The view at the top of Houlgate Way with the farm in the distance and Compton House to the right. Pic: Google Maps

The controversial plan to build 53 homes on fields off Houlgate Way in Axbridge has been waved through by Sedgemoor District Councillors on Tuesday, January 12, 2020, writes Harry Mottram.

The vote of 10 in favour and 2 against gives the developers Hannick Homes outline planning permission to go ahead to put forward further plans to get the scheme completed subjected to various provisions.

The proposals can be found at the portal on Sedgemoor DC’s website: look for 02/16/00030.

Cllr Barbara Wells made a spirited appeal to the councillors in Bridgwater House emphasising the excessive size of the development, lack of consultation with locals and the town council and the proximity of the homes to the poultry farm.

She was the first to speak against the plans and was followed by the two Axevale district councillors Liz Scott and Graham Godwin-Pearson with the agent for the developers Hannick Homes Jamie Lewis speaking in favour of the scheme.

The meeting began with the council’s planning officer Stuart Houlet giving a comprehensive presentation of the report recommending outline planning permission (02/16/00030) for the construction of the new homes with provision for 30% to be affordable properties.  With the aid of slides, diagrams, maps and photos he took the assembled members of the Development Committee, members of the public and interested parties through an assessment for wildlife habitats with special attention to bats and their flight lines. He also explained how the application was viewed as to effects on the town’s heritage, visual impact, traffic issues and parking.

One of the main areas of concern was the proximity to the poultry unit at Townsend Farm. Stuart Houlet said there was a buffer zone of the field next to the farm and the lower part of the development would be a green area and so the odour would not be ‘significant’. However the Cllr Mike Murphy of Burnham-on-Sea said having 125m distance between the farm and the homes was unacceptable. He said: “Would the planners accept a proposal to build a chicken farm next to a housing estate? No.” He demanded a site visit before any vote which was ignored.

The trees on Houlgate Way may have to be felled said planners to make way for access points. Pic Google Maps

Stuart Houlet dismissed the objections about the chicken farm’s proximity and said the Environment Agency had not accepted any of the 19 complaints about the matter.

Another concern from councillors was over sewage disposal which was already a problem with overflowing outlets during heavy rain. Stuart Houlet said this could be sorted during the next stage of the planning process with another outlet a possibility being constructed with the developers picking up the cost.

Cllr Bill Revan was concerned that local consultation between the residents and the developers had not happened with little evidence the schools had been taken into account.

The answer to many of the 270 objections raised by residents and the town council was that Axbridge is a Tier 2 settlement in the district’s local plan. This in effect means the town needs to take in extra housing for the district as a whole which means many of the objections could be dismissed.

The scene at the planning meeting

In her statement to councillors Cllr Barbara Wells of Axbridge Town Council said: “Axbridge is a designated Tier 2 community under the Sedgemoor Local Plan with a responsibility to accommodate a minimum of 74 new houses by 2032. Axbridge Town Council is supportive of this and is particularly pleased that a development in Cheddar Road, Axbridge for the provision of 20 affordable homes has been agreed and is progressing.

“However, should the committee agree to this development in Houlgate Way it will, in one hit, almost entirely meet the next 12 years’ need but at what cost? There will be no opportunity to integrate and assimilate new comers on a piecemeal basis. Pressure on schools, roads and other infrastructure such as sewage and drainage, we have one bus service in Axbridge that is constantly under threat from the bus company. The site itself will present a large block of new development when smaller varied developments would be more in keeping with Axbridge.”

This was a view supported by Cllr Bradford although he did vote in favour of the plans saying ‘nobody likes change.’

Cllr Liz Scott raised the issue of extra traffic and the loss of parking spaces in Houlgate Way as well as the ‘high visual effect’ the development would have on the town especially in relation to the Grade II listed Compton House which would be next to the new estate. She raised the issue of land drainage and of a footpath as well as saying that under a Tier 2 settlement all the requirements had to be met which she said had not on a number of levels listing a number of points – all rejected on technicalities by the planning officer.

Cllr Graham Godwin-Pearson stressed the detrimental effect it would have on the town and quoted the 18th century thinker Edmund Burke’s words: “To love our country, our country must be lovely.” He also drew attention to the traffic along Compton Lane and said the committee should visit the town to see the problem.

Cllr Barbara Wells said the town had no confidence in Hannick Homes who had not responded to requests for meetings to discuss the concerns of town residents although this was denied by their agent Jamie Lewis. She also pointed out that: “The offer of a public car park accessed seemingly via the estate to balance the loss of at least 18 on road parking spaces in Houlgate Way will not help with existing parking issues in the Town.”

There was also concern over the long term maintenance of the public spaces and pond proposed for the development and as to who would pay for them to be looked after. And there were questions over the amount of affordable housing and whether there would be enough properties to rent. These issues and other points were for the next stage of the process said Stuart Houlet.

Finally a vote was taken which passed the plans by 10-2 with only Cllr Revan and Cllr Murphy opposing.

Axbridge residents who attended the meeting left saying they were disappointed with the outcome.

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