Fate of 54 new homes in growing Somerset town to be decided as appeal looms

Artist's impression of planned development at Underhill Farm in Midsomer Norton
Artist's impression of planned development at Underhill Farm in Midsomer Norton -Credit:Curo Enterprise Ltd.

Somerset councillors will decide next week whether to approve revised plans for more than 50 new homes in a growing town - or whether it will instead fight the plans at a public inquiry. The Curo housing association put forward plans in August 2022 to deliver 60 new homes (subsequently watered down to 54) on the Underhill Farm site on Orchard Vale, on the western edge of Midsomer Norton.

Somerset Council's planning committee east (which covers the former Mendip area) threw the plans out in November 2023, arguing it would put undue strain on local amenities and it was unrealistic to expect pupils to travel up to 11 miles away to the nearest schools within the council area. Curo submitted revised plans for the same number of homes in early-2024, with the same committee due to decide whether to grant permission on Tuesday afternoon (May 7).

It has also lodged a formal appeal with the Planning Inspectorate - meaning that the council will have to defend itself at an inquiry if it voted against the proposed development for a second time. While Midsomer Norton lies predominantly within the Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) Council area, this site (and others to the south) are under the control of Somerset Council, and are therefore subject to its planning policies.

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The site was originally allocated for development within the Mendip Local Plan Part II, which was approved in December 2021, but was subsequently struck from the plan following a successful judicial review - and has not been reallocated within a subsequent call for sites. Under the proposals, 26 and 28 Orchard Vale (which are currently in Curo's ownership) will be demolished to create room for the new access road into the site, being replaced with two of the 54 planned properties.

Of the 54 new homes, 16 will be affordable, meeting the council's 30 per cent target for any new development of ten homes or more in the former Mendip area. The development will not contribute any funding for schools or NHS services, with the council's education department and NHS Somerset arguing that their respective facilities have sufficient capacity.

Curo - which is currently constructing 198 homes at the Keyford Meadows site in Frome - said that they would withdraw their appeal to the Planning Inspectorate if the committee (and its counterpart on BANES Council) backed the amended plans.

A spokesman said: "One of our primary aims as a not-for-profit housing association is to contribute towards addressing the housing crisis in the south west. For this reason, we have opted to lodge an appeal.

"We believe the decision made by the local planning authority failed to take account of the acute shortage of housing in the former Mendip area and key aspects of the application relating to infrastructure. Initially, concerns were raised about local surgery capacity, but both Somerton House Surgery and St. Chad's Surgery are within the catchment area and are accepting new patients, according to the NHS website.

The revised plans for 54 homes
The revised plans for 54 homes

"Additionally, secondary school pupils travelling to school by bus was noted as an issue. However, this approach is consistent with other recent planning applications in Midsomer Norton, where it was deemed acceptable by both the local council and the planning inspector.

"We remain keen to work with both local authorities to secure permission for a revised application, which we had submitted before appealing. We hope to receive actionable planning permission from both Somerset and BANES, which would enable us to withdraw the appeal and continue to progress this application to avoid the additional time and costs that would otherwise be associated with an appeal for all parties."

Midsomer Norton has been subject to significant interest from housing developers in recent years, with large numbers of houses being approved in both the BANES and Somerset sides of the town. Two developments at the southern entrance to the town are currently in the early stages of construction - the Somer Meadows development of 270 homes on the A367 Green Park Road (which was approved in January), and the Cherry Blossom View estate of 75 homes off Beauchamps Drive (which was signed off in December 2023).

26-28 Orchard Vale in Midsomer Norton, which will be demolished as part of the proposals
26-28 Orchard Vale in Midsomer Norton, which will be demolished as part of the proposals -Credit:Google Maps

A decision remains pending on a further 190 homes on the eastern side of the A367, opposite the Somer Meadows site - though this land is no longer allocated within the Mendip Local Plan Part II. Somerset Council's planning committee east will debate the revised Curo proposals when it meets in Shepton Mallet on Tuesday (May 7) at 2pm.

The meeting will be live-streamed via Microsoft Teams for those unable to attend in person.