd” to hold a meeting on these plans in Taunton, rather than the Williton offices just down the road from the development site.
The council stated in September 2019 that the rooms at West Somerset House were too small to host any meetings which attracted significant public attendance, including meetings of the full council and planning committee.
Since recent government restrictions on virtual meetings were altered, all planning committee meetings have been held at Deane House in Taunton, with councillors socially distancing and public attendance being greatly limited.
Ms Woods added: “At the school’s opening and closing time, chaos ensues in Liddymore Road, with children and vehicles competing for space. This will get worse with this development.
“Why have a Local Plan if you do everything piecemeal? If this is going ahead, you can rename your committee the building committee.
“This land would be ideal for sheltered housing, tying in with existing facilities at Ingrams Meadow and Maglands Road. More joined up thinking is required.
“The developer is taking paradise and putting up a parking lot.”
Christopher Mitchell, who lives on Cherry Tree Way near the site, criticised the “poor” level of public consultation about the plans and said the wishes of local residents had been “disrespected”.
He said: “In the outline plans, the open spaces between existing and new houses were gone. In the detailed plans, the one-storey houses nearby became two-storey houses. All respect for existing residents seems to be gone.”
“This could be so much better for everyone. There has never been an analysis of need or infrastructure requirements, since the site was not included in the Local Plan. Does Watchet really need more than 1,000 new houses over the next few years?”
In addition to the Liddymore Road site, outline permission is in place for 139 homes between Cherry Tree Way and Doniford Road – though more detailed proposals have not yet been published.
Fresh plans for 136 homes on the B3191 Cleeve Hill (including the realignment of the coast road to Blue Anchor) were published in April, while a decision remains outstanding on plans for up to 350 homes on the former paper mill site on Brendon Road.
Councillor Loretta Whetlor – who lives on Liddymore Road – said: “I’m concerned about the school entrance – it’s not a minor issue. You can see the problems. A lot of the things that were passed at outline did not look at the site in the right way.
“The cars do not drive at a sensible speed on that road – it’s very worrying. I don’t see anything that tells me when vehicles are coming in and out, how much weight will be on the road and so on.
“This will be a nightmare for the people who live there and the people who use that road. I think the majority of people would prefer to see these rolling hills left as they are.”
Councillor Ian Aldridge, who represents the same ward, added: “We are about to ruin the environment over the next few decades if we don’t get our act together on climate change.
“There are no public transport links to this site whatsoever, so everyone living here will need a car to go anywhere.”
But Councillor Sarah Wakefield, portfolio holder for the environment, argued that many of the problems being described were not specific to this site – and therefore would not form a watertight case if an appeal were lodged.
She said: “There is a problem in many towns with roads narrowing down to a single car – I don’t think that’s the applicant’s problem.
“Any school has these problems outside it when people drop off or pick up their children. The children from this estate will hopefully be walking to school – or some of them will, anyway.
“The green spaces looks pretty good, I think. Once they are put in, there will be a fairly rural feel to the northern end of the estate.”
After more than two hours’ debate, the committee voted to approve the plans by nine votes to one, with three abstentions.
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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