Published: May 12, 2012
Town councillor's 'deep concern' over plans for 95 riverside homes

A town councillor has this week expressed "deep concerns" about the way in which a controversial planning application for 95 riverside homes in Highbridge has been considered.

During a meeting of the full town council, Cllr Helen Groves said proposals to turn this riverside boatyard in Clyce Road into a development of 95 new homes should be re-thought.

She is concerned that the town council's planning applications committee has given approval to the scheme by concluding that new flood defences to be built at the site will bring benefits to the wider community.

The scheme - which includes eighty five 2, 3 and 4 bedroom houses, plus ten 1-bedroom flats - has resulted in scores of nearby residents signing a petition opposed to the scheme and over 16 letters of objection being sent to the district council.

The application for outline planning permission was last month given lukewarm approval by town councillors amid continuing concerns about vehicular access via Smith Way and the number of properties planned for the site.

Cllr Helen Groves, pictured with Highbridge Residents Association's Kim Chatwin and Tina Gray, told on Friday: "I have very real concerns regarding the manner in which this application has been processed and responded to, and in particular with part of the Town Council's response."

It comes after the Town Council published its minutes of a recent meeting where the planning application was considered. Part of the minutes stated: 'the Town Council agrees that the proposed new flood defences included in this application will have a community benefit for Highbridge as a whole by enabling the development of other sites which will bring forward other community benefits to support infrastructure delivery.'

However, Cllr Groves explained: "I am absolutely against this application on the basis that it does not deliver sufficient community benefit as is required and expected of all applications of this scale and does not meet planning policy but I do accept the processes of council are democratic and all councillors have an equal right to their views."

"However, I feel very strongly that we must have a consistent approach to assessing applications. As a member of the town council planning committee I have always been given to understand that we are legally required to only consider the merits of the applications in front of us."

"We may not, for instance, look at an application and say that we are aware of two others which in combination may create a traffic issue. Nor may we look at an application and respond by saying that though an application does not meet planning policy in terms of infrastructure we think it will enable other developments to do so."

"There are good and sensible reasons for doing this and it ensures applications are given fair and equal treatment and avoids issues of pre-determination. In essence, it has been my view that the Town Council should not have made this response as we have no idea what the development of other sites will or will not bring in terms of infrastructure or anything else."

"Had Sedgemoor District Council provided a planning brief for the linked sites of the Hotel and Cattle Market, The Boatyard and The H17 consortium land, then and only then would it be appropriate to make assessment of the applications in combination."

"In my personal view, it is unreasonable for the district officers to ask us to consider this or any application as a part of a jigsaw when all we are handed is a piece of sky and asked to guess the value of the picture."

Town councillors at Wednesday's meeting considered her comments but took a vote and decided against changing the wording of their response to the application.

Cllr Peter Burridge-Clayton said that while he has concerns about the application, he feels the flood defences would be good for the town. "The proposed flood defences would benefit a large area of Highbridge and provide community benefit," he said.

Town Clerk Eileen Shaw added: "The minutes accurately reflected what was agreed by the majority of members at the planning meeting."

Councillors Dennis Davey, Neville Jones and Mayor Ken Smout left the meeting during the debate because they also sit on Sedgemoor's planning committee which will ultimately decide whether the scheme goes ahead.


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