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Frome river footpath still at risk

The future of a footpath along the River Frome is in the balance after a developer seeking to build near the river, lodged an appeal.

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 to a vital pedestrian link between the Wallbridge and Adderwell areas of the town being lost forever.

Mendip District Council’s planning board voted in February to defer a decision on the plans, demanding that the application submit retrospective plans to demolish the neighbouring barns.

The developer has now lodged an appeal against the council – meaning it could be harder to secure the right of way in future.

The appeal has been lodged on the grounds of non-determination – in other words, the developer argues that the council took too long to come to a decision.

In a letter to the Planning Inspectorate, Planning Sphere director Chris Beaver (representing the applicant) argued that demolishing the barns had been necessary and that the site already benefited from a previous planning application, granted in 2018.

He said, “The council has not been able to make a decision on the appeal application despite considerable effort on the part of the appellant to address matters that have been raised.

“The demolition [of the barns] was necessary for health and safety reasons to enable an intrusive site investigation to take place.

“Throughout the appeal planning process, councillors and third parties have conflated the putative footpath matter with the determination of the application.”

In addition to lodging the appeal, the Sutton family have put forward a new application to legitimise the barns’ demolition.

If the family wins the appeal, they will be free to proceed with the redevelopment of the site – without having to make any promise or honour any condition surrounding access to the disputed footpath along the river, say campaigners.

Chloe Jones, who runs the Save River Frome Pathway group on Facebook, called on the council in mid-February to stop the developer from “privatising the pathway and obstructing a potential green corridor”.

She said: “Many children who live here have learned to swim, fish and canoe on the river. How would you feel, how would your children or grandchildren feel, if that pathway were to suddenly disappear, with a large fence being put in its place?”

Frome residents have applied to Somerset County Council to secure the footpath as a formal right of way, including it on the council’s definitive map of all public rights of way across the county.

However, the county council has a substantial backlog of such applications – meaning it could take years until a decision is made.

Mr Beaver stated in February that the Sutton family would be willing to keep the path open on an informal basis if planning permission was granted, pending the outcome of the right of way application.

The Planning Inspectorate has confirmed that the appeal will be conducted through written representations rather than staging a virtual public inquiry.

Anyone wishing to make a formal representation to the inspector should visit www.acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk, quoting reference number 3272329, by June 15.

Picture: Proposed site of new development near The Retreat in Frome. Photo by Daniel Mumby.

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