LEGAL agreements to redevelop the Saxonvale site in Frome have still not been signed – nearly one year after planning permission was first granted.

Mendip District Council’s planning board voted in late-January 2021 to grant permission for the Acorn Property Group to redevelop the brownfield site in Frome town centre, delivering 300 new homes along with employment units, arts and leisure facilities and a new footpath over the River Frome.

Permission was granted for a second time in September 2021, and work to clear the site (funded by a Homes England grant) has been under way since August.

But the legal agreements between the developer, district and county councils remain unsigned – meaning the construction of the new buildings cannot begin.

This in turn leaves the door open for the rival Mayday Saxonvale proposals, which are yet to be determined by the planning board.

Somerset County Gazette: ALTERNATE: Mayday Saxonvale plansALTERNATE: Mayday Saxonvale plans

When a district council approves a planning application, it enters into a legal agreement (known as a Section 106 agreement) with the developer and county council to ensure that the development will be delivered as agreed, along with any financial contributions towards new schools, roads and other public amenities.

While the Acorn plans have been approved twice by the planning board, the legal agreements remain unsigned, meaning the full-blown construction cannot commence.

The council began clearing the site using a £3.935M grant from Homes England in August, of which £3.3M has currently been spent.

However, this funding is tied to the site rather than to the Acorn application – meaning, in theory at least, that another proposal (such as the Mayday Saxonvale plans) could end up being implemented instead.

A district council spokesman said: “The Section 106 agreement is a condition of the planning approval; consent cannot be issued by the planning authority until it is agreed.

“With an application as complex as this, where there are multiple parties who need to be in consensus,  it is not unusual for the process to be quite lengthy.

“The Homes England grant funding cannot be used for works specific to an individual scheme. It must be used to facilitate a clean site for any future housing development.”

The Homes England grant originally had to be spent in its entirety by December 31, 2021 – but the deadline has now been extended to March 31, 2022.

So far, the funding has been used to survey wildlife in the River Frome corridor, disconnect existing utilities within the site, treat Japanese knotweed, clear vegetation and removed contaminated materials – including asbestos, a ruptured septic tank and stockpiles from previous demolitions within the site.

Somerset County Gazette: The Saxonvale Site In Frome In Early-2021. CREDIT: Mayday Saxonvale. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Mayday Saxonvale has reiterated that it would take the council to a judicial review if the Acorn legal agreements were approved, stating that there was “still an opportunity for the council to change course”.

A spokesman for Mayday Saxonvale said: “Should consent be granted, the Acorn scheme will be open and vulnerable to a judicial review challenge.

“The wide-ranging grounds for challenge would include the council’s planning department consistently misrepresenting their own policies on employment space to align with Acorn’s proposed plan – the same plan in which the council expects to generate significant profit.

“Our application has now received supportive comments from the Frome Chamber of Commerce, Frome Civic Society, and Frome Town Council. These consultees have previously rejected the Acorn plan on three separate occasions during the planning application process.

“Frome’s community has spoken and made its position crystal clear. We urge the council to listen to its constituents, whom they serve.

“With our development partner Stories, we have the funding and delivery expertise ready to make this a reality.

“It is not too late to change course and engage with Mayday Saxonvale to deliver the scheme together that meets the council’s own local plan for employment in Frome.

“We believe Saxonvale must be developed. However, it must be developed right, and not just ‘to get it done’.

“The development of this major brownfield employment site, which represents at least 25 per cent of our town centre, will set the future direction of Frome for generations to come.”

Mayday Saxonvale’s plan was expected to be determined by planning officers by January 24.

This deadline has now been extended – though the council has not specified how much more time will pass before it comes before the planning board.

A council spokesman said: “We can confirm that planning applications submitted in relation to the Saxonvale site in Frome will determined by the council in its role as local planning authority, in accordance with the requirements of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.