It’s widely considered the UK is experiencing a housing crisis; not enough homes drive up prices and reduces social mobility; fundamentally driven by a lack of stock and an increasing population. Although Somerset is considerably less worse off than other parts of the country, we still have our challenges. To encourage house building, the central government overseas a ‘National Planning Policy Framework’ that links the number of properties being built in each local authority area (in this case, Somerset Council) to the amount of funding each authority receives. The number of dwellings Somerset Council is targeted to build is then broken down by town/parish. The target for Shepton Mallet is to have just under 800 new properties to be built by the end of the decade. Where these should be built should be in line with Somerset’s ‘Local Plan’. For Shepton it’s the former Mid-Somerset showground and the former prison. If Somerset can’t show it has plans to allow the building of these homes, a central government planning inspector can allow a developer to develop elsewhere, potentially on a fringe, green-field site on the edge of town.

Six years ago, outline planning permission was granted to build 549 homes by a developer called CG Fry (who are relatively local, being based in Dorchester) on the former Mid-Somerset showground site. However, the permission didn’t allow one of the key targets set by Somerset Council to be achieved; that 30% of the houses should be designated ‘affordable’. In those last 6 years, the developer has been negotiating with Somerset to increase the density of the housing to achieve that aim. And two weeks ago, an updated outline planning permission was applied for 620 homes to be built at the site. This would increase the amount of homes in Shepton by 14%.

In its role as a consultee for planning matters, Shepton Mallet Town Council was asked whether we would recommend approval or rejection of the plans. Our opinion will then be taken into account by Somerset Council when they decide whether to give the developer the go-ahead and grant permission to develop. We met last week and decided to recommend approval; a good quality developer willing to provide up to 30% affordable housing in a space close to the centre of town is a good place to be. However the town council approved the plans subject to a number of conditions:

  • The proposed green space originally planned for the development is reinstated and given legal protection
  • Flood mitigation work is revisited to take into account recent flooding events and wider flood mitigation schemes elsewhere in town are implemented
  • Access is improved for multi-user paths to Collett Park and at the south of the proposed estate
  • Further clarification is provided on the type of affordable housing agreed in principle between Somerset Council and the developer
  • More evidence is provided for the size and type of care home proposed
  • Further detail is required about the size of school needed to alleviate concerns that other schools in town could be effected
  • Further land should be considered to be used to reduce the overall density of dwellings on the proposed development

You can watch the recording of the Full Council Meeting in which this was resolved, along with a presentation from a CG Fry representative here.