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Frome’s river path group ‘devastated’ by appeal decision

By local democracy reporter Daniel Mumby.

PUBLIC access to a riverside footpath has been thrown into doubt following a successful appeal by a developer. 

Family Sutton Solutions Ltd. applied for permission to build four new homes and an employment studio on land opposite The Retreat, sandwiched between the river and Frome railway station. 

The plans have drawn opposition from hundreds of locals, who fear it will lead tothe loss forever of a vital pedestrian linkbetween the Wallbridge and Adderwell areas of the town. The company lodged an appeal against Mendip District Council after the council’s planning board voted in February to delay a decision until new plans for the nearby buildings had been submitted. 

The Planning Inspectorate has now upheld this appeal – and said it would “not be necessary or reasonable” for the developer to provide the footpath as part of the planning permission. 

A formal application to recognise the footpath as a public right of way has been submitted to Somerset County Council. However, due to a large backlog in cases, it may take months or even years before a decision may be taken. 

Inspector Steven Rennie visited the site on July 5, publishing his final report on the Planning Inspectorate’s website on 17th August. 

He acknowledged the district council’s commitment in its Local Plant towards improving footpath links across the town – including the “River Frome corridor initiative”, which seeks to secure footpaths along the length of the river. However, he said the layout of the proposed development left this stretch of the river sufficiently open to allow future access – meaning it was not reasonable to demand the developer provide the right of way. 

He said in his written report, “Based on the current situation, it is my understanding from the evidence that there is no formal public right of way adjacent to the site. In this case the site area is set back from the river edge, allowing for a space that could be utilised for a footpath in the future, possibly as a formal public right of way, plus being a benefit for wildlife near the river. 

“By keeping that area adjacent to the river free from proposed development, then there remains space that could be utilised to improve access to the river corridor. 

“It would not be necessary or reasonable to require assurances of a public footpath via either a condition or legal agreement with planning obligations.” 

The council’s planning board delayed a decision in February until new plans for the demolition of existing barns near the site had been submitted. 

Steven Rennie said the council was free to take enforcement action against the developer for demolishing the buildings without permission, but the loss of the barns was not a sufficient ground for refusing the plans. 

Chloe Jones, who runs the Save River Frome Pathwaygroup on Facebook, has expressed deep disappointment in the inspector’s decision. She said, “It is tragic that we will lose this much-loved path which has provided so much space and peace to many over the years. “To say that I am devastated is an understatement.” 

This decision comes as the council’s planning board voted to allow the Acorn Property Group to push back the delivery of a neighbouring stretch of riverside path to June 2022, as part of the Old Print-works development.

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