New homes near M5 services approved despite access and flooding fears

Dozens of new homes will be built near a service station on the M5 in Somerset - despite concerns about whether the site can be safely accessed. East Brent LVA LLP applied for outline permission to build 40 new homes on Old Bristol Road in East Brent, not far from the Sedgemoor services on the M5 (roughly halfway between Highbridge and Weston-super-Mare).

Sedgemoor District Council's development committee refused the proposals in August 2020, but this decision was subsequently reversed by the Planning Inspectorate following a successful appeal. Newport-based Edenstone Homes subsequently acquired the site and put forward amended plans for the same number of homes in February 2022.

After deferring a decision in March, Somerset Council's planning committee north voted to grant permission when it met on Tuesday afternoon (May 14) - though large numbers of councillors abstained from the final vote. The development site is classified by the Environment Agency (EA) as being in flood zone 3a - meaning there is at least a one per cent chance of it being flooded in the future.

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To counteract this, the outline plans proposed importing 30,000 cubic metres of soil to the site, raising the whole area by one metre. This proposed solution has now been abandoned, with Edenstone opting instead to install surface water pumps throughout the site which will move water away from the new homes in the event of heavy rain.

Access to the site will be from Old Bristol Road, crossing over Brock's Pill Rhyne, with a new footpath being provided to link the new homes to key services in the village. Under the amended proposals (known as reserved matters), 16 of the 40 homes will be affordable - the equivalent of 40 per cent, which is higher than the council's 30 per cent target for any new development comprising ten homes or more.

A total of 130 car parking spaces will be provided within the site, with an attenuation pond being provided at the northern end to further mitigate the risk of flooding. Numerous local residents raised concerns about the development when the planning committee north met in Bridgwater on Tuesday afternoon (May 14).

Jane Watkins said: "How do we know that these affordable homes units meet the national design standards? The minor adjustments [from the previous plans] still leave the remaining 75 per cent in a cluster.

"At no stage have I been consulted about the drainage or footpath. There is no riparian ownership drawing, and I do not accept sole responsibility for the maintenance of the rhyne on the west boundary."

Revised plans for 40 homes on Old Bristol Road in East Brent
Revised plans for 40 homes on Old Bristol Road in East Brent -Credit:Edenstone Homes

May Cardwell said: "The applicant has ignored the residents’ concerns about flooding. Our properties lie below the road level, and the council is no longer issuing sandbags.

"These amended plans don’t appear to have any serious thought going into them. They have done absolutely nothing to alleviate our concerns."

Mark Williams added: "There is still a question over the ownership of land to provide the permanent access to the development. The council's highways team has previously stated that they do not own the land to the south of the rhyne on Old Bristol Road, and therefore they will not adopt the road.

"There will therefore by 40-plus bins lined up on the road on collection dates, which may end up in the rhyne." Councillor Bob Filmer, whose Brent division includes the site, said that access issues surrounding the development should be sorted out before a single foundation was laid.

He said: "We could be in a situation where the site is built and cannot be occupied because this access issue cannot be resolved. This stalemate needs to be resolved before construction starts."

Councillor Brian Bolt (Cannington) agreed, stating: "Are we going to get into the same position here as at the Dunball services with the access issue? I don’t want us to shy away from this."

The council recently approved a request to scrap a planned second exit from the Dunball services in Bridgwater due to land ownership issues which date back to the construction of the M5 - leaving visitors with only one entrance and exit to the businesses therein. Planning officer Dawn re Vries responded that planning conditions were in place from the outline East Brent planning consent to ensure any access issues were resolved before the first homes were occupied.

Councillor Matt Martin, who chaired the meeting, said the Planning Inspectorate's decision regarding the outline consent had painted the committee into a corner. Mr Martin - whose King Alfred division borders the site - said: "We don’t get to choose whether or not we like a thing.

"There are rules we need to abide by." After more than an hour's debate, the committee voted to approve the plans by two votes to zero - with an astonishing seven abstentions.

Edenstone Homes (which recently secured permission to build 139 homes in the coastal town of Watchet) is expected to begin construction of the new properties by early-2025.