REACTION has flooded in from residents after the council narrowly agreed to allow more than 1,600 new homes to be built in Staplegrove.

Last week, Taunton Deane Borough Council’s planning committee decided, with a seven-to-six majority, to allow planning applications from two separate developers.

Ptarmigan Staplegrove Ltd applied for 713 homes between Whitmore Lane and Silk Mills, while PM Asset Management Ltd applied for 915 homes north of Corkscrew Lane.

A spokesman for the developers said: “We are pleased at the decision made by the planning committee after four years of detailed discussions with the community and Taunton Deane Borough Council.

“We look forward to working with the council as we move closer to providing these much needed new homes.”

READ MORE: LETTER: 'I'm delighted that Staplegrove homes were approved'

Controversy was sparked as it was agreed that only 15 per cent of the 1,628 homes would be ‘affordable housing’, and that plans for a drop-down road and a spine road had not been finalised as sufficient funds weren’t in place.

Previously, a decision on the plans was deferred to allow more consideration to the issues identified.

The second, four-hour meeting, saw hundreds of members of the public attend in hopes councillors would represent their views, but some believe the ‘debate’ wasn’t as lively as it should have been.

Somerset County Gazette:

Michael Clark, chairman of Staplegrove Parish Council, said: “The parish is very disappointed by the vote of the planning committee after they had last time sensibly agreed to defer for more information to be provided on four aspects, principally covering the need for the drop down road.

“The promoters, who no doubt want to get their job over and done with here and get on with the next one, succeeded in limiting the deferred period to only one month and then didn’t offer any meaningful additional information.

“It was very noticeable that not one of the planning committee who voted in favour for the planning application participated in the debate. Their contribution would have been appreciated by the large number of people present at the meeting, those who are to be most directly affected by their votes, but the justification for their position and why they won’t wait for the grant, was not forthcoming.

“A completed through-spine road would solve most of the problems likely to be inflicted on north Taunton with the drop-down road.”

The issue surrounding affordable housing is that it is normally TDBC policy to have 25 per cent allocated, but an independent review found this would not be “viable”.

The council is awaiting a decision from government regarding a housing infrastructure bid that would allow money for the spine road to be built and the decision hadn’t been made at the time of the meeting.

Somerset County Gazette:

Jackie Calcroft, from the Residents of Staplegrove Action Group, said: “For the past three years RoSAG members have at every opportunity always tried to get the best possible deal not only for Staplegrove but also the whole of Taunton.

“The council has applied for government funding to build the spine road first and improve the number of affordable housing. The outcome is expected in the Autumn Statement.

“Residents and some councillors had hoped the land promoters would await this decision to put minds at rest, but the council argued that its best chance of success is to have the site with planning permission granted.

“No indication was given as to what would happen if the bid was unsuccessful.

“There was no improvement to the ludicrous offer of 15 per cent affordable housing.

“The Deane’s 2017 Housing Market Profile identifies a need for 32 per cent of all new houses to be affordable homes, with a policy target of 25 per cent. Yet there’s a clause that says if a site is not ‘viable’, that percentage can be reduced. What promoter or developer is not going to seize upon this?”

Another concern was the use of Corkscrew Lane for construction access to the building site. The road is considered “dangerous” by some resident groups and not wide enough.

Simon Briggs, of the Whitmore Area Residents’ Group, said: “We understand the need for more houses but not on this scale in this location. This massive housing estate, which is not, and never will be, a garden community, will totally overwhelm the local community.

“Local residents had legitimate concerns about the dangers of using Corkscrew Lane for a building contractors access for up to five years, the lack of commitment to deliver the spine road in its entirety first and the small amount of affordable housing to be provided.

“However, the members of the committee totally ignored the concerns of the community, as well as the failure to comply with their existing policies and stated aims and voted almost entirely on party-political grounds.”

The plans involve the removal of some protected trees and some dormice habitats are also at risk, while one parish council had concerns with the amount of houses compared to jobs and services in the area.

Ray Stokes, chairman of Kingston St Mary Parish Council, said: “It is incredibly frustrating that permission was given for this development – by the narrowest of margins – despite the mass of evidence of the irreversible harm it will do to the landscape and local communities.

“This massive 1,628 home development is four times the size of Kingston St Mary and is bound to put huge pressures on already overloaded roads and services, particularly health and education.

“The council’s core strategy 2011-2028 stated quite clearly that growth would be “employment led”. But official statistics show the number of people employed in Taunton Deane is the same now as in 2006.

“The lack of local jobs means many of those living in these houses will be commuting to growth areas of Bristol, Exeter and Sedgemoor, resulting in even more traffic congestion, noise and pollution in the town and local villages.”

Somerset County Gazette:

Somerset County Councillor for Rowbarton and Staplegrove

WAS Taunton well served by TDBC’s Planning Committee’s decision to approve the Staplegrove applications? 

As the Somerset County Councillor for the Rowbarton and Staplegrove Division, I don’t think so. 

These opinions are my own and not those of the county council. 

The development will affect all of Taunton. 1,600 houses cannot be occupied without adding pressure on all public services. 

It will produce considerable extra pressure on the road network. It defies common sense to insist, as TDBC does, that there will be no problem. 
Councillors were put under great pressure from TDBC and the promoters to approve the development. 

TDBC allowed promoters to ‘brief’ Councillors beforehand. 
Despite residents and the public expressing many serious and reasonable concerns, they were ignored in the second meeting. 

The split responsibility and authority for housing and infrastructure makes it harder to plan them coherently. 

There is a bad mismatch. 

Who suffers from the mismatch? Residents, current and future. 

The development is not sustainable. Living there without a car will not be practicable, given the lack of public services.

Building more houses may not solve the ‘housing crisis’. The real problem is affordability. 

More houses won’t reduce house prices while they are drip-fed onto the market. 

Mortgages may be offered to families who are not ‘just about managing’, so they have a mortgage, but can’t afford the standard of living to match it. 

TDBC reneged on two clear commitments: not to accept a drop-down road and to require 25 per cent affordable housing. 

The first hurts current residents, the second will hurt future residents. 
TDBC broke these promises. What price integrity? 

To implement the garden town, TDBC depends upon a factor largely outside its control: whether bids to the Housing Infrastructure Fund succeed. 

If the bids fail, will we be left with two mediocre housing estates and no garden town?

Many Staplegrove residents think TDBC has neither the skills nor the capacity to manage development on this scale.  

Even some Taunton councillors accept that TDBC has been out-manoeuvred by landowners, promoters and the Government. 
TDBC has won a battle, just. But it may have started a war it can’t win. 

In Staplegrove, it has lost much of the public’s confidence and respect. 

This Staplegrove development will not contribute to the garden town - but will detract from it. 

We must hope that TDBC will learn from this possibly pyrrhic victory. 
Staplegrove residents may remember the insult to them. 
I just hope that the own-goal for Taunton can somehow be recovered. 

Somerset County Gazette: ElectionsModule Candidate photo

Portfolio holder for planning policy and transportation at Taunton Deane Borough Council

IT’S vitally important that proposed new development is put in context – and to make clear that we, as the local planning authority, have “resolved to grant” planning consent for the two Staplegrove applications.

This is an important distinction as consent is still subject to agreement being reached on a range of issues (known as a Section 106 agreement) covering affordable housing, highways, access, provision of land for play, sports and allotments.

So there’s still much work to be done.

Taunton is growing – we are one of the key growth centres in the South West and so we should be proud. It means we have an important regional role and the chance to make Taunton the place where people want to live, work and enjoy their leisure time.

Taunton is one of the nation’s new Garden Towns. This means we are committed to keeping the county town “quality of life” – creating a sense of place and belonging. Those values are critical.

We simply cannot afford to ignore the need to grow – all political parties have made it clear our country is desperately short of housing, national planning policy rules have been introduced to try to address this.

We also must make sure we can prove that we have enough developable housing land for the future – five years is the minimum.

Without this supply we are open to speculative development on sites few of us would like to see developed. We are already seeing attempts at unplanned development in Wellington and Wiveliscombe, as well as around Taunton and at Creech St Michael.

We want to make growth work for our community and the wider borough, so we are taking an objective and strategic approach through the Core Strategy – our development blueprint agreed some nine years ago – and the more detailed plans that lie under that umbrella.
We don’t want haphazard ‘clone town’ development. We must make sure it’s coherent and sustainable. That’s why we are looking at the new garden communities based on Monkton Heathfield, Comeytrowe/Trull and Staplegrove.

All are within easy reach of Taunton town centre and our motorway and rail links. We want to see real communities emerge with green space, improved bus services, cycle routes and footpaths, community facilities and schools. 

Jobs are vital too and that’s why we are working with our partners to develop a high quality employment campus at Nexus 25 – close to Junction 25 of the M5. And that’s why employment land is included in the new garden communities. 

It can’t happen overnight and, as everyone knows, the public purse is squeezed as never before. But we are winning Government funding, we are striving to attract new companies and to retain and foster existing businesses. 

Above all we are “talking up Taunton” and we hope others will, too.