Developer accused of trying to 'slip in' changes to 60-homes plan

The orchard would not see homes built on it, but it would have a road run through the middle of it,

The site sits off Moor Road in Yatton - Credit: Steve Bridger

A developer has been accused of trying to 'slip in' changes to controversial plans for 60 homes in Yatton as a public inquiry opened. 

Barrister Timothy Leader said it was unfair for North Somerset Council to be 'ambushed' with new information about Persimmon's proposals for an ancient orchard off Moor Road. 

The authority unanimously rejected its application last April after dozens of objectors said the scheme was 'completely out of proportion' to the size of the village, there was no prospect of employment and there would be more traffic on the roads. 

Lodging an appeal, Persimmon said the scheme - on a site allocated for homes - would help tackle North Somerset’s housing shortfall while boosting biodiversity. 

But Mr Leader accused the firm of trying to 'slip in' changes to its plans on biodiversity, adding: "The February 2022 scheme is entirely different from its predecessors."

He told the first day of the inquiry on February 15: "Why is the appellant insisting that the February 2022 scheme becomes the scheme? 

"I invite you to conclude that it must be because either: A, it's discovered the 2018 scheme is not a very good scheme, or B, no matter how good the 2018 scheme is, it's not good enough and it'd be far better to introduce the February 2022 scheme now. 

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"It does appear on the face of it that the appellants have sought to take advantage of a previous mistake by introducing a scheme which is materially better than anything that went before.

"These are matters which go to the heart of the appeal and therefore it is wrong that the council should be ambushed in the way it was."

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He said the inquiry should either be adjourned in full or deal with the biodiversity issue at a later date. 

Representing Persimmon, Charlie Banner rejected the charge against the firm and said it was inevitable that the plans would be refined. 

They now propose moving two trees that he said have value dead or alive. 

Mr Leader cited council policy stating the orchard would only be considered if alternative access arrangements cannot be made and a suitable scheme can be agreed with Natural England. 

He said: "The opening up of an access road by punching a hole through an important hedge will disrupt, damage and urbanise an attractive rural scene. 

"It is possible to access the site from land which has obviously been retained for that purpose by Taylor Wimpey. That may create a ransom – there is nothing unusual about that. 

"There is a realistic prospect of securing access through the adjacent Yatton Rugby Club grounds." 

The rugby club is now drawing up plans to build 87 homes in North End pitches and consolidate its facilities at Kenn Road. 

Giving his opening statement to the inquiry, Mr Banner said: "Given the allocation, the principle of residential development at the scale proposed in the location proposed… isn’t controversial. 

"The issue of controversy relates to the access being through the remnant orchard which now contains only four standing trees, which the council ecologist now says shouldn’t be considered an orchard at all. 

"The four standing and two fallen veteran trees in the site have a prognosis of just around 10 years further life and are likely to fall during this time. Their ecological value is as dead wood. 

"All the trees will be retained on the appeal site and the restored orchard will also have a range of ecological landscape and visual benefits. It will be an asset for Yatton and its community. 

"The council's disproportionate focus on [biodiversity net gain] is wholly contrived and an unreasonably made sideshow from the real issues in this inquiry."

The inquiry continues.