PLANS to build homes on a cherished green space in Frome will be put on hold for several months to allow more information about the site to be gathered.

Mendip District Council’s cabinet voted in early-November to build more than 160 new homes across five sites in a partnership with Aster Housing – including up to 77 homes on the Easthill site in Frome.

The council’s cabinet voted to “pause” the Easthill element of the plans on November 26 after its scrutiny board questioned how transparent the decision had been.

The full council confirmed on Monday evening (December 14) that this pause would last “months rather than weeks”, with additional information on the site being collected ahead of any further decisions being taken.

The council has also promised to review the processes under which councillors are consulted on the future disposal or development of council-owned land or assets.

A number of local residents addressed the full council when it met virtually on Monday (December 14), raising concerns about the impact of new homes on the Easthill site.

Nicola Player said it was important that any new housing in Frome should “safeguard and enhance health and well-being” to reduce demand on health services in the longer term.

Somerset County Gazette: Ariel view of the Easthill site in Frome. Pic: Google MapsAriel view of the Easthill site in Frome. Pic: Google Maps

Simon Bishop, of the Friends of Easthill Field campaign group, added: “This decision should have gone back to cabinet for reconsideration, and not a pause.

“Reconsideration means to consider again with a view to change, whereas a pause is a temporary stop before continuing. Is the council going to give this issue a genuine reconsideration or not?”

Sian Penlington added: “I want to make a heartfelt plea to members to understand the strength of feeling in the community about the true global value of the asset that the council owns, and the heavy responsibility it bears for the protection of the environment first and foremost.

“This is a habitat of principal importance. It’s really what makes the quintessential English landscape unique – it’s a dynamic mosaic of multiple habitats that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”

The Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT) issued a statement before the meeting, asking the council to reconsider the site in light of its ecological and community value.

A spokesman said: “We welcome the council’s climate emergency plan, which recognises that we are in a time of both a climate and ecological emergency.

“In order to tackle these emergencies, it is essential that protection of our natural environment and the health and well-being of local communities be at the core of all planning decisions.

“The trust recognise the significance of the Easthill site as both a space valued by local communities and as a site likely to be an integral part of Somerset’s Nature Recovery Network.

“As such we ask that the council take time to reconsider the proposal to develop on this site and commission a full ecological impact assessment.”

The council’s cabinet previously voted on December 7 to grant £10,000 to the SWT to help to implement the county-wide Local Nature Partnership, implementing key measures to help tackle the climate emergency.

Council leader Ros Wyke stated that no further decisions would be made on the Easthill site until further reports had come back to the cabinet in the new year.

She said: “This pause is in response to concerns from the local community at Easthill and the scrutiny board regarding information available to the cabinet when it made its original decision.

“This pause, which is likely to be months rather than weeks, will enable the council to identify and gather additional information, allow time for the commissioning of any reports, and the collation and publication of said reports.

“The decision on the Easthill site will once again – as on all previous occasions – return to a public forum via a meeting of the cabinet in due course, where the views of councillors and residents will be heard.

“This is democracy in action, and a balancing act. We move forward with mutual respect and understanding to tackle these difficult issues together.”

Chief executive Stuart Brown said he had met with the leaders of the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Green groups on December 8 to discuss how future decisions regarding council-owned land or assets would be taken.

He said: “We agreed it would be useful for us to do a little bit of research into what other district councils do and how they approach the matter of member engagement, particularly when it comes to matters around asset disposal or development.

“We will have a discussion with an external advisor who can help with the constitutional aspect of this. I have already been in touch with the Local Government Association about this.

“We will come back to the full council in February with a proper report on this.”