First up is the continuing situation with the Station Farm development. You may recall that Taylor Wimpey applied last year to build 8 houses in place of offices and an inn/restaurant already permitted. I lobbied hard against this loss of employment opportunities in the village and Taunton Deane Borough Councillors agreed, refusing the applications against the advice of their officers. While I tend to agree with Wimpey about the lack of commercial viability for an inn/restaurant (and I don’t think the village needs one anyway) I do believe that they should be examining other possible employment uses before proposing more houses. Wimpey have appealed those refusals. At the same time, Wimpey resubmitted the applications that had been refused in the hope that TDBC might approve them in order to avoid the expense and hassle of running the appeals. The applications are almost the same although this time, they are proposing 9 houses instead of 8 and they have withdrawn their offer of handing the West Somerset Railway £50,000 for the resurfacing of a car park, always dubious compensation for the loss of so many jobs. Given that TDBC officers recommended approval for these applications last time ‘on a finely balanced decision’ I would expect that this time around officers may well recommend refusal given that there is no compensation for the loss of jobs or benefit to the Railway. If the applications are refused, this could be done under ‘delegated powers’ i.e. by officers themselves without needing to present the applications to the Planning Committee. If they propose approval, the Planning Committee will need to decide the applications. Either way, decisions will be made in the next 2-3 weeks. The public inquiry that will decide the appeals will be held on 26th & 27th March.
Taylor Wimpey’s application to delay the construction of the roundabout and abandon the provision of the traffic lights on the railway bridge is being amended. The idea of replacing the traffic lights with a Give Way arrangement was always a non-starter on a hump-backed bridge and Wimpey is reverting to the plan to install traffic lights on the bridge. While the summer construction embargo on the A358 will mean that the roundabout cannot now start until at least October, I would be surprised if Wimpey gets away with delaying until the end of the housebuilding exercise at Station Farm, as they are proposing. While it is obviously disappointing that between them Somerset County Council and Wimpey have failed to agree on the design of a roundabout in 18 months of discussion, I am hopeful that construction will begin this year, but we’ll need to keep a close eye on them both.
In the same neighbourhood, planning activity is heating up at Sandhill Park. Four men and a youth have been convicted and sentenced to jail terms of up to 27 months for the 2011 arson attack on the mansion at Sandhill. Serious damage was done to the main house and its east wing. This came on the heels of several decades of neglect following the closure of the hospital at the site. A planning application to convert the house into apartments and construct 50 new houses behind the site was submitted to TDBC in 2008. The application was never decided and remains ‘live’ on TDBC’s books. This application has now been amended retaining the proposal to convert the ruined mansion while reducing the number of proposed new homes to 28, all to the north of the mansion. I am pleased to see that there is a live proposal that should see the restoration of the mansion. However, given the history of this site, any agreement to allow the erection of new housing will need to be absolutely bound up in securing the restoration of the mansion. The previous effort to do this, which saw the creation of Lethbridge Park, failed miserably, due to the naivety of Taunton Deane Borough Council. The whole charade is now used by English Heritage as an example of how NOT to do so-called ‘enabling development’. Taunton Deane will be consulting on the applications associated with this development in the next week.