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SOMERSET: Monkton Heathfield masterplan scrapped

SOMERSET: Monkton Heathfield masterplan scrapped

CREDIT: Somerset West And Taunton Council

A Somerset council has voted to scrap its own masterplan for how a new community on the edge of Taunton should be expanded in the years ahead.

The Monkton Heathfield urban extension is one of three such communities being constructed to deliver significant new housing for Taunton – the others being the Comeytrowe extension (a.k.a. Orchard Grove) and the Staplegrove extension.

Somerset West and Taunton Council has spent the last 18 months consulting with local residents, community groups and developers on the masterplan for Monkton Heathfield phase two – which will include 1,500 homes, a new school and a new bypass on the A38.

But following feedback, the council has now voted not to implement this plan, claiming it is out of date and could slow up the delivery of new homes.

Councillor Mike Rigby, portfolio holder for planning policy and transport, explained the reasoning behind this decision at a meeting of the council’s executive committee in Taunton on Wednesday evening (September 15).

He said: “The difficulty we’ve got now is that the planning applications for these various developments are imminent – and the world has changed.

“Since we produced the documents and went out to consultation, national planning policy has changed and we’ve adopted our garden town design code.

“We’re now of the view that if we were to pursue this policy to adoption, it could actually hinder our ability to secure the best form of development on this site.

“It sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but that’s how it is because so much has already changed.”

The masterplan envisioned a new 420-place ‘through school’ (i.e. primary and secondary provision on one site) being constructed in the centre of the phase two area, as part of a “district centre” with local shops and services.

A new spine road will run through the site, starting near the existing cricket club and connecting this district centre to a new roundabout.

A new commercial ‘bus and ride’ service would be created at the site’s eastern edge, and sections of the current A38 becoming bus-only – with car drivers taking the new eastern relief road, stretching from the current Hardy’s Road roundabout to the current junction with the A361 to Glastonbury.

Persimmon Homes South West and Redrow Homes – the major developers involved in the Monkton Heathfield urban extension – have indicated that they would be bringing forward applications for phase by the end of September.

Simon Fox, the council’s major planning projects officer, said the two companies had been “largely agreeable” towards the masterplan regarding the use of different land parcels.

However, as of a meeting held in June, issues remained over the “green necklace” that would surround the development, providing a buffer to the M5 and a connection with the new country park.

Mr Fox said: “If the two developers which are bringing forward the scheme have fundamental issues with the masterplan that we are progressing, then you’re simply not going to get the buy-in from those developers to make meaningful progress.

“We should keep our powder dry, and wait for the phase two applications to be submitted imminently.”

Mr Rigby said the work done over the last 18 months would still be useful in determining individual planning applications for Monkton Heathfield, arguing it had been “a worthwhile exercise”.

Councillor Chris Booth, portfolio holder for communities, raised concerns about how much of the new amenities in Monkton Heathfield could feasibly be delivered, point to delays with the delivery of the western relief road.

He said: “The western relief road was the last part of phase one to be completed by the developer.

“We’ve already compromised by giving some land towards housing which was previously allocated for employment. How do we protect ourselves when it gets to that point, rather than having it fall out from underneath us again?”

Taunton Deane Borough Council voted in January 2019 to allocate part of the land at the southern edge of phase one (known as the Manor Farm or Langaller site) for housing rather than future employment use.

Mr Fox said he had been given assurances by Persimmon and Redrow that the land at Manor Farm would not be brought forward until phase two had been completed.

He added: “Viability will be an issue with phase two – it’s a substantial chunk of housing.

“The issue of construction costs is real, and so I’d be a fool to say viability isn’t going to rear its head at some point.

“There are large bits of infrastructure here – we’re not just talking about an extension to a house here.”

Councillor Caroline Ellis, portfolio holder for culture, said there were sufficient policies and safeguards in place to ensure that phase two would deliver development to the highest possible standards.

She said: “Our objective in all of this is to secure the best possible development, in terms of sustainability, the beauty of the built environment, ease of access, zero carbon, climate and ecology.

“It’s a case of us having the tools in our tool kit when we’re negotiating with developers to make them produce the best possible designs.

“We’ve got the district-wide design guide, which is very helpful.”

The fate of the phase two plans will be determined by the council’s planning committee after they have been formally submitted.

Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter


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