Adam Boyden

Mendip District Councillor for Frome College ward and Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Somerton & Frome Learn more

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Planning referrals at the Commerce Park retained

by adamboyden on 27 October, 2019

An official proposal was put to Mendip District Council’s Planning Board on 16th October in item 6 (see reports here) to remove the automatic referral of planning applications to the Planning Board in areas D, E and J of the Commerce Park. If passed, this would mean applications for development there would no longer always be determined by Planning Board, reducing the ability of local residents living near the Commerce Park to have their say on future developments there in front of councillors, and potentially reduce the level of scrutiny applied to proposals.

I wrote a letter with fellow cllrs Drew Gardner and Janine Nash, and with the support of the Coalway Lane Residents Association (CLRA) had it delivered to hundreds of residents, to warn them about what was proposed. Dozens of people responded to the Planning Board, I wrote a strongly worded objection, and Drew and Janine gave impassioned speeches at the Planning Board meeting along with Tom Hill from the CLRA.

In a victory for the local community, Mendip’s Planning Board unanimously rejected the proposal. We helped persuade every Board member to reject the proposal. As Drew and I said, the current arrangements work well for residents. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” (or don’t break it!).

My objection is below in full:

Dear colleagues, I wish to object to the proposal in item 6.

Currently and since 2009, planning applications for development in the zone closest to the residential boundary (Areas D, E and J of the Commerce Park Masterplan) are automatically referred to Planning Board for determination. This followed on from an apparent undertaking by the Council when the Commerce Park was granted outline planning permission in 2004 for all applications for development to be decided by the Planning Board.

I, the Council and residents accept that the Commerce Park site is generally suitable for the type of development it was granted outline permission for. However the Council is also aware that applications for business park type developments in this area have the potential to affect residents’ amenity and quality of life, such as through noise or other emissions. As the outline permission has now lapsed, detailed applications will come forward for plots that do not need to comply with the conditions imposed on the outline application, and each will need to be considered on its merits. The site also sits across the ward boundary, located in Beckington & Selwood ward, while the residents along the south western boundary are within Frome College ad Frome Berkley Down wards. 

The current system means applications here are subject to additional scrutiny at Planning Board, when the officer’s report on an application, together with consultation responses and the merits and impacts of the development and means of controlling these, are debated in public by councillors who will consider officers’ recommendations and residents’ comments before making a decision. This is over and above the scrutiny by the case officer and any consultation responses which form the officer’s report.

That there is an additional level of scrutiny for this site, was a principle accepted when outline permission was granted for the Commerce Park in 2004, and in 2009. Residents are reassured that this additional work is in the public interest as they and ward councillors have an additional chance to have their say at Planning Board about developments that could affect their quality of life. You will see evidence of this from emails from a number of residents in the last few days.

The proposal before you seeks to remove this process. This effectively ‘breaks a promise’ given previously by the Council to residents in this area, most recently in 2009.

Removing this process would reduce the level of scrutiny applied to these applications. District councillors for Frome College and Frome Berkley Down wards, and residents in those wards, will be less aware of developments in this area, as they are unlikely to be notified of the applications due to distance and topography as residents are unlikely to be directly adjacent to the application boundary (due to the intervening noise bund) and consultation is at the discretion of officers. Residents and councillors could (as I have been advised) set up email alerts to be informed of applications but these are informal and have no status in the process.

Applications could only be referred to the Planning Board if the ward councillor for the site itself (Beckington & Selwood ward) requested it (by Frome ward councillors on behalf of Frome residents) and their request was accepted by the Chair and Vice Chair. Such requests are sometimes refused. The ward member for Beckington & Selwood is not accountable to, and may not be known by, the residents of Frome College and Frome Berkley Down wards.

The report states that automatic referral could cause delay to decision making and that this could be detrimental to businesses looking to relocate to or expand within the Commerce Park. I have asked the officer for details and evidence as none are referred to.  I assume that the time taken to determine an application automatically referred to Planning Board could take 2 or 3 weeks longer compared to an application that was determined by officers, but could take less officer time to process when compared to an application going to a ward member for referral and then on to the Chair and Vice Chair of the Board if that referral was successful. It seems unlikely that an applicant would be deterred from submitting an application by this minor administrative process, and we are not aware of any developers that have actually been deterred.

There seems little if any justification for making this change now, particularly as the only substantial parts of the site remaining undeveloped are in this zone and it is now that the residents need the additional scrutiny of Planning Board to remain in place.

I ask that members of the Planning Board will reject the proposal and maintain the current arrangements in the interests of local residents’ amenity and an open and transparent development management process.

Thank you,

Adam Boyden, Mendip District Councillor, Frome College ward

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