By John Wimperis, Local Democracy Reporter: Plans for a major development of almost 300 homes on the rural southern edge of Bath are being recommended for approval — despite over a thousand objections.
The Hignett Family Trust wants to build 290 homes on fields above South Stoke, just next to Odd Down. Bath and North East Somerset Council’s planning committee will decide whether to grant outline planning permission for the development at their meeting on November 15.
The homes form the third and fourth “phases” of the Sulis Down development.
Phase one of the project was the new development of 171 homes of Combe Hay Lane, behind Odd Down Park and Ride, which was approved “with the utmost reluctance” by councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council’s planning committee in 2018. Sulis Manor and the land surrounding it is phase two of the development, but will be “developed by others.”
The council’s planning officers are recommending that planning permission for homes is granted, but they recognised that 1,269 objections to the plans had been lodged. Just 18 comments were left in support.
‘A beautiful new addition to the city’
Developers said: “The vision for Sulis Down is to create a beautiful new addition to the City of Bath, bringing forward a very high quality, sustainable, landscape-led proposal where landscape, ecology, architecture and materials combine with beautifully-designed public spaces and streets.”
A design and access statement submitted with the Hignett Family Trust’s application said: “The proposals will encourage sustainable lifestyles through urban design that connects people and places with the local landscape and food production and in so doing, help engender a sense of wellbeing through meaningful connections to nature.”
The houses would be a mix of sizes, ranging from two-bedrooms to five-bedrooms. 40% of the homes would be affordable housing, equating to 116 homes if the full 290 are built.
‘Over the moon’
A statement on behalf of the Hignett Family Trust highlighted said there were nearly 6,000 households on the waiting list for affordable housing in Bath and North East Somerset, and said: “The Hignett Family Trust welcomes the opportunity to once again work with the council to address this very concerning state of affairs. There is an ironclad commitment in this application to provide 40% of superb affordable homes, following on from those already built in the first phase at Sulis Down.”
They added that among the people who the first phase of the development had offered housing to are a young mother who spent two years on a mother and baby unit before being able to move into her first home, a couple with two young children who had been living in one-bedroom temporary accommodation after being forced to leave their flat in a no-faulty eviction, and an NHS worker who spent 18 months sofa surfing after her family broke up until she was offered a house in the Sulis Down development.
They quoted her as saying: “I was literally over the moon to walk around my little flat.[…] Every day feels like I’m on holiday.”
The land for the Sulis Down development has been allocated by the council for 300 homes but, with 171 already built and 290 set to be decided, that number is set to be exceeded. But the council’s planning policies state the 300 homes figure “is not a cap” if all relevant principles are met.
But not everybody is convinced by this argument. One of the more than a thousand people who objected to the plans was Jenny John, who warned that it was ‘appalling overdevelopment.’
Mrs John, who has lived in South Stoke for thirty years and is a former parish councillor, is part of the South of Bath Alliance, a group of locals opposed to the development. She was previously part of the village’s successful campaign to save their village pub, the Packhorse, for which her house was given over to weekly campaign meetings for two years.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, she questioned the need for the massive housing development on the fields, commenting: “It’s not necessary at the moment. Bath and North East Somerset is about five years ahead in its required provision of housing.”
She added that the total 461-home estate will all be accessed from the same road and would have no bus survive. She warned: “It’s going to be carmageddon.”
Mrs John also warned that the location was far from employment opportunities in the city and questioned what the community would be like in the development. She said: “In the proposed development, there are no community facilities at all. […] There needs to be, for this many homes, a community hall of some sort.”
She also criticised the loss of trees at the beauty spot, which she said was home to bats and rare butterflies. She said: “The brownfield sites should be used up first.”
The planning application will go before Bath and North East Somerset Council’s planning committee at their meeting on November 15. The committee will meet in the Banqueting Room of the Guildhall in Bath at 11am.
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