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SOMERSET: Gravity site LDO

SOMERSET: Gravity site LDO

CREDIT: Peter Brett Architects

Somerset councillors are trying to speed up the delivery of a major employment site near Bridgwater as officials warn it will cost tens of millions of pounds to restore rail services to the area.

Sedgemoor District Council has been working to help deliver the Gravity smart campus, located on the former Royal Ordnance factory between the villages of Puriton and Woolavington, east of the M5.

Councillors have agreed in principle to create a local development order (LDO) for the site, which would all different aspects to be delivered much quicker and thereby make it easier for companies to commit to the new base.

This comes as the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) warns it could cost up to £50M to provide a new rail link to the site in the years ahead.

Under an LDO, the use for a given site (whether residential, commercial or otherwise) is agreed in advance between the council and the developer, along with guidelines over the designs and heights of the buildings.

This allows the developer to begin constructing different elements of the site without having to submit individual planning applications, making the delivery of the entire site much quicker.

An LDO is currently in place at the Nexus 25 business park site near Taunton, and a further one was planned for the Firepool site in the town centre – though this was scuppered by complications relating to the Dutch N court case.

Sedgemoor’s executive met in Bridgwater on Wednesday morning (October 13) to discuss the fine details of the LDO planned for the Gravity site before it goes out to public consultation.

The site is expected to deliver a total of 1,000,000 sq m of commercial space, along with 750 homes on-campus for employees and a range of cafés, restaurants, leisure facilities and other amenities.

Under the proposals, the site will be divided into different zones for different uses, with the commercial elements being concentrated in the northern and central areas of the campus.

The residential elements of the site will be concentrated in the south-eastern corner, near the existing homes at the western edge of Woolavington

.The south-western corner, near the existing edge of Puriton, will be dedicated to leisure provision and a new home for the 37 Social Club, along with other community facilities.

The southern edge of the site would be given over to commercial outlets, a hotel and any possible education provision.

Work is continuing on the new £10.3M link road, which will connect the Gravity campus to the A39 Bath Road and the M5, as well as delivering a new roundabout on Woolavington Road.

But in addition to the road access, the council and its partners aim to provide a new rail link to the site – with a depot for freight services at the northern edge of the campus and a new station to the west which would connect passengers to the mainline between Bristol and Exeter.

The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has estimated that it will cost £50M to “restore the rail link to the site for passenger and freight services” – which would connect between the existing Bridgwater and Highbridge & Burnham stations.

The LEP also estimates that it will cost around £20M to sufficiently upgrade Junction 23 of the M5 to provide sufficient capacity to the local road network.

LEP chairman Karl Tucker has requested that both schemes receive central government funding as part of the next comprehensive spending review.

Councillor Janet Keen questioned whether the provision of a new station for the Gravity campus would prove detrimental to existing rail services in the district.

She said: “Because the rail link is between Highbridge and Bridgwater stations, which are extremely well-used, would this have any impact on the railway company’s plans to continue the maintenance, redevelopment or upgrading of those existing stations?

“When this comes to being, there will be a massive increase in population both north and south of the site, and many will be using public transport to access both leisure facilities and their work.”

Stuart Houlet, the council’s service manager for development management, said the LDO made provision for a new rail service but its delivery was not yet a done deal.

He said: “The LDO is making provision for the rail restoration – it isn’t definitive, it would depend on the proposals from the potential occupiers as to whether that’s delivered.

“The impacts on the existing rail network would need to be considered at that time.”

One potential occupier is US electric car giant Rivian, with reports that the company is in talks with the government over a new £1bn factory within the Gravity campus which could create up to 40,000 jobs.

The LDO will now go out to public consultation later in the year before coming back before the full council for final approval.

Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter


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