DOZENS of “harmful” new homes will be built in a small Somerset village following a successful appeal by a developer.

Stoke St Michael LVA LLP put forward outline plans in March 2020 to build 47 homes on Coalpit Lane in the village of Stoke St Michael, a few miles north-east of Shepton Mallet.

Mendip District Council refused planning permission for the scheme in May 2021, arguing it would “urbanise” the village through “over-development” and could have a negative impact on the two nearby quarries.

But following a planning inquiry in November 2022, this decision has now been overturned by the Planning Inspectorate.

The site lies at the northern edge of the village, a short distance from the local primary school on Moonshill Road.

The developer pledged to meet the council’s target that 30 per cent of the new homes would be affordable (the equivalent of 14 dwellings), and would provide “ecological mitigation land” off-site to off-set any increase in phosphates from the new homes.

The council refused permission for the plans through the delegated power of its planning officers, rather than a public decision by the planning board.

The plans were refused on three grounds:

  • The proposal would “result in an over-development of the site and an urban encroachment of housing into the countryside”, creating “a harmful urbanising impact” on the village
  • The developer has not “adequately demonstrated” that the homes will not impact on nearby quarries, leading to the “sterilisation of resources which may be important in the future”
  • The developer has not done enough to ensure contributions will be made towards local school places or the improvement of nearby footpaths.

Planning inspector Steven Rennie presided over the inquiry in Shepton Mallet on November 8, 2022, which included a site visit on the same day, and published his ruling before a scheduled meeting of the council’s planning board on February 15.

Somerset County Gazette: The proposed site of 47 homes on Coalpit Lane in Stoke St Michael.The proposed site of 47 homes on Coalpit Lane in Stoke St Michael. (Image: Google Street View)

Mr Rennie previously presided over inquiries into 63 homes on Anchor Road in Coleford and 150 homes on Lang Road in Crewkerne – ruling in the developers’ favour on both occasions.

He agreed with the council that the plans violated many of its core planning policies, amounting to building “in the open countryside… outside the development limits of the village”.

However, he said these concerns were overshadowed by the council’s lack of a five-year land supply, which had created a “significant shortfall” in new homes being delivered.

Mr Rennie also ruled that accessibility concerns on the council’s part were unfounded, arguing that a commonly-used route from the site into the village posed no immediate risk to pedestrians.

He said: “There is no substantive evidence that people walking this route has resulted in many accidents or is particularly dangerous as a pedestrian route.

“It is also not uncommon for there to be a lack of foot-ways in the core of old villages.

“It is not an ideal situation, but I would still expect people from the proposed houses to often walk this route and not be dissuaded to do so by the lack of continuous footpaths.

“The increase in traffic from the site or other nearby developments would not be at a level that would likely make walking this route discernibly less safe.

“Though the village is not ideal for walking, I would still consider the site as being reasonably accessible for services and facilities for a development of the scale proposed, especially considering the rural character of this village.”

Mr Rennie added that any perceived harm to local heritage – such as the nearby St. Michael’s Church – would be mitigated by the existing character of the local area.

He said: “The site has a good level of enclosure, through the boundary hedgerows and also the sloping topography down towards the stream.

“The development would not be prominent in the wider landscape and such visual impacts would be largely localised.

“Furthermore, the housing as proposed would be seen against the backdrop of existing built up residential areas of the village from many vantage points.

“It would be seen as an extension of the village rather than an isolated development.”

A separate appeal, asking the council to pay the developer’s legal costs, was dismissed.

A reserved matters application, covering the detailed design and layout of the new homes, is expected to be submitted to the new unitary Somerset Council later in the year.