SOMERSET: 350 Williton homes delayed
CREDIT: Thrive Architects.
Plans for hundreds of new homes on one of Somerset’s busiest roads have been criticised for not doing enough to tackle local flooding.
The Wyndham Estate put forward outline plans for 350 new homes on the A39 Priest Street in Williton, along with employment units, leisure facilities and public open space.
Somerset West and Taunton Council’s planning committee was expected to reach a decision on the proposals when it convened in Taunton on Thursday afternoon (November 4).
But the committee ultimately voted to defer a decision until more information had been provided about how the homes would affect existing flood prevention work in the local area.
The site lies on the western edge of Williton, a short distance from a major retail scheme which was approved by councillors in September.
Of the 350 new homes being promised, 35 per cent will be affordable – the equivalent of 123 properties, with the homes being concentrated on the western side of the development.
Access will be created near Mamsey Lane, with the eastern side of the site (near the village’s community hospital) being allocated for communal open space, including an orchard, allotments and play areas.
As part of the outline approval, the developer has committed to making a number of improvements to local transport – namely:
- Minor alterations to the A39 Fore Street to make it safer for pedestrians, including wider pavements and improvements to the existing foot crossing (a £50,000 contribution)
- Enhancing two existing bus services – allowing service 15 to operate on weekdays all year round (i.e. not just during term time) and allowing additional evening journeys on service 28 from Monday to Saturday (up to £500,000)
- Delivering 1,500 metres of new cycle paths, forming part of the Steam Coast Trail between Williton and Minehead (£200,000)
- Various traffic calming measures within the site (up to £300,000)
- A new toucan crossing on the B3191 Five Bells, providing safer access to the nearby Danesfield Church of England School (up to £200,000)
- New pedestrian and cycle links between the site and the village (up to £500,000)
The developer has also committed to provide £3,664,761 towards new school places in the village and £119,410 towards the expansion of the doctors’ surgery on Robert Street.
The surgery was one of 14 sites which the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has identified will need to expand or relocate in the coming years to cope with rising patient numbers.
Despite these promises, Williton resident Karen Jones said the plans had been greeted by “widespread dismay” within the village.
She added: “To the south of this site, the ancient heart of Williton, is a bunch of incredibly beautiful listed buildings, in such untouched and natural condition that they in themselves are a focal point.
“The footpath goes straight up and into wide open space, with views right the way to Exmoor. The benefits of this to the community of Williton are enormous – on a normal day, more than 100 people use this.
“If this happens, you will have a phalanx of buildings looking down on this whole valley, in a way that will completely change its character.”
Councillor Ian Aldridge, who represents Watchet and Williton, criticised the plans for not doing enough to tackle flooding issues in the local area.
He said: “I could not believe that when I looked through this application that there is no reference to a flood alleviation scheme for Williton.
“Such a scheme has been costed by the Environment Agency in 2018 – all it needs now is the money in order to make this go ahead.
“Why is there no mention of any developer money going towards this flood relief scheme?
“We are in danger of making this scheme disappear. If the centre of Williton floods – which it does on a regular basis – it means nothing can get in and out of west Somerset.”
The Williton area has seen numerous large housing developments approved in recent years – including plans for 90 homes on Doniford Road (also put forward by The Wyndham Estate), which were approved by West Somerset Council in February 2019.
Its close neighbour Watchet will see significant housing growth in the coming years, with plans for 250 homes on Liddymore Lane (approved in June 2021) and a further 139 homes between Doniford Road and Normandy Avenue (approved in October 2019).
Two further Watchet sites are also currently under consideration – the former Wansborough Paper Mill site on the B3191 Brendon Road (350 homes plus employment and leisure facilities) and Cleeve Hill (136 homes, plus realignment of the B3191 in response to coastal erosion).
Councillor Loretta Whetlor, who represents the same ward, said it made no sense to build on this greenfield site given ongoing concerns about climate change and Britain’s food supply chains.
She said: “This appals me. When the A39 gets flooded now – which it does now on a regular basis – the one place they all come through is Watchet.
“It really does me angry that no-one thinks about the infrastructure before they pass all these plans. We’re supposed to be stopping people driving cars – but we haven’t got a decent bus service, so they’re going to have to use their cars.
“We’re building on green fields. The government wants us to eat plant-based stuff and have more vegetables – well, you’re not going to do that if you keep building on farmland.”
Somerset County Council and the Somerset Rivers Authority have recently been carrying out improvements to the A39 at Carhampton, between Williton and Minehead, to reduce the risk of localised flooding.
Councillor John Hassall added: “I am seriously worried about the flooding situation. When you’ve got a development of any number of houses on low-lying land, it’s asking for trouble.”
After around two hours’ discussion, the committee voted by eight votes to five to defer a decision on the plans until more information on flood prevention had become available.
The committee’s next meeting is due to be held in Taunton on November 25; however, the council has not indicated how soon the plans could come back before the committee for a final decision.
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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