By Harry Mottram: previously Bellway responded to a request for a comment as to why construction of Lavender Rise off Houlgate Way in Axbridge had stalled. The building firm based in Newcastle upon Tyne had begun work last year by first removing the streetlights and hedge and felling the trees. Initial groundwork took place along with the partial construction of road entrances and a pavement. However, the site remains ‘in a mess’ as one resident put it as there is a metal fence running alongside Houlgate Way which prevents use of the incomplete pavement which would aid road safety for pedestrians. The rest of the field betwixt the Surgery and Townsend Farm is also fenced off.

Bellway confirmed that their new estate in Axbridge will go ahead this spring although there is a delay for now. They said: “Last year, due to challenging marketing decisions at the time, the decision was taken to place a hold on the construction of Bellway’s Lavender Rise Development in Axbridge. Our intention is to continue with our plans for the development, and we can confirm work will resume on the site in March, with the construction of 53, two to five bedroom homes.”

With March just days away residents await with interest whether work will commence. The housing market has taken a dip in sales this winter according to most industry commentators. Writing for the consumer website Which? Stephen Maunder penned: “House prices fell slightly last year, and some experts predict further reductions could follow in 2024. The latest data from the Land Registry shows an annual fall of 2.1%, with the average UK house price standing at £285,000 in November. While this isn’t far off the all-time high of £292,000 recorded in September 2022, prices have been trending downwards rather than upwards.”

The trade website Building reported that the firm, which had ‘a pre-tax margin in 2023 of just over 14%, said it expected its margin to sink by around 600 basis points, and that its average sale price would reduce in the year ahead from the £310k reported this year to £295k’, with the reduction “primarily reflecting a higher expected proportion of social housing completions and a continued use of incentives”.

A look online tells you Bellway have had their fair share of problems as a result with plans to cut back on new developments this year while 90 staff were laid off in 2023. They said at the time in a statement: “”In response to current market conditions which have caused a slowdown in the sales market and a reduced output for house building, we have today announced proposals to make some structural changes across our business. This includes the potential closure of two of our operating divisions, with sites being transferred to other divisions, a reduction in capacity in a third division and a limited number of role reductions across the business.”

The proposed planning application was in 2020 when councillors in what was then Sedgemoor in Bridgwater voted it through by a margin of 10-2. It was opposed by Cllr Mike Murphy of Burnham-on-Sea who 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. Cllr Revan of North Petherton also opposed the plans at the vote in 2020.

District 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.

The then mayor of Axbridge and town councillor Barbara Wells also spoke against the plans. She said at the time: “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.”

Axbridge News is edited by Harry Mottram and is published for the interest of himself and fellow residents.

Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc