Residents rally as developer steps up pressure on the Green Belt

Green Belt land north of Warmley

With concern that over 300 acres of Green Belt land in the Warmley area are at growing risk from a major house-builder, local people are uniting to draw up their own vision for their community.

It is understood that developer Bloor Homes has recently acquired land in the parish of Siston which it has been keen to develop for years.

South Gloucestershire Council is currently developing its new Local Plan, which is due to be published in November and will set out where development should, and shouldn’t, take place over at least the next 15 years.

There is concern not just in Warmley but in other parts of the district where developers are hovering that the council may lift Green Belt protection on some parcels of land.

Locations in which developers have expressed an interest under the council’s Call for Sites process are mapped and include the fields stretching northwards from the A420 at Warmley.

Under the last Labour Government, there was a Regional Spatial Strategy which included plans to build thousands of homes on the Green Belt to the east of Kingswood. That strategy was abolished in 2010 when the Coalition Government came to power.

But since then, the prospect of an “urban extension” has remained a concern in the Warmley area. In 2016 a “Vision for Warmley” drawn up by consultants acting for Bloor and Barratt Homes highlighted that about 130 hectares (321 acres) of “predominantly undeveloped/agricultural and pasture” land provided the opportunity to deliver a new neighbourhood of 2,500 homes along with employment and retail use.

The report said the area’s common land would need to be retained and existing properties incorporated into the development “sensitively”.

At the time, Bloor and Barratt were said to have “detailed information with regard to landownerships within this area and have a significant area either under control, or with the potential to be under control through further negotiation”.

Last week the Siston Parish Neighbourhood Plan Group held its first public meeting at Warmley Community Centre. Neighbourhood planning was introduced in the Localism Act 2011 and although a Neighbourhood Plan cannot prevent any development from ever taking place in an area, it provides communities with a unique opportunity to produce a legally-recognised planning document based on the needs, views, and priorities of those who live and work there.

The group’s appointed chair Steve Reade said he was pleased to see how many people had attended Wednesday’s meeting, and that it was a clear indication of the level of interest and support for a neighbourhood plan. The group intends to have a ‘cut-down’ version in place before South Gloucestershire’s Local Plan comes out for consultation.

This week a spokesperson from Bloor Homes said: “We are in the process of promoting the land through the Local Plan process but are not currently considering a planning application as the land is currently designated as Green Belt.”

The village of Charfield north of Thornbury has also been facing the prospect of large-scale house-building. The Charfield Neighbourhood Plan was the first to be adopted in South Gloucestershire two years ago.

The vision is for the village to remain a rural community with a unique sense of place and identity, to protect and safeguard the wildlife and countryside views, and enhance access to the surrounding countryside. It says future growth should be on a small-scale sustainable nature that is in line with the needs and wishes of the community.

Failed attempts to get a planning blueprint

Following the abolition of the Regional Spatial Strategy 13 years ago, subsequent efforts to decide where major house-building should go have not gone smoothly.

The Warmley area was not one of the dozen locations earmarked for development under the regional Joint Spatial Plan, which was scrapped in 2020 after planning inspectors said it was unsound. The sites had included five in South Gloucestershire – Yate, Coalpit Heath, Thornbury, Buckover and Charfield.

Last year work on the replacement West of England Spatial Development Strategy was halted by Regional Mayor Dan Norris, largely due to a lack of agreement about how Bristol’s unmet housing need would be dealt with by the neighbouring authorities.

The individual Local Plans for South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset and Bristol will now provide the strategic planning framework, including housing need, for the West of England Combined Authority area.