TAUNTON residents face a further six months of uncertainty over the fate of more than 1,400 new homes planned on the edge of their town.

Persimmon Homes South West and Redrow Homes put forward joint plans in December 2021 for phase two of the Monkton Heathfield urban extension, which will deliver new homes at Taunton’s north-eastern edge along with employment sites, a new school and a relief road.

A decision on the plans has been delayed three times since September 2022, during which time the masterplan for the development has been altered through substantial negotiations between the developers and planning officers.

Six months on from the last delay, Somerset Council’s planning committee west (which handles significant applications within the former Somerset West and Taunton area) met in Taunton on May 1 to pass judgement on the revised proposals.

But instead, councillors opted to delay any decision for another six months – meaning the fate of the plans won’t be settled until October at the earliest.

Phase one of the Monkton Heathfield urban extension has been largely completed, including the western relief road (WRR) which connects the new homes to the A3259.

However, the employment land identified at the southern edge of phase one, between the A38 and the M5, remains largely undeveloped – with Taunton Deane Borough Council agreeing in January 2019 that some of this land could be released for further housing.

Phase two of the urban extension (now being marketed as Langaller Park) covers the land between the existing homes and the Walford Cross waste depot, along with a small amount of land to the north of Monkton Elm Garden Centre.

The most recent version of the plans envision a total of 1,450 homes, nearly five hectares (c. 12 acres) of employment land, a ‘through’ school (combining primary and secondary provision on the same site, a ‘district centre’ with local shops, a ‘mobility hub’ and a new eastern relief road to link up with the A38.

Somerset County Gazette: A decision on the plans has been delayed three times since September 2022.A decision on the plans has been delayed three times since September 2022. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

The green space within the site has been significantly rearranged, with the relief road being surrounded by new homes rather then skirting around the southern and eastern edges via a series of roundabouts.

While commercial space remains at the eastern edge of the site, the local centre and ‘mobility hub’ is concentrated around the western section.

The layout of green space is designed to provide a buffer between the new homes and the M5, and to enable phosphate mitigation to be delivered within the site to prevent any damage to the Somerset Levels and Moors.

The development, if approved, will provide around £16m for local infrastructure through the community infrastructure levy (CIL) – of which £4m will go directly towards the parish councils in West Monkton and Creech St. Michael for localised projects.

An additional £323,000 has been requested by the Canal and River Trust to upgrade a significant section of the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, which will serve as a key walking and cycling route between the new homes and the town centre via the Firepool regeneration site.

Simon Fox, the council’s major planning projects officer, told the committee that the new designs had “moved the dial significantly” in terms of addressing both local concerns and technical objections towards the development.

He added, however: “We need further time to continue working towards a committee decision on this.

“We’ve been here before – the difference this time is that we are now on the home straight.

“This application is unrecognisable from that which came before you in September 2022, and that is because we have had the time to look at its properly and engage with the plethora of policy that now exists in Taunton.

“This includes the status of Taunton as a garden town and the presence of neighbourhood plans in both Creech St. Michael and West Monkton.

“It takes times to ensure that the requirements of this site are well-understand, and this is 99 per cent resolved in terms of what needs to be where and why.

“The issue now turns to whether we can afford what we’re now showing and asking for – and that in itself is a significant element of work which we’re now tiptoeing into.”

Stuart Haskins, who sits on West Monkton Parish Council, said he was “very pleased” with the progress which had been made over the last 18 months – but said he and his very councillors remained “very concerned” about the proposed highway network through the site.

He said: “Monkton Heathfield phase one was delivered with a number of options for bus gates and an eastern relief road around the development.

“Though this relief road was built, only one of the bus gates was put in on the A38. The result is we have huge volumes of traffic going on what was the A3259 through Monkton Heathfield.

“We are concerned that the proposals for the A38 as they stand today will further exacerbate that.

“The developer has taken on our suggestion to put traffic lights at the Monkton Elm junction, but that’s not going to answer the problem for Creech St. Michael.

“Unless something is done about the A38 proposals within this development, we’ve got a problem.”

Councillor Simon Coles – who represents the neighbouring Taunton East division – said: “I think it’s fair to say that we have seen a lot of movement from both our planning officers and the applicant, and I believe sufficient progress has been made.”

Councillor Steven Pugsley (Exmoor) added: “The sensible thing to do would be to postpone any further discussion about this until the autumn.”

After less than half an hour’s debate, the committee voted unanimously to defer a decision on the plans until the autumn.