Mixed reaction to council planning freeze

PUBLISHED: 09:00 14 August 2015

Yatton No Moor Development action group with their banner.

Yatton No Moor Development action group with their banner.

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A decision which has frozen all major planning applications in North Somerset has been met with both concern and praise from housing action groups in the area.

Members of Congresbury Residents Action Group (CRAG). Photo by Jeremy Long.Members of Congresbury Residents Action Group (CRAG). Photo by Jeremy Long.

North Somerset Council announced last week it would not decide any planning applications consisting of 10 houses or more until the Government confirms how many new homes need to be built across the district by 2026.

The decision is likely to have an impact on villages such as Yatton and Congresbury, where developers want to build hundreds of new homes and have submitted numerous applications for outline planning permission.

Mary Short, chairman of the Congresbury Residents’ Action Group (CRAG), said: “We can understand why the council has announced the freeze and we think it’s entitled to do it. We feel it’s only fair the council should be allowed to know what it is being asked to do regarding housing before the developers go in and try to do something else.

“But what the council hopes will happen and what the developers can make happen are often two different things. We have had concerns from people about whether the decision means developers can take applications to appeal because they have not been decided within the 13-week time limit – if you put a blanket hold on things, can developers like Sunley and Barratt say the council has not met this requirement?

“The worry is also that developers will not abide by this decision. We as a group have accepted the decision, but we cannot go up to the developers and force them to adhere to it.”

The freeze comes as the district waits for Secretary of State for Local Communities Greg Clark to decide how many new homes must be built, after the council’s core strategy planning document was referred to the Government by MPs Liam Fox and John Penrose.

Mr Clark’s involvement comes after Mr Fox, Mr Penrose and the council were unhappy with an independent ruling which stated 20,985 homes needed to be built between 2006-2026, and a backlog cleared within five years. This is well above the council’s original plan of 14,000.

Yatton action group No Moor Development, which is fighting the prospect of 849 houses being built in the village, welcomed the council’s decision but criticised the Government’s house-building policy.

Its spokesman Steve Bridger said: “We’ve been calling on the council to freeze consideration of major housing developments until Greg Clark makes a decision on the housing numbers, so we welcome the fact they’ve come round to this view.

“Unfortunately, Greg Clark’s department is now playing second fiddle to the Treasury’s stubborn determination to get houses built - whatever the impact. Despite the lack of any meaningful infrastructure improvements since the 1970s, and traffic through Yatton increasing by 20 per cent in less than 10 years, the council recently labelled Yatton a sustainable village, which will be music to the ears of the developers.

“Yatton only accounts for four per cent of North Somerset’s population, yet is encircled by speculative developers whose plans would increase it in size by almost a quarter.”

North Somerset’s MP Dr Liam Fox said: “It makes sense not to give permissions until we see what the whole picture is following the meeting that we will have in early September between the Government department, North Somerset Council and John Penrose and I.

“It’s not just the numbers we’re unhappy about, it’s the timescale in which any development is being considered. We’ve made it very clear to minsters that we can accommodate more house building in North Somerset in a properly planned way together with infrastructure if we are given sufficient time to do it, primarily at the new site of junction 21 on the M5.”

The council’s decision will also have an impact on Backwell, with developers keen to build on Farleigh Fields. Cllr Bob Taylor, chairman of Backwell Parish Council, said: “If the freeze’s true, it’s good news for all the villages including Backwell, but I’m concerned that if you postpone any application more than six weeks it is automatically approved.

“I’m sure all the villages will be over the moon because planning applications are coming in thick and fast.

“But I think with villages like ours, with an application already in for Farleigh Fields, I’m of the belief we should carry on as normal until we’ve been notified by North Somerset Council officially. What’s needed is the secretary of state to get cracking and make a decision.”

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