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Mind the gap! Disbelief as council raise no objections to planning application, despite road being too narrow

RESIDENTS of an historic road in Frome have raised objections to plans for four new homes, expressing their disbelief at Somerset County Council’s failure to recognise that their road fails required safety standards to allow access for industrial and emergency vehicles.

Residents of The Retreat, claim that a highways officer from the county council was sent to investigate road access to the proposed housing development, but did not measure the width of the road, and is refusing to return to do so.

Former Mayor of Frome and founder of the Frome Festival, Martin Bax, who lives on The Retreat, says that the road at its narrowest point is 2.8 metres, falling short of the 3.7m required by statutory building regulations and confirmed by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Services.

Martin Bax wrote to Somerset County Council to complain about the “obstinate and graceless” approach of its highways development control officers, who are responsible for  assessing the impact of building proposals on Frome’s road system. He has now had a reply on behalf of the chief executive and the leader of the council supporting the Highways Department’s refusal to object to the development.

Martin said, “In addition to ignoring the safety requirements for emergency vehicle access, the highways officers are also discounting an alarming increase in accidents at The Retreat’s junction with the busy Wallbridge Road since the installation of new traffic lights to a nearby housing estate, and are taking at face value a seriously underestimated increase in traffic in The Retreat provided by the developers.

“Somerset’s highways department is refusing to protect lives – the most vital part of your responsibilities – by ensuring there is sufficient room for the emergency services to get through to the potential proposed new development.

“The proposal and the council officials’ response also takes no account of the safety of the large number of young children who use the road to meet, play and help make this such a friendly and rewarding community to live in.

“When we learnt that the highways officer hadn’t measured the width of the road, we naturally assumed that, being a responsible body, the mistake would be acknowledged, an apology offered and a second visit would be the automatic response to carry out this essential task.

“Instead of that, they have endorsed the failure of the original officer and seem not to care one whit whether a fire engine could potentially get through or not. We find this incredible and totally unacceptable and are now planning to ask the Local Government ombudsman to force Somerset County Council do its job.”

The residents have the support of their local Mendip Green Party councillor, Shane Collins, who said, “Due to the loss of workspace, loss of access to the River Frome, a road too narrow for fire engines, an increase in car use onto the busy Wallbridge Road and total local opposition, I have asked for this revised application to be called in and decided by the planning committee and note that the Frome planning advisory group has recommended refusal for the original and revised proposal.”

The residents are objecting to the plan to build four new houses in the private and historic road on the eastern side of Frome Railway Station for a number of reasons. As well as arguing that the narrowness and position of the road make it unsuitable and dangerous for such a scheme, they say that it will remove much-needed workshop space in the town, block access to a path along the River Frome, and overwhelm their small community.

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said, “Highway safety is a key priority for us and we have considered this matter very carefully. However, the site is already approved for commercial use and there is nothing to suggest the proposed residential units will lead to an increase in potential traffic. We also believe that emergency vehicles will be able to access the proposed development in the same way they would access the current commercial units if required. Therefore, there are not sufficient grounds for us to object to the planning application. A final decision on whether to approve the development will be made by the district council as the planning authority.”

The housing proposal will be considered by Mendip Planning Board shortly. To view the full application search 2017/3154/FUL in the planning search at www.mendip.gov.uk.

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