A VITAL Somerset nursery will be able to relocate and expand after plans were enthusiastically backed by councillors.

Willow Nursery and Pre-School currently operates off the A361 Charlton Road in Shepton Mallet, on land leased to it by the neighbouring Whitstone School.

The pre-school applied in late-February to relocate to a purpose-built site to the west after Whitstone served notice on its lease, putting the children’s well-being in jeopardy.

Somerset Council’s planning committee east has now granted permission for this new facility, despite concerns about the loss of green space within the town.

The new site lies to the west of Whitstone School, near the junction with Frithfield Lane and within walking distance of Collett Park.

Willow representatives said their current premises had around 18 months’ life left before it was “condemned”, and there was no scope to renegotiate any lease with the school.

Parents expressed their concerns when the council’s planning committee east (which makes decisions on major applications within the former Mendip area) met in Shepton Mallet on Tuesday afternoon (September 5).

Somerset County Gazette: Harriet Crees, whose children attend Willow Nursery and Pre School.Harriet Crees, whose children attend Willow Nursery and Pre School. (Image: Somerset Council)

Harriet Crees added: “Willow Nursery is an asset to Shepton Mallet. The staff are incredible – they go above and beyond to support children and their development, providing a nurturing and safe environment.

“My children have grown with confidence and are always acquiring new skills from their peers, and increasing their socialisation. Our children are the future of the community and society.

“We are not entitled to any universal credit benefits or income support – so if I cannot work due to planning permission being denied, you will be forcing me below the poverty line and struggling to support my family during an already stretched cost of living crisis.”

The new facility would protect the existing 14 members of staff at Willow (of which all but three work full-time) and could create a further six jobs.

Richard Thomas, who chairs the town council’s neighbourhood planning group, said this green space needed to be protected in light of housing growth elsewhere in the town.

He said: “The land affected by this application was identified as one needing continuing protection. The town council didn’t take our emerging neighbourhood plan into consideration when it gave its views.

“It wouldn’t be correct to say that this application has the overwhelming support of the town centre.

“This is a site deserving protection. It provides an area of green space in an otherwise developed area, and is closely associated with one of the oldest prisons in the country.

“It’s simply in the wrong place. We have the C. G. Fry development coming up, which has identified an open area of green space specifically for this kind of development.

“If you say yes to this and put it right in the centre of the town, with buggies travelling through those narrow streets, it becomes almost inevitable that it will increase car use. The C. G. Fry development will suit them much better.”

C. G. Fry – which is currently delivering the Jurston Fields development in Wellington – put forward outline plans in July 2018 to build up to 569 homes south of the A371 Cannard’s Grave Road, along with a care home, a nursery, a primary school, shops and the relocation of the Mid Somerset showground.

While the showground has successfully been relocated, holding its first events in 2021, the rest of the plans have been delayed by the ongoing phosphates crisis, meaning the land for any new nursery has not yet come forward.