Hundreds of homes to be built on the green belt in Bath after council approves core strategy
Politicians from all parties have put aside their differences to pass a council planning blueprint which will see hundreds of homes built on the green belt near Bath.
Bath and North East Somerset Council met last night at the Assembly Rooms to vote through its core strategy, a document which outlines how the area will develop over the next 16 years.
It includes controversial plans to build 600 houses on protected land in Odd Down and Weston.
Councillor Tim Ball (Lib Dem, Twerton), the council’s cabinet member for homes and planning, accepted that the plans were not ideal, but said the authority had tough decisions to make after the Government pressed it to find more sites for housing.
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He said: “It has been a challenge to identify suitable locations, there are no easy sites.”
The new core strategy, which will be put to an independent planning inspector later this year, now contains proposals for 12,700 new homes up to 2029.
These include 300 on the land between Odd Down and South Stoke, 300 on land near Primrose Hill in Weston, 120 on an extension to the Ensleigh Ministry of Defence site, which takes in the Royal High School’s playing fields, and hundreds more on sites in Keynsham, Whitchurch and the Somer Valley.
Council leader Paul Crossley (Lib Dem, Southdown) added: “What is absolutely crucial is that we need to send a clear message to the inspector that this council is ready to answer the questions he asked us and is ready to go with a plan for 12,700 houses spread across the authority.”
The reworking of the core strategy came about after a Government inspector criticised the local authority’s previous projection that it only needed 11,000 new homes.
Opposition members admitted they were unhappy with some aspects of the core strategy, but said they wanted to pull together to make sure the authority had its vital blueprint.
Leader of the Conservatives Councillor Francine Haeberling (Con, Saltford) said that without a core strategy there would be a “planning free-for-all” with unauthorised development across the region.
She said: “We feel we have no choice but to support the general points of the core strategy, albeit very reluctantly.”
A Conservative amendment to put new land in the green belt in exchange for building on other sites was accepted.
There were a number of public speakers, with the vast majority raising concerns about development on the sites in Odd Down and Whitchurch.
Robert Hellard, vice-chairman of South Stoke Parish Council, said there were many reasons why the Odd Down site should not be included, including the fact that it was in the green belt and much of it was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
He said: “We ask you now to remove this Cotswold Plateau area from your list of potential development sites.
“Failure to do this will inevitably lead to the ruin of South Stoke as a village and set a precedent which would allow a Green Field First policy to be pursued here and in other green belt or AONB zones around our World Heritage City.”
This view was backed by Councillor Neil Butters (Lib Dem, Bathavon South), who voted against his party because he said he had to listen to the views of his constituents.
He said: “I do of course appreciate the need for more housing, but as the local ward councillor I must listen to local opinion, which in this case is overwhelming.”
Councillor Colin Barrett (Con, Weston) spoke out against the development in his area, raising the issue of potential flooding problems.
He added that the people of Weston were not Nimbys, but just did not believe it was a suitable site.
Chief executive of the Bath Preservation Trust Caroline Kay warned the council about the dangers of proposing house-building on green belt land on the outskirts of the city.
She said: “After all, if we do not respect AONB, green belt and conservation designations for the UK’s only whole-city World Heritage Site, is any green location safe?”
A core strategy consultation will now be launched later this month, with a range of surgery events running from March 26 to May 8.
During that time people will be able to give their views online by going to www.bathnes.gov.uk/corestrategy.