NEW homes will be built near the start of a key active travel route in rural Somerset after outline plans were approved.

The Wyndham Estate, which owns large quantities of land in and around Williton, applied in January 2021 to build eight homes on land north of Huish Lane in Washford, between Williton and Minehead.

Local residents raised concerns about whether the occupants of the new homes could safely reach facilities within the village on foot, such as the post office and primary school.

But Somerset Council has now unanimously approved the plans, with councillors arguing that it represented a sustainable extension to the village.

The site lies on the eastern edge of the village, a short distance from Washford Village Hall and Old Cleeve Church of England Primary School.

Access will be via the existing estate road near the Huish Mews development, with the existing public footpath at the eastern edge of the site being retained.

The new homes will be within walking distance of the Mineral Line active travel route, which provides a safe walking and cycling route to the neighbouring town of Watchet without having to use the busy A39.

The Wyndham Estate had previously tried to secure permission to build 14 homes on the site, but these were refused by Somerset West and Taunton Council in September 2020 – a decision which was upheld by the Planning Inspectorate in September 2021.

These revised plans originally consisted of ten homes, but these were revised down to eight following discussions with planning officers.

Councillor Mandy Chilcott, who represented the neighbouring Minehead division, expressed concerns about the development when the council’s planning committee west met in Taunton on Tuesday afternoon (September 20).

Ms Chilcott spoke on behalf of both Old Cleeve Parish Council and Dunster division member Christine Lawrence, who is currently on a leave of absence due to ill health.

She said: “Most residents rely on the car for work, shopping and leisure,and these are generally not available in Washford.

“Any new residents would find themselves in the same situation. Washford is no longer a sustainable location, though the recreation ground and the Mineral Line are popular.

“The village is split right through with the A39. That is one of the busiest pieces of highway infrastructure in the south west.

Some of the key amenities sit on the opposuite se of the village and the opposite side of the road. There is no safe crossing point, there is no path or verge.

“Pubs, shops and post offices are opening and closing rapidly. It may be sustainable now, but it may not be for much longer.

“The 28 bus is currently at risk – it is one of four routes identified by this council, and it is subsidised until the spring.”

Somerset County Gazette: The plans for eight homes on Huish Lane in Washford.The plans for eight homes on Huish Lane in Washford. (Image: The Pearce Practice)

The council confirmed in late-August that it would be subsidising the 28 route between Minehead and Taunton until the end of March, along with three other routes – the 25 between Dulverton and Taunton, the 54 between Taunton and Yeovil, and the 58/58a between Wincanton and Yeovil.

Up to £500,000 of extra funding for the 28 route could be provided as part of a development of 350 homes on the A39 Priest Street in Williton – also put forward by The Wyndham Estate – which councillors voted to approve in November 2021.

Councillor Sarah Wakefield (Blackdown and Neroche) questioned whether the plans amounted to a speculative development, in light of other major sites within Somerset not coming forward.

She said: “It looks like it’s almost within the village, but is this allocated land? Is this a speculative development?

“Is this land that has been noticed for development, or has someone just come along? I do worry about speculative sites not being what we planned for.”

Under the West Somerset Local Plan, which was carried over to the new council in April, only Minehead, Watchet and Williton have specific sites allocated for new housing.

Washford is considered a primary village, meaning it has a reasonable number of local facilities and transport links, but there are no specific parcels of land identified for new development.

The Huish Lane site was also not identified for development within the housing and employment land availability assessment (HELAA) carried out by the district council in 2020.

Councillor Caroline Ellis (Bishop’s Hull and Taunton West) said the number of homes planned for the site was acceptable, but questioned the building methods which would be used, citing the council’s work on new zero-carbon homes in Minehead.

She said: “Nobody should be building anything that is less than zero carbon – we’ve done that as a small developer and it doesn’t add much to the cost, no matter what people might say.

“This has got to an appropriate level in terms of the numbers, but my concern is the standard to which they are being built.”

Councillor Steven Pugsley (Dulverton and Exmoor) argued that there were limited legal grounds on which the plans could be refused.

He said: “We operate a plan-led system, and we have been told very clearly that this application is acceptable in planning policy terms.

“The concerns of the consultees have been addressed, and there are 27 conditions governing so many aspects of this development. I therefore do not in all conscience feel that we have any defensible ground to turn this application down.”

Councillor Derek Perry (Rowbarton and Staplegrove) added: “These can genuinely be family homes, and it’s within three minutes’ walk of the primary school, the village hall and the park.

“If I was someone with a young family looking to move into a village in west Somerset, this site would seem to be a pretty good place.”

The committee voted unanimously to approve the outline plans – though Mr Perry was unable to vote since he arrived after the beginning of the meeting.

A reserved matters application, covering the design and layout of the homes, is expected to come forward in the new year.