Somerset councillors urged to rethink plans for Frome social housing

  Posted: 19.11.20 at 11:50 by By Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Mumby

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More detail on that story about the land adjacent to Frome Cemetery.

Somerset councillors have been asked to think again over plans to deliver new social housing in Frome.

Mendip District Council’s cabinet voted in early-November to deliver around 160 new affordable homes across the district in a partnership with Aster Housing.

The cabinet believes the partnership will help to meet demand for low-cost housing and make the best use of underutilised patches of land.

But the council’s scrutiny board has asked the cabinet to think again – with the chairman of scrutiny resigning in protest at the lack of transparency surrounding the decision.

The cabinet voted on November 2 to transfer four parcels of land to Aster Housing to deliver new social rent and shared ownership homes, subject to planning permission.

The sites in question are:

Easthill in Frome (77 houses adjoining the cemetery and railway line)
Cemetery Lane in Street (33 houses adjoining the cemetery)
Cranhill Road in Street (29 houses on the western half of the existing car park)
North Parade in Frome (up to 17 homes on the rear part of the existing car park)
Norbins Road in Glastonbury (six houses on the existing car park, with access to St John’s School being retained)
Councillor Liz Leyshon, portfolio holder for corporate services and projects, said the new homes would provide safe accommodation at below-market rents for local families.

Speaking in early-November, she said: “Demand for social rent is up five percent in the past five months.

“That’s expected to rise dramatically as the effects of the covid pandemic are prolonged, and government interventions and economic assistance fall away.

“It’s essential that we step forward to meet demand. Everyone has the right to a home.”

The sale of the Easthill site was challenged by the scrutiny board when it met virtually on Monday evening (November 16), with several Frome residents criticising either the sale itself or the perceived lack of transparency.

Bharati Pardy said: “In early-October I heard from Councillor Kay, an acquaintance from Frome Choir, about this potential development on this land, as she had heard I had moved to live in this area

“An informal aside is not by any stretch of the imagination the degree of openness and transparency that Councillor Ros Wyke likes to claim is her party’s modus operandi.”

Simon Pugh-Jones, a science teacher at Mendip Studio School, added: “The natural world is being destroyed one field at a time, and I don’t think Mendip District Council should be taking a lead in that destruction.”

Denise Wyatt from the Somerset Independents group claimed the Easthill decision had been rushed through to ensure the council did not miss out on land release funding from the government.

The government announced in February 2018 that it would provide £826,000 to unlock sites for social housing in Mendip – of which £420,000 has been earmarked for the Easthill site.

Ms Wyatt said: “The main reason that the council are pushing for this site to progress so quickly, and without proper process and openness, is because they will lose funding.

“The council have had two years to spend this money. So why hasn’t it?

“It is now in a panic to spend the money by the end of December. So the environment and wildlife of Easthill is to be sacrificed and built on because of the incompetence of the council.”

Councillor Philip Ham resigned as chairman of the scrutiny board during the meeting, describing the situation as “absolutely ludicrous”.

He said: “We’ve had three scrutiny meetings where we’re supposed to be scrutinising what is going on.

“Stronger Somerset was a walkover, on the climate change strategy we couldn’t change anything, and then we’ve had this one, where we’re not allowed to change anything.

“The whole thing about scrutiny is to delve into what is going on behind the scenes – and it’s not happened. And on that note, I resign as chairman of the scrutiny board.”

The board voted to refer the Easthill decision back to the cabinet – which council leader Ros Wyke said she accepted “without hesitation”.

She elaborated: “I’ve always said we shouldn’t mark our own homework. I’ve always said people must come first, and that we would be a council that would leave no-one behind in how we make policy and how we implement decisions.

“My administration wants to listen and reflect – and that is a good thing. We welcome transparency, we welcome policy evolving – which is why we made a commitment to the first courageous social housing programme in two decades.

“There is a housing crisis – we need homes for local people. We need to end the record of nothing being done.”

The cabinet will meet virtually on November 26 at 6:30pm to discuss the Easthill site in detail, with the option to reverse its original decision.

Detailed plans for the North Parade homes are expected to come before the council’s planning board in the spring, with plans for the other sites following later in 2021.

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