Taylor Wimpey have won their controversial planning application to build four houses on land at the Somerdale estate in Keynsham that they had originally earmarked for a riverside café.
However, the developers were severely criticised by several Bath & North East Somerset councillors at a recent planning committee meeting for breaking their promise.
We reported last autumn (Issue 702) that Taylor Wimpey had lodged a planning application for the site at Trajectus Way as residential use was considered a more efficient use of the plot of land. Taylor Wimpey also pointed out that there are already commercial facilities at St Monica Trust’s Chocolate Quarter at Somerdale.
In the same issue, we highlighted that Somerdale residents had also lost their promised convenience shop after St Monica Trust’s plans for more housing was approved by B&NES planning committee. The proposed five-storey building – Block D – will house 44 ‘extra care’ properties on the site between the Pavilion and Block C of The Chocolate Quarter. It replaces a previously approved four-storey apartment block of 24 units which would have had a retail store on the ground floor.
Now the planning committee has given the go-ahead for two detached and a pair of semi-detached houses, one of them ‘affordable’, to be built on the parcel of land at Trajectus Way (pictured above) that is described as ‘Proposed Café’ in council records.
The council planning officer dealing with the case, who recommended approval of the scheme, said that Taylor Wimpey had agreed to give just under £25,000 towards education because next year the primary school at Somerdale will be full. She said the council has had to invest in other primary school places around the Keynsham and Saltford area and the view is that the developer should make a proportional contribution.
The officer said she could not comment on what Taylor Wimpey had promised residents who had bought properties at Somerdale, but that there was nothing to preclude the plot at Trajectus Way now being developed for housing. She also said that the policy for the Somerdale site had stated small-scale local needs retail of “up to 500sq m” which has been provided.
Cllr Duncan Hounsell said that during the run-up to the recent Keynsham Town Council by-election, the lack of promised retail facilities at Somerdale had been raised with every candidate on the doorstep.
He told the planning committee: “This is something that does concern the people of Somerdale and the wider community in Keynsham. I really do hope that Taylor Wimpey will listen and take note. Their reputation is more important probably than these four houses.”
Cllr Hal MacFie also warned that Taylor Wimpey risked tarnishing their reputation as a developer with this planning application: “Four houses means nothing to them in the larger scheme of things and they are going to walk around now with that tarnish.”
Ward councillor Vic Clarke said he had a lot of sympathy with residents who had bought homes at the development, but he felt that with no legal commitment, within planning law the developers were perfectly entitled to lodge a new application.
Cllr Shaun Hughes asked how the council could guarantee that residents on this, or any other development, have the confidence to buy a property and know that the developer will deliver the promises made.
He said: “We owe it to our residents to hold developers to account, otherwise these things are not worth the paper they are written on. Certainly there have got to be lessons to be learned from this going forward to make sure these community-based development features should be written in such a way that they can’t be overturned so easily.”
Chair of the planning committee Cllr Sue Craig said: “I think it is very regrettable that we don’t have any recourse on this.” Agreeing with Cllr Hughes, she said: “We need to look at this in the future and I think as a council we need to consider this more carefully and make it stronger. People want to live in communities, not just in a field with lots of houses in it.”
The committee agreed by a majority that planning permission could be granted, subject to conditions including a financial contribution from Taylor Wimpey of just under £25,000 towards the creation of additional primary school capacity in the Keynsham and Saltford area, and an archaeological report.
The application site lies very close to the known Roman town of Trajectus and archaeological evaluation around the site has revealed features associated with the town. The council says there is the potential for archaeology relating to this occupation to be found during the groundworks for the development.
‘Residents have been shafted’
More than 40 local residents had lodged their concerns with B&NES Council about Taylor Wimpey’s change of plan, as did Keynsham Town Council which said it amounted to overdevelopment and would reduce facilities for residents on the estate.
One objector said: “This is another crude move by the developers to shaft the residents of this estate for a short-term financial gain. We were all sold houses with a promise of a new shop and riverside café – this would enrich the community far more than a few houses via social meetings, job opportunities and money going into the local economy.”
Another local resident commented: “In the original plans for this estate, the riverside café was a significant part of the community infrastructure which made this development more attractive than a standard dormitory estate, and for many was a factor in their decision to move here.
“Community facilities are already under pressure – many local families have been unable to get places at the school, the ‘B Block’ café and restaurant is increasingly focusing its offer on St Monica residents, and inappropriate parking remains a problem. To remove the proposed café and substitute more houses can only make matters worse. It is hard to see this as anything but a large and highly profitable company seeking to renege on its commitments to the council and the residents in pursuit of extra profit. I hope that the council will stand firm against it.”
Another said it was “an outrage that we’ve been lied to”.
Taylor Wimpey’s response
A spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey told The Week In: “We have delivered a variety of community facilities at our development in Somerdale for the benefit of residents and the wider community.
“A new nursery and café, which were initially planned to be located off Trajectus Way, have been provided elsewhere at the development and we have submitted a planning application for four new homes in this location.
“We are committed to meeting our obligations of the planning permission for Somerdale and remain committed to providing all of the facilities promised.”
A nursery has been provided as part of the Somerdale Educate Together Primary Academy and St Monica Trust provided a café at The Chocolate Quarter.
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