Planning news and Rode village being asked to take "significant levels" of new homes due to "out of date" policies

By Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter

25th Jan 2023 | Local News

A new drain being put in near Rode in 2021: Photo Somerset Rivers Authority
A new drain being put in near Rode in 2021: Photo Somerset Rivers Authority

Rode village is being asked to take "significant levels" of new housing due to local planning policies being seen as "out of date".

Waddeton Park Ltd. applied in January 2021 to build 49 homes on Church Lane in the village of Rode, located between Frome and the Wiltshire border.

Mendip District Council refused permission for the plans in August 2021, citing concerns about building in open countryside and harm to the village's historic character.

A public inquiry to settle the matter got under way on Tuesday morning (January 24), with the Planning Inspectorate's final ruling expected to be published in the spring.

The site lies on the northern side of Church Lane, a short distance from the busy A361 between Frome and Trowbridge.

The bulk of the housing would be constructed at the eastern end of the site, near the existing properties on Bradford Road, while the western end of the site will be given over largely to public green space, including an orchard and new allotments.

The council refused permission in August 2021 through the delegated powers of its planning officers, rather than a public decision by its planning board.

Julie Reader-Sullivan, the council's head of service for planning and growth, identified five reasons for permission being refused – namely:

  • The site is located in open countryside, in a village which has "limited capacity to accommodate further housing"
  • The development would result in an "unacceptable degree of visual encroachment" into the countryside and cause "harm to the rural character" of the village
  • The development would harm nearby grade two listed buildings and damage the Rode conservation area
  • The developer has provided "insufficient information" on how it would prevent surface water flooding
  • No legal agreement has been provided to secure contributions to local schools and health services

Rode has been prone to surface water flooding for many years, especially the Old Brewery Lane area due to its proximity to an open section of the main culvert which runs through the village and discharges into the River Frome.

The Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) attempted to make numerous improvements in the village in November and December 2022, including the repair of existing culverts and the creation of a new attenuation pond upstream of Old Brewery Lane, not far from the Church Lane site.

Planning inspector Yvonne Wright opened the virtual inquiry on Tuesday morning (January 24), hearing opening statements from both the developer and the council ahead of a planned site visit.

Thea Osmund-Smith, representing the developer, contended that the recent judicial review against the council – which removed five development sites between Frome and Midsomer Norton from its Local Plan Part II – meant the authority's planning policies could no longer carry any genuine weight.

She said: "It [the judicial review] put a further dent in the housing land supply. The five removed sites don't have any presumption in their favour for development – the Local Plan Part II could now be called an incomplete document.

"Policies which are out of date are out of date regardless of whether there is a five-year land supply.

"It's not about whether the settlement has reached its allocation and therefore its doors are closed; it's about whether the settlement can accommodate further housing."

Each site within the Local Plan is allocated for a minimum number of homes, with the overall housing target for the district being a minimum, rather than an upper limit.

 Nikki White, one of the council's planning officers, said both parts of the Local Plan remained legally binding in spite of recent decisions.

She said: "Our policies set out a hierarchy of growth for the district, which focuses on the five main settlements [Frome, Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet, Street and Wells].

"There isn't a five-year land supply, so this policy has reduced weight. But it still conforms to national guidance – it's been tested in Mendip quite a lot, and other planning inspectors have reiterated it still has significant weight."

Councillor Barbi Lund, who represents Rode and Norton St. Philip, said that the village's lack of amenities made it an unsustainable choice for further housing on this scale.

She said: "We need to see this within the context of all policies. The housing numbers [in the Local Plan] may be a minimum, but development within open countryside has to be strictly controlled.

"Rode is not suitable for significant levels of growth beyond that which it has already experienced."

Ms Wright's final ruling on the plans will be published on the Planning Inspectorate's website later in the year.

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