THE developer behind a plan to convert a grade II listed former school in Minehead into flats has been accused of considering ‘profit over people’.

Proposals to convert the former schoolhouse and manor house at Periton Mead in Minehead were the subject of heated debate at West Somerset Council’s planning committee on Thursday.

The council officers had recommended the application be given the green light, despite no allocation for affordable housing, or any contribution towards community or recreational facilities, contrary to local planning policy.

Cllr Andrew Hadley spoke passionately against the bid, accusing the developer of putting profit before people.

“Our local plan cost thousands of pounds to develop,” he said. “The actual housing need in West Somerset has been identified as more than 60 per cent of the 2,400 houses required to 2032 and this council adopted a more practical policy of 35 per cent.

“When the developer bought this property he signed on the dotted line, aware of the emerging local plan. He was also aware of the application to have the building listed, but did not, as far as I am aware, formally object to the listing.

“The developer is now claiming he cannot provide the affordable element, 10 houses, because of viability. He claims in fact that he will make a loss of £7,292 - but let us be clear – this loss is actually a figure below the developer’s profit forecast and not on the development costs. He said there should also be a contribution toward recreation and community facilities but again claims viability and won’t pay.

“It is clear the developer was aware of these requirements but signed anyway believing they could brush the affordable housing requirements under the carpet in favour of corporate profit, and unbelievably, this is the recommendation from officers.

“Minehead is in desperate need of affordable housing, and not to the profit of faceless developers. If the developer miscalculated when buying this land, it should not be our residents that suffer because of it.”

However Tim Dunkley, from Core Planning Services Ltd, representing the developer said that the application would restore an unused building, create 31 new homes in a time of great need, including 16 new homes which will be carefully designed to be in keeping with what is already there.

“There are no objections from a highways, ecological or flood risk point of view,” Mr Dunkley said. “The construction will create jobs for local people and the development will secure the long term future of this heritage site.”

Council planning officer Bryn Kitching said members had to decide whether to prioritise heritage or affordable housing. “I have seen the developer’s viability assessment and the figures seem good, I feel it is quite clear-cut. We accept that developers have to make a profit,” Mr Kitching said.

“Because the properties need to be in keeping with the listed building they are more expensive to build. we could gain a contribution for recreation and community facilities if the developer were to build cheaper houses which we do not feel would be appropriate for this site,” he added.

Sally Bainbridge, chairman of Minehead Conservation Society was critical of the design, describing it as ‘a real mish-mash’ of gothic, arts and crafts and ultra modern architectural styles.

In the debate Cllr Karen Mills said: “I disagree with the viability statement, I feel it is putting profit over people.

“But actually I do think the plan is exciting and we do need one-bedroom developments in Minehead.”

The committee unanimously voted to defer the decision to re-examine viability figures, the design of the gatehouse, parking plans and drainage, but in principle agreed the building is suitable to be converted in to flats.