A MAJOR development on the Somerset coast will be too far from local services and lead to further congestion, according to transport experts.

The Wyndham Estate submitted plans in early-December 2023 to build up to 230 homes, commercial units and an orchard near Parsonage Farm, located off the B3191 Brendon Road on the southern edge of Watchet.

Watchet Town Council has formally objected to the proposals and commissioned a report detailing several reasons why the development would ultimately be damaging to the town.

Somerset Council is expected to make a decision on the outline proposals later in the year.

Somerset County Gazette: An artist's impression of the 230 homes on the site.An artist's impression of the 230 homes on the site. (Image: LHC Design)

The report was completed by incorporated engineer Richard Fitter, a director of the Bath-based consultancy firm Entran Ltd. with more than 35 years’ experience in transport and traffic engineering.

Here are seven reasons he highlighted for turning down the plans:

  1. Excessive distance from local services: the Department for Transport (DfT) sets guidances for how far new developments should be from key facilities, including schools, local shops and key areas of employment. Mr Fitter said that the closest amenities within Watchet “universally exceed the desirable walking distance” from the new development, and “in many instances even exceed the preferred maximum distance”
  2. Lack of safe access to the town centre: the plans envision people being able to walk and cycle into the town using St. Decuman’s Road, Doniford Road and Goviers Lane. Mr Fitter said that St. Decuman’s Road had “narrow,intermittent foot-ways and a significant gradient”, with the junction at Doniford Lane being “poorly laid out for pedestrian and cyclists”. He also criticised the steps down to Harbour Road from the crossing over the West Somerset Railway, describing it as “well below modern standards”
  3. Lack of clarity over existing footpaths: the outline masterplan for the site incorporates the public right of way which runs from Brendon Road to Woodland Road and the neighbouring streets. Mr Fitter said there had been “little or no consideration” given on how to enhance this route as part of a wider active travel network within the site, adding the route “serves very little function” within the plan since it does not serve the new homes
  4. Unsustainable reliance on the private car: while studies have been carried out on the impact of extra traffic from the site, Mr Fitter said this was out of date since it was based on the 2011 census, rather than the more recent census of 2021. The projected increase in car journeys around Brendon Road indicates that this estate “does not demonstrate a sustainable form of development or a commitment to promote sustainable travel behaviour”
  5. Insufficient study of traffic impact: when the developer carried out a transport assessment for the development, they assessed six junctions away from the development site, of which four lie on the A39 – with only one Watchet junction being included in the study. Mr Fitter said this decision was “inconceivable” given the amount of private car journeys that would be generated by the new homes, concluding that the assessment was “clearly insufficient” and based on “flawed methodology”
  6. Congestion on local roads: Watchet’s roads have significant peaks of congestion, with “significant seasonal variation” caused by large numbers of holidaymakers staying in or near the town. Mr Fitter said the “variable width of routes through the town centre” already contributed to congestion and said numerous improvements would be needed to prevent this from being exacerbated (or pedestrians being put at risk)
  7. The loss of the B3191 Cleeve Hill: the road to Blue Anchor has reopened to pedestrians and cyclists, but remains closed indefinitely to motor vehicles until government funding can be secured to realign the route inland. Mr Fitter said any future housebuilding in Watchet “ must assess the network with the assumption that the B3191 to Blue Anchor will remain closed indefinitely”, arguing that any assessments carried out before the road was closed in January 2023 are now out of date.

In addition to the Entran report, CPRE Somerset has lodged a formal objection to the proposals, arguing the amount of housing growth within the town was disproportionate and would irrevocably damage the local landscape.

Chairman Hugh Williams said: “290 residential units were allocated for Watchet in the 2016 Local Plan. To date, 482 have been approved, which is 166 per cent more than allocated.

“Another 230 units at Parsonage Farm, if approved, would lead to a total of 712
consented units, which would be 245 per cent more than allocated. The scale of the proposed scheme is not proportionate to the function and role of Watchet.

“The Wansborough Paper Mill site is a more sustainable site than Parsonage Farm. It is a brownfield site, it is closer to shops and facilities, and offers safe, easy and level access to the town centre, it is not harmful to the landscape setting of Watchet, and it does not harm the setting and heritage significance of listed heritage assets.

“Filling in the fields at Parsonage Farm with built form, as now proposed, will detrimentally change the landscape character of this side of the town from mixed rural and developed to one of continuous and suburbanised development.”

Active Travel England has also raised concerns about the development, arguing that numerous upgrades to existing routes into the town centre will be needed to encourage and protect pedestrians and cyclists.

Their concerns include:

  • The existing route to Knights Templar Church of England and Methodist Community First School, including the junction of Churchill Way and South Road
  • The crossing on Wyndham Road, which is not compliant with government mobility guidelines, along with the passageway to Liddymore Road
  • The use of St Decuman’s Road as a pedestrian and cycle link, with additional signs and some safety improvements being required
  • The lack of traffic calming measures on the main access road from the B3191

Due to the scale and significance of the plans, a decision on the Parsonage Farm site is expected to be taken in public by the council’s planning committee west, which handles major applications in the Somerset West and Taunton area.

Somerset Council has not confirmed how soon the application will come before the committee for a decision.