Harry Mottram gives a view on the controversial development in Axbridge of 53 homes to be built on green fields in the town
Over the years I’ve covered several of these planning debates at councils across the South West. I cannot recall a single one where parish councils, town councils and residents’ groups have stopped a development. The best they have done as in this case is to cut the number of homes or the size and scope of the development. Cynics will say that is all part of the developer’s plans: to announce a larger proposal and then to allow the opposition to gain a small victory in reducing its size.
The issue with this development and any further ones in Axbridge is the town is designated as a Tier 2 settlement. This allows a district council to develop the town as a growth area for the region as a whole, so local considerations that would be taken into account such as in a hamlet or village can be discounted. As the planning officer said Sedgemoor needs more homes – not just for the locals in Axbridge but for the whole area and the town must take its share – hence the recommendation that this development should take place. On a map the estate looks like a fill in – and that’s what the councillors were arguing about in its favour despite it being next to the poultry farm.
Issues such as infrastructure before development are not considered in many planning cases. You only have to look at what is happening in Churchill and Highbridge to see huge amounts of housing going up with no additional investment in infrastructure. In Highbridge 248 homes have been approved in a similar meeting despite the objections of the local town council and residents. Many will have noted the huge traffic queues to get onto the M5 at Brent Knoll and the slow journey through Highbridge on the A38 at peak times – and yet things will only get worse. So it’s not just Axbridge that is taking the weight of this increase in house building.
Clearly more homes are needed as there is a demand and as councillors noted yesterday the new properties off Houlgate Way will sell quickly as they have on New Road in Cheddar. And there lies the dilemma. There’s a massive demand for homes in this area as the airport, Bristol and all the surrounding towns expand. Critics (and I’m one of them) say yes to new homes but are they the right ones? There is a massive demand for affordable housing, council housing, flats and one bedroome apartments but you struggle to find much provision for those in these developments. The reason is the developers want to maximise their investment with semi or detached homes for sale at market prices – not social housing.
So what to do? My answer is always the same: to get involved by lobbying for change, joining the local council (there are vacancies), taking part in political and pressure groups to push the Governing parties (Labour and Conservative on the whole) to change policy and to plan in a sustainable way. And that’s not an easy sell.
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