SOMERSET residents will have to wait until the spring to have their say on where 505 new homes should be delivered in their county.

Mendip District Council identified a total of 37 sites which could deliver additional housing in the district in its Local Plan Part II, which was ratified by councillors in December 2021.

Following a successful judicial review by Norton St Philip Parish Council in December 2022, five of these sites were scrapped – three on the edge of Midsomer Norton and two in the villages of Beckington and Norton St Philip, near Frome.

Somerset Council – which replaced the district council in April – has been tasked by the High Court to find new sites to replace these five, with Mr Justice Houlgate setting a strict timetable for the sites to be found, put to public consultation and then submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for final ratification.

The council has now admitted it asked the High Court for an extension after being inundated by developers and landowners with more than 50 new sites which they claim could be delivered to meet the housing shortfall.

The five sites which were struck from the Local Plan Part II are:

  • Land south of Great Dunns Close, Beckington (minimum 28 dwellings) – permission for 32 homes was dismissed on appeal in October 2022
  • Land near the White Post Inn, A367 Green Park Road, Midsomer Norton (minimum 250 dwellings) – decision pending on revised plans for 270 homes (with outline permission in place)
  • Land east of A367 Fosseway South, Midsomer Norton (minimum 145 dwellings) – decision pending on plans for 190 homes
  • Land south of Underhill Lane, Midsomer Norton (minimum 60 dwellings) – plans for 54 homes refused in November 2023
  • Land west of Mackley Lane, Norton St Philip (minimum 27 dwellings) – plans withdrawn in April 2023

These five sites between them would have delivered around 505 homes within the original Local Plan Part II – meaning the replacement sites must deliver at least this number of homes between them.

In addition to reviewing each of these five sites, the council issued a ‘call for sites’, where developers and landowners come forward with potential sites where new homes can be delivered.

Under the original timetable set by Mr Justice Houlgate, the council was required to publish the proposed list of sites by December 31, after which a round of public consultation would take place.

A second round of public consultation would be held after the draft amended plan was published by March 31, 2024, with the final amended plan being submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for approval by July 1.

But Andre Sestini, the council’s principal planning officer for the former Mendip area, told the council’s planning and transport policy sub-committee on Tuesday morning (December 19) that this schedule could no longer be met in light of the sheer number of sites that had come forward.

He said: “We have had to make an application to the High Court to change the timetable which was originally specified.

“To be fair, we did have some concerns about that timetable at that time, and made provision to go back and seek to vary the order if circumstances changed.

“We have almost started afresh looking at what sites are available, and it’s fair to say that one of the reasons that things have become delayed from the original programme is that we had quite a lot more sites than was expected – more than 50 completely new sites which have been considered.

“We had more than 140 submissions in total, which has taken time to review.

“There is a bit of work still to do. There are pressures on our ecology team due to work on biodiversity net gain and phosphates; around 90 per cent of the sites that we’ve assessed have some impact on sites of specific scientific interest.”

Norton St Philip Parish Council has alleged the council has already spent more than £120,000 on this review process, on top of £60,000 in costs incurred by the district council in the original judicial review.

Somerset Council has said the exact cost of the delay in the review process is not yet known, since it will depend on whether public hearings need to be held to secure the extension.

Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets (and the former leader of Mendip District Council), commended the efforts of the planning team to do on this matter.

She stated: “I recognise you and your colleagues have had to work flat out to get anywhere near the really onerous time-scale the courts have set us.

“We always recognised it was tight, but with the number of proposals I know there’s had to be redeployment of people elsewhere in the county to support your team.

“Hopefully we’re now in a position where we can be quite clear with the courts what we can do and when.”

If the extension is granted by the High Court, a six-week consultation on the new sites will be launched after the sub-committee’s meeting in February 2024 – with council leader Bill Revans calling on the council to be as transparent as possible throughout this process.

He said: “What we have here is the opportunity to set out how we will be working with local division members, town and parish council, the local community networks and other stakeholders as we move into introducing the new Somerset Local Plan in the future.

“We’re in this situation, so let’s use it as a pilot for how we are going to engage.”

The final, amended version of the Mendip Local Plan Part II is expected to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for approval in the autumn.

Work on the new Somerset-wide Local Plan is being carried out separately to this review. with this new plan due to come into force by April 2028.