A former Somerset police station will become home to nearly 50 retirement flats after councillors voted to approve amended plans.

Wells Police Station operated on the A39 Glastonbury Road until late-2021, when the police moved to their new facility inside the fire station on Burcott Road.

Churchill Retirement Ltd. put forward plans in August 2023 to convert the buildings into 47 extra care apartments.

Somerset Council’s planning committee east voted in early-March to delay a decision to allow for further negotiations over the amount of car parking on site and contributions for new affordable homes elsewhere in the city.

The same committee (which handles major applications in the former Mendip area) voted on Tuesday afternoon (April 2) to grant permission – meaning work could begin later in the year.

The site lies near numerous existing health and care facilities, including the Crandon Springs and Fletcher House care homes, the Wells Health Centre, the Wells City Pharmacy and the St. Andrew’s mental health ward.

Access will be from the existing entrance onto the A39, with 24 car parking spaces being provided on site – one more than was originally proposed.

Of the new properties 31 will be one-bedroom flats and 16 will be two-bedroom flats, all of which will be sold at full market price to the over-60s.

Each of the flats will be able to access communal facilities within the complex, including an owners’ lounge, guest suite and meeting areas.

The developer has faced numerous viability issues with the site, resulting from the ongoing phosphates crisis and high inflation within the construction industry, which has limited how much affordable housing could be delivered within the site itself.

Following further negotiations with the council’s planning officers, the developer has agreed to provide £200,000 towards other affordable housing schemes in the city – twice as high as the amount proposed in March, but still less than half of the £434,000 it had originally promised.

The company will also provide £17,484 towards new or expanded NHS facilities in and around the city.

Denise Denis, who chairs the planning committee on Wells City Council, addressed Somerset Council’s planning committee east when it met in Shepton Mallet on Tuesday afternoon (April 2) to debate the revised proposals.

She said: “There are around 30 retirement apartments currently on the market in Wells – some of them are selling below the market price. It does seem we’re at our capacity.

“Our concerns are not just about the phosphates on the Levels – it’s the amount of effluent going out. That area is quite low-lying and it could have an impact on the estates behind this building.”

Councillor Tessa Munt (whose Wells division includes the site) said: “I have questions about the car parking bays and whether they are big enough.

“There are 1,400 people within the Wells area who have blue badges and need very accessible parking. You need to be able to open the doors to bring a wheelchair off the roof.

“I don’t believe that when you get to 55 or 60 that you’re too old to drive – 80 is the new 60. I think it’s lamentable that we’re in the position that we’re in.

“If you search online and try to find affordable housing in Wells, you’ll be waiting a year and a half – it’s really tragic.”

Councillor Martin Dimery (Frome West) described the offer of an additional parking space as “tokenism”, but added: “I can’t see how they can put any more in given the plan that they’ve got.”

Councillor Michael Dunk (who also represents Frome West) criticised the design of the building, stating: “The scheme is not architecturally what I would regard as adventurous or suitable.

“There’s no solar panels on it, which in this day and age is almost criminal, I would say. The government hasn’t legislated that we should have solar panels on every new build and we can’t secure it with planning conditions.”

Councillor Edric Hobbs (whose Mendip Hills division borders Wells) said the officers had “done quite well” to secure funding for additional affordable housing schemes, and said the council’s “hands are a bit tied”, with limited solid reasons in planning law to turn down the proposals.

He added: “Most of the other residential properties which the company operates locally have a smaller amount of parking spaces and seem to operate without any problems.

“Although I would like to see more parking, I don’t think we’re going to get it.”

The company already operates the Riverain Lodge complex in Taunton town centre, and has expressed an interest in redeveloping the Crispin Centre in Street into new apartments.

Both the Street and Wells sites have been provisionally allocated for development within the revised Mendip Local Plan Part II, which is currently out for public consultation.

The committee voted to approve the Wells plans by eight votes to one, with one abstention, after around an hour’s debate.