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Easthill Field victory in sight

The fight to save a green space in Frome could soon be over after the leader of the district council suggested the land could be withdrawn from housing plans.

Mendip District Council’s cabinet voted in early-November 2020 to build more than 160 new homes across five sites in a partnership with Aster Housing – including up to 77 homes on the Easthill site in Frome.

The council’s cabinet voted to “pause” the Easthill element of the plans in late-November following a backlash from local residents, who want the site to be preserved as an asset for the whole community.

Council leader Ros Wyke has now indicated that her Party (currently the largest on the council) is “minded to withdraw support” for any housing scheme on the site – meaning the land can be protected.

The council’s cabinet is expected to make a final decision on the matter after the local elections in May.

Cllr Wyke laid out the intentions of her Party in an email to the Friends of Easthill Field campaign group on Sunday 21st March 21.

She said, “Following a review of land at Easthill, Frome, the Liberal Democrat group are committed to retaining the site in council ownership for use as cemetery extension land.

“We are, therefore, minded to withdraw support for any further development of the exploratory plans to develop the land as a potential site for the social and affordable housing programme. This position was taken in recognition of strong local concerns about the site’s ecological importance.

“We are grateful to the residents of Frome who shared their concerns with us and we want to make it clear that we’ve listened to all views.”

Cllr Wyke said the decision would still have to be taken through the proper democratic channels, but reassured residents that the Party would not go back on this decision.

She stated, “For clarity, as things stand, this position is not one of a temporary nature, but one that will be maintained for the entire duration of this current administration.

“We will continue to work to improve the supply of much-needed social and affordable housing for the people of Mendip.”

The remaining Frome site, which will be taken forward by Aster (planning permission pending) is at North Parade (up to 17 homes on the rear part of the existing car park).

Bharati Pardhy of the Friends of Easthill Field has welcomed the news through posts on the group’s official Facebook page.

She said, “Since the Liberal Democrats are the ruling group and the Cabinet is entirely made up of their councillors, the vote seems likely to be in favour of dropping all plans to develop Easthill.

“We are cautiously optimistic at this fantastic new development in the campaign to save Easthill.

“The cabinet vote comes as a direct result of our campaigning, along with cross-party support within the council.

“We are fully committed to continuing to work to secure Easthill for nature and for the community of Frome and Mendip and to work to safeguard it in perpetuity.”

The group previously attempted to secure the Easthill site as an asset of community value – which proved unsuccessful after the council ruled the bid did not meet the necessary criteria.

The council said a formal decision would not be taken until the end of May due to the local elections due to take place on May 6th.

During this pre-election period – formally known as purdah – councils are restricted on announcing any new policies or spending, lest it should prejudice or influence the outcome of the vote.

A spokesperson said, “The statement by the Lib Dem group that they are minded to withdraw support for any further development of the exploratory plans to develop the land at Easthill, Frome, for social and affordable housing, has been noted by the council.

“Any such action will need to go through the usual, formal channels to be officially and democratically determined.

“Given the announcement, an item will be listed on the forward plan and the agenda for the first available cabinet meeting following the pre-election period, on Wednesday 26th May 2021.”

Picture: The Easthill site in Frome by Bharati Pardhy.

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