The whole of this report will concern the application to build 34 houses on the field alongside the allotments, backing onto Church Close and Willey Road. This came up for discussion at the December PC meeting on Tuesday 11, which was so well attended that it had to be held in the main hall.
There was a broad spectrum of views represented, and a frank exchange of opinions. Understandably, a majority of those present were occupants of Church Close and Willey Road who had a personal interest and were, for the most part opposed to the development, though several others spoke in favour. The PC listened to public comments for 80 minutes, and questions were put to the developer Andy Lehner who was also present. The meeting was then formally opened at 8.45 and the discussion was taken up by councillors.
Major developments such as this always tend to produce a division between those on the fringes of the development whose view is affected and those not so affected for whom it is easier to see the broader picture. Those who feel personally threatened are normally far more voluble than those who are not. What has been surprising in this case is the near unanimity of feeling, even among a number of those opposed to this specific development, that the village does need new building, particularly of smaller houses, to remain viable into the future. The job of the PC is to represent what they believe to be the interests of the parish as a whole, and having listened attentively to all the public comments there was a vote of 7 to 1 (with one abstention) in favour of supporting the development.
The next stage is for the application to go before the Taunton Deane Planning Committee at a date yet to be announced. Public comments may be submitted to Planning until 21 December, either by letter or email. The application reference number is 36/18/0048, and further details may be found on the Planning website.
It is always difficult to tell a room full of concerned people that you sympathise with their views but you are going to oppose them anyway. There are more aspects to this issue than can be reasonably covered in this report, but some of the questions raised concerned the justification for believing that smaller/affordable housing was needed, the effect on services (especially the school and sewerage), the effect of increased traffic and the nature of any link with the application to build a new pavilion (also supported at the meeting).
It is quite true that an affordable housing survey conducted by TDBC in 2016 seemed to suggest that the demand for “affordable” (subsidised and rental) housing was not high, but this finding contradicts the direct experience of people we know to be desperately seeking low cost accommodation in the village, and we question the methodology of the survey. Also there is plentiful evidence of people who would have liked to buy open market smaller homes here but have had to move elsewhere because the housing stock of the village has for years been gradually shifting to bigger and more expensive houses as more and more extensions are built.
There are mixed opinions on the effect on the school of an increase in population. Although there is at present no spare capacity, a significant expansion (perhaps subsidised in part by the development) should make its future more secure at a time when small rural primary schools are vulnerable.
As regards water and sewage services, it is the responsibility of the water authority to maintain and adapt the system to cope with demand. Any development such as this would require a contribution from the developer to pay for infrastructure improvements, and it may well be that there could be an overall improvement in services.
Traffic on the narrow roads of the village, particularly Willey Rd, is already a problem as several contributors pointed out, and there was some uneasiness on all sides about the proposed entrance opposite the playing field. It remains to be seen what changes could be made here, but it may again be that this provides the opportunity to improve an existing problem rather than to exacerbate it.
If the housing application is approved, the developer will begin by building a new pavilion and improving access to the playing field. Some have interpreted this as a bribe, influencing the PC in supporting the housing application. I believe this is a false reading: it has been PC policy for some years now to encourage the building of new smaller houses, and we have publicly invited land-owners to submit plans. The current application is the only response to that appeal, and we see the pavilion not as an incentive to support what we already support, but a way of maximising the value to the village.
My own view is that the village now finds itself at a crucial crossroads: we can expand, rebalance the housing stock, lower the average age of the population, bring more money and energy into the village to support services (especially the shop and pubs) and thrive well into the future. The alternative in these troubled times where budgets are retracting and isolated rural communities are finding it increasingly difficult to survive, is to reject change, do nothing and face an inevitable decline. One only has to imagine the village now without the residents of Church Close and Huntham Close to understand what a reduced community we would have become without those big decisions having been taken, against similar opposition, 30 years ago.
Everybody has to make up their own mind on what is best for the village, but whatever your views on the housing development I would encourage you to make them known to TDBC Planning, or to attend the Planning Committee meeting (date not yet determined) at which the fate of the application will be decided.