Villagers say hands off our land

ALARM bells sounded when residents were told of potential sites for future housing developments in Backwell.

Villagers expressed concern after hearing which open spaces developers such as Persimmon and Gleeson have taken an interest in since work to create a neighbourhood plan began last year.

The Times reported in December the village was picked for a pilot scheme, shifting responsibility from central government to communities and if its plan is adopted, it will become the statutory planning policy document for Backwell up to the year 2026.

Parish council chairman Bob Taylor, who gave a presentation about Backwell Future to the residents’ association on May 16, said so far the total number of houses due to be built in North Somerset has come down from 26,000 to 14,000.

He said: “We don’t want loads more executive houses built here but could do with a mixture of houses, particularly retirement homes or two to three-bedroom bungalows for people to downsize.

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“We are looking at small estates of approximately 30 mixed-range houses.

“But we need to progress, we have to be sensible.”

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The residents’ association honorary secretary Bruce Stewart, who also sits on the parish council’s steering group for Backwell Future, showed villagers a map indicating sites developers are interested in, including Farleigh Fields, next to the railway station, Coles Quarry, areas of West Town and around the lake and schools.

But one elderly resident said Farleigh Fields will never be developed because it is 20 hectares of prime agricultural land.

He said: “Developers have been trying to put houses there for the last 30 years or more but all appeals by them have been quashed by DEFRA.”

Other residents are worried these are not the only areas builders have their eye on.

One said: “If that map only shows the sites that are published and we are told there are lots more we are threatened with thousands.”

A landowner at the meeting said he had been approached by developers asking what plans he had for his farm, which borders Rushmoor Lane.

He said: “We are not sure ourselves what to do with the land and we don’t want to see a load of houses on it but if it’s convenient in the future to do so it might be the way to go.”

Mr Stewart said: “Members have commented favourably on the information from the meeting but have real concerns about numbers, types and locations of any development to ensure it is proportionate, reasonable and sustainable.

“While some residents have expressed concerns, and are urging action, we hope that they are prepared to give the neighbourhood plan an opportunity.”

A draft plan should be in place by September with residents given the chance to air their views before it gets submitted to North Somerset Council for a referendum in Spring 2013.

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