Comments for Planning Application 22/P/2102/OUT
Address: Land South West Of Court Farm Chew Road Winford North Somerset
Proposal: Outline planning permission for the erection of 18no. dwellings, comprising 11no. serviced self-build units, 7no. custom-build units and a communal work hub with means of access (including associated road improvements) and layout for approval. All other matters reserved for subsequent approval

Stance: Objects to the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
A copy of the following letter, together with the appended public comments will be hand delivered to the planning department.

At their meeting on 19 December 2022, Winford Parish Council agreed to object to this application.

This field has long been the subject of vigorously opposed attempts by the landowner to turn it over for housing, so it is disingenuous that the presentation of this application has been “what shall we build” rather than “should we build at all”. The Parish Council held a public meeting in Winford to gauge public opinion, and forty people attended. Only one hand was raised in support of the application. The remainder (vast majority) raised objections to the proposed development. The comments that were gathered in written form at this meeting will be appended to the hard copy of these objections and delivered to the NSC offices.

The Parish Council supports the objections of residents. As we have no planning powers, we have to rely on North Somerset Council adhering to the democratically agreed local planning policies. Winford is a rural village (not “semi-rural” as the developer says in the design statement) washed over by the greenbelt, and residents are strongly in favour of preserving the character of the village. The village is surrounded by green fields, which present an attractive target to developers keen to maximise their profits. We object very strongly indeed to the characterisation of such a field by the applicant as “an under-used agricultural field”. The field is used for cattle grazing and silage. Additionally, and more importantly, it has been organically farmed for some 50 years and is full of wildlife. The choice not to fully maximise the potential of their land is a personal decision by the landowner, and not a reason to destroy the countryside with inappropriate building projects. Until recently, the field was being used for grazing, similarly to many other thousands of acres in the area.

The land is question lies in the greenbelt, outside the settlement boundary. For these reasons alone it should be a given that it is protected from development. Government policy on protection for the Green Belt is set out in chapter 13 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This urges Local Planning Authorities to maximise the use of suitable brownfield sites before considering changes to Green Belt boundaries. The NPPF demands that there should be “exceptional circumstances” before Green Belt boundaries can be changed and says that inappropriate development is harmful to the Green Belt and should be approved only in “very special circumstances”. In the very recent reviews of the settlement boundary and greenbelt there were no proposals to alter the status of the land in question, and there are no exceptional circumstances that can justify a speculative private development here. It is our understanding that there are adequate self-build plots in the district, and we are of the opinion that the inclusion of such plots in this proposal is an attempt to profit from a change in use of land by seeking loopholes in the rules, and is not designed to meet an identified, or evidenced, need. If North Somerset Council’s policy not to allow housing outside the settlement boundary of a rural village is not adhered to, then this sets a very dangerous precedent, making it much harder to resist further permanent destruction of the countryside.

The way in which the application has been presented attempts to give the impression that this would be small-scale infill in a large village. The reality is that this would be a major development on the margin of a small settlement, that would permanently alter the character of the village and encroach on protected greenbelt land.

The field occupies a prominent position at a major entrance to the village, and plays an important part in framing the historic houses that make up the surroundings. Any development will be detrimental to the landscape character, and contribute to the unwanted urbanisation of the area, as well as spoiling the view looking from the Monarch’s Way public footpath towards the current soft edge of the village.

Winford is largely unlit and this contributes to the rural character of the area, as well as benefitting wildlife, in particular protected bats that forage in the surrounding fields. Housing development would lead to light pollution and harm wildlife. These affects are barely touched on in the application, typical of the dismissive approach to the countryside throughout.

We share the concern of residents at the impact of further population expansion on the limited local services. The primary school is oversubscribed, there is one community shop run by volunteers, a pub and a hairdresser. It is not sustainable to further expand residential provision in this area.

The density of the properties would appear high and provides very little provision for private outdoor space in the way of gardens. This is out of keeping with historic developments in the village, which have provided the reasonable garden space that is often expected by those living in the countryside. The outline plan is suggesting homes on three stories, which is out of keeping with the surrounding properties when entering the village.

There is no public transport available and residents are heavily reliant on motor cars for travel: to work and school/college, shop, attend doctors’ appointments, etc, etc. The absence of any alternative has led to serious parking problems in the village, particularly in rush hour and at school drop off and pick up times. There will not be sufficient parking in the proposed development to prevent overspill into already congested local roads. The village is relatively remote, and the additional journeys inevitably generated by this development, including by multiple deliveries of building materials etc, will harm North Somerset’s ambitions to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

In terms of adaptation to climate change, the Parish Council is extremely concerned at the recommendation of the Flood Risk and Drainage Assessment that new infrastructure be installed to discharge surface water and highways drainage into Winford Brook. This brook underwent a serious flooding event in 2012 at Chew Stoke and Chew Magna. To quote from the investigation into that event “during the floods of 2012, the prime source of flooding was from the Winford Brook and the River Chew. Both catchments respond rapidly to rainfall and this was exacerbated by saturated conditions for much of 2012, leading to an excess of surface water on the roads, insufficient drainage capacity to cope with the heavy rainfall and runoff from the agricultural land. Extremely intense rainfall falling on saturated catchments led to some of the highest river levels on record, causing widespread property flooding. This was exacerbated by flooding from the smaller tributary ordinary watercourses, from surface water runoff following pathways such as roads and from groundwater.” The application is silent on this matter and the Parish Council will be interested to read the comments of the Environment Agency once these are received.

Residents of the High Street and Chapel Lane are understandably extremely dubious that the surface drainage proposals will be adequately designed to protect them from additional flooding risk. The housing development on the Old Coach Station was severely delayed and suffered multiple cost overruns due to the unexpected and expensive problems presented by the underlaying geology of the area. At one point during that development, water was flowing unchecked onto the High Street for months, causing flooding, road closures and traffic chaos, as well as discoloured discharge into Winford Brook that the developers were required to direct elsewhere. The flood risk assessment seems to be entirely desk based and there has been no investigation such as the drilling of boreholes. We will expect the highways department and water authorities to take this into consideration in their comments.

There does not appear to be any evidence that there is demand for a communal work hub, and it appears to have been included merely to make the development more palatable to planners. Any users would almost certainly travel there by car, as would anyone attending meetings there, adding to the already overloaded parking demand. We refute the assumption of the transport statement that “it will predominantly attract local walk-in, cycle or bus trips and, furthermore, it will likely absorb some otherwise outgoing employment trips from residents of the proposed development.” There is no evidence provided to support this assumption, which is simply wrong in that there is no bus service at all. The application is also silent on how such a communal workspace would be managed or who would be responsible for maintaining it, and it is not apparent how such a remote “hub” could be economically viable when there would be no economies of scale. This looks like a white elephant in the making for which the owners (who?) will eventually apply for change of use.

The Parish Council is concerned at the lack of detail in the outline application, since a decision to develop such a sensitive area should be based on more than an indicative site plan. In particular, it is impossible to assess from the sketch outline of the proposed roundabout whether this would improve road safety at this junction as asserted. There does not appear to be any provision for pedestrians at this very dangerous corner.

If the land is to be sold as individual plots for either self build or development building, who will be responsible to supply services such as roads, power, drainage, communications and sewage, and be responsible for their maintenance? None of this is mentioned in the outline plans.

Should the recommendation be that the application is approved, the Parish Council will be asking, via the District Councillor Hugh Gregor, that it is called in for decision by the Planning Committee.