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Town council urged to stand up to housing developers

FROME Town Council has been urged to not ‘hold back’ when commenting on plans for housing developments and stand up to developers, as the town faces exceeding its housing target by over 2,200 houses. At a recent meeting, members of the public described councillors as ‘kowtowing’ to developers and said some schemes need to be objected to as a matter of principle. 

According to the town council’s planning & development manager, Jane Llewellyn, Frome could potentially exceed its housing target of 2,880 new houses for the 2006 to 2029 period by 2,218. 

Recent figures released by Mendip District Council, show that between 2006 and 2021, 2,282 houses had either been built in the town or had received planning consent – a shortfall of 598 houses. 

However, Jane Llewellyn estimates that a further 2,816 houses could be on their way – which includes 800 houses approved since 2021, and 2,016 houses yet to be considered by the district council. 

She also warned that Frome is starting to see an increase in more ‘speculative’ housing applications outside of the development boundary, as Mendip District Council cannot prove it has a 5-year supply of deliverable housing. As a result, she says this has made the district council’s Local Plan – which identifies sites for housing and employment development – ‘not valid’ and ‘weak’; putting the town at risk of applications for development outside the boundary. 

In response to the figures, during public questions at a recent town council meeting, a member of Frome Civic Society said she felt that the council has been ‘kowtowing’ to developers, asking them to make adjustments to their plans, rather than objecting to the plans outright. She also asked the council to ‘step up to the mark’ in a bid to stop houses being built for people that ‘don’t live in Frome or will work in Frome’. 

She said, “If a development is not sustainable, the town council should say no and force them to come back with a fresh application. 

“Can we up our game a bit, it’s not about shouting louder, it’s about arguing smarter. It’s about knowing the law, knowing the policies. It’s about knowing where we can make an objection if we feel there is an objection to be made.” 

She also encouraged the council to use the creation of the new unitary authority – Somerset Council, which comes into power next year – to ‘start a relationship of equals’, explaining that it feels like Frome is ‘punching below its weight’ at Mendip District Council, who, until next year, have the final say on all planning applications in the town. 

Local resident, Bill Lowe, who is a former planning officer for Mendip District Council said, “Some schemes need to be objected to on a matter of principle, rather than trying to make ‘the most of a scheme.” 

In response, cllr Rich Ackroyd disagreed that the town council have not been tough on developers, explaining that they have objected to developments, whilst demonstrating an ‘open mind’ by engaging with developers. 

However, the councillor did agree that the town council could be more ‘strong’ in their responses. 

Speaking at the meeting, former Mendip planning officer and local resident Bill Lowe, explained that the development pressure on Frome is a result of a building embargo on ‘Ramsar sites’ (wetlands of international importance) in the River Parrott and River Brue catchment areas. 

He said, “Developers can’t build in Shepton Mallet, Wells, Street, Bridgwater etc. Which throws the focus on Frome and East Mendip villages – they [developers] can’t build in the West of Mendip.” 

The town council had their first opportunity to ‘not hold back’ in response to a planning application at their next planning committee meeting, when they discussed plans for 150 houses on land on the western side of Marston Lane.

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