A NORTH Somerset village has vowed to fight plans by an American company to build its European headquarters on the few remaining fields between it and Bristol.

Long Ashton Parish Council formally decided to oppose the plans in a unanimous vote by its planning committee on Monday January 15.

The council had asked locals to take part in an online yes or no vote on the plans, which saw 95 per cent of people vote to oppose it. 399 people were against the plans, while just 23 were in favour.

Epic, an American healthcare technology company, says it wants to base its European and headquarters in the United Kingdom, in a major 90-acre “campus” which would support 2,000 jobs by 2040.

But the location Epic has selected — for which they say there are no alternatives — has seen the plan met with fierce local opposition.

While towns near Bristol in South Gloucestershire have been largely merged into the city’s suburbs, the city has a clear border with Somerset with green fields separating the city from nearby villages such as Long Ashton.

Thomas Daw represents Wrington on North Somerset Council and was among the people who attended a packed public meeting on the plans in the village on January 6.

Summing up local feeling on the plans, he said: “It spans that border — and its a very narrow border between us and the south of Bristol.”

Epic’s proposal would build the campus on a triangle of green fields bordered by the Long Ashton Bypass, South Bristol Link road, and the railway — land fully covered by the green belt.

The green belt was introduced specifically to stop cities growing and absorbing their neighbours, but Epic has argued that the council should consider the boost to employment, the local economy, and the life sciences sector as “very special circumstances” worth allowing building in the green belt.

Local MP Sir Liam Fox, who also attended the “informed and polite but highly spirited” public meeting, branded the plans “a clear breach of green belt policy.”

He said: “The greenbelt exists to check unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas and to safeguard the countryside from encroachment.

“While some exceptions are made to this, the Epic proposal does not fit these criteria and is therefore an inappropriate development.

“The visual impact on the environment would be huge with plans to incorporate an amphitheatre in the development, six floors above ground level.”

Dr Fox added that the development would cause more commuter traffic and said that many of the 2,000 promised jobs already existed in Bristol.

He warned: “It is highly likely that even if there is economic activity generated by the site, it is much more likely to be felt in different parts of Bristol than in North Somerset.”

He added: “It is felt that there are many sites in Bristol which could be redeveloped to take account of the company’s needs rather than spoiling our precious green belt. Once it is gone, it is gone forever and will be lost to future generations.”

But local councillor for Long Ashton on North Somerset Council Ash Cartman warned: “I’d rather have nothing and certainly want to protect the green belt — but the reality of the situation is we are facing a choice between this and more housing.”

He said: “There seems to be a cross party view that we need to work through this together and I’m definitely supportive of that. It’s my kind of politics.”

Mr Cartman added that having the public meeting in the village had been “excellent.” He said: “It was really productive in allowing Epic a chance to explain their proposals and answer questions. […] They have been excellent in their community engagement. The point is many people just don’t want it.”

Despite the unanimous objection to the plans by Long Ashton Parish Council’s planning committee, it is North Somerset Council’s planning committee that will make the final decision.

Parish councillor Harvey Lilley told members of the public attending the committee meeting “we have very little power on this” but he insisted the council would “hold North Somerset’s feet to the fire.”

No date has yet been set for when the plans will come before the unitary authority’s planning committee.

A spokesperson for Epic said: “We’ve chosen a 90-acre site to the east of Long Ashton to build our campus. We’ve met with local residents and businesses to discuss our plans and hear their ideas.

“Preserving green space between Long Ashton and Bristol is an objective we share with local residents, and our campus will bring positive changes to Long Ashton.

“The campus will be highly sustainable, use renewable energy sources, and most of the campus will be green space. Building designs have a small footprint, are low-rise, and draw from the character and agricultural heritage of the area.

“Landscaping plans, like planting trees and wildflower meadows, the denaturalisation of the Ashton Brook, and reintroducing an orchard, will increase biodiversity of the site.

“We plan to help the Long Ashton Parish Council protect the land on the northern portion of our campus.

“Campus grounds will be open to the public for walking and cycling, and the site will have multiple connections to the national cycle network.

“In collaboration with Weston College, we’re looking to provide apprenticeship opportunities in constructing our campus and programme development for students to enter careers in healthcare informatics.”

You can view and comment on the plans here: https://planning.n-somerset.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=S29EEHLP00G00