Concern at impact of "mutant algorithm" on North Somerset housing

Plans for new housing in North Somerset

Council leaders say they have been backed into a corner and are being forced to build 20,000 homes across North Somerset. - Credit: Archant

Council leaders say they have been backed into a corner by a "mutant algorithm” and are being forced to build 20,000 homes across North Somerset. 

A new strategy will prioritise the expansion of urban areas but Councillor Ash Cartman wanted reassurance that 6,000 homes as yet unaccounted for would not be built in the greenbelt. 

He accused North Somerset MP Liam Fox of being disingenuous or misleading for blaming the council for the numbers, rather than his own Conservative government. 

More: Where 20,000 homes could go in North Somerset. 

Papers being drawn up for a new Local Plan show Weston taking the biggest share, with some 3,000, followed by 1,500 in Nailsea, and a total of 1,000 in Yatton and Backwell, along with large sites in the four towns and small “windfall” locations. 

North Somerset Council will take a sequential approach, with the top priority being to ensure that the 3,600 dwellings it has already granted planning permission are built.

But the estimated total is nearly 6,000 homes shy of the target and the council will have to ask neighbouring authorities to pick up the slack or consider building in the greenbelt.

Cllr Cartman told his executive colleagues on April 28: “This document is the reality of the government forcing us to build 20,000 homes in North Somerset, of which many it looks like will be on the greenbelt. 

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“It’s taken us thousands of years to get 100,000 homes and now we’ve got to do 20,000 over 15 years – the size of two Clevelands. 

“The allocation by central government has taken no account of the fact that we’ve got a lot of greenbelt, a lot of low-lying land and an area of outstanding natural beauty. It seems to be the result of some mutant algorithm.

“The government has asked us to fit an elephant in a Mini and now the local MPs are blaming us because the bloody thing doesn’t fit.”

Cllr Cartman has shared a letter from Dr Fox on his website blaming the council for “increasing numbers of plans to build on greenbelt which I completely oppose”. 

He accused the MP of being “at best disingenuous, at worst misleading” because the government sets the housing target. 

Responding to the criticism, a spokesperson for Dr Fox said: “Dr Fox has a long-standing track record of fighting to protect the greenbelt in North Somerset. 

“Dr Fox will continue to work with all stakeholders on a cross-party basis to stand up for North Somerset, it’s a shame that the Lib Dems play party politics rather than working together”.

To hit the target of 20,085 new homes by 2038, 1,339 would have to be built every year. The average current rate is just 808 per year. 

Cllr Mark Canniford said council officers had been “backed into a corner” by a housing target the area “simply can’t tolerate”. 

Cllr Bridget Petty, the executive member for the climate emergency, said: “This Local Plan process is not about our community, it is about the government and a sector that has such a powerful lobby and so much skin in the game that I fear the climate emergency and nature emergency means nothing to them. 

“If it did it would not be asking where we will build over 20,000 houses. Every town, every village is concerned about this.”

The Backwell councillor said residents in her ward were concerned about lack of infrastructure as it is set to take “significant” numbers of new homes.

Cllr Mike Bell echoed those concerns about the lack of improvements to roads, public transport and health provision and said in numerous recent developments homes had been built but critical infrastructure had lagged behind or not arrived at all. 

“The government is more interested in delivering the housing numbers for its own sake rather than delivering the investment that’s needed to support that housing,” he said. 

“The whole planning system is geared up and designed by government to give all the power to the big house builders and the developers and none of the power to local communities.”

A new strategy approved by executive members will prioritise building the 3,600 homes that already have planning permission, then looking for opportunities within the four towns – expected to be around 2,000 on identified sites and 1,725 through small-scale windfall. 

The next step will be planning for some 3,000 dwellings at Weston, where the main opportunity is a potential growth location north of A371 and east of the M5 linked to the delivery of the Banwell Bypass, and around 1,500 dwellings at Nailsea. 

Other sustainable settlements with good accessibility and services would then be considered, with potential development at Yatton and Backwell amounting to some 1,000 homes in total, and some small-scale projects in rural areas. 

Before considering building in the greenbelt, the council will consider opportunities in neighbouring authorities that are less restricted. 

The locations will be subject to further testing.

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