Somerset villagers ‘stabbed in the back for mere profit’ as developer tries to ax affordable housing near A39

Villagers in Somerset have been ‘stabbed in the back for pure profit’ by a property developer, a local councilor has claimed.

Strongvox Homes won permission in October 2020 to build 109 new homes on the Cricketer Farm brownfield site on the A39 Cannington Road in Nether Stowey, between Bridgwater and Williton. The Taunton-based developer has asked Sedgemoor District Council to stop providing affordable housing on the site, saying the development as approved is no longer viable.

Members of the council’s development committee voted Tuesday morning (April 5) to delay a decision on Strongvox’s request to give councilors more time to assess viability claims. Strongvox undertook a viability assessment of the site in 2021, concluding that the site could only be successfully delivered if the 16 affordable housing units contained in the original clearance were removed.

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Bill Richardson, Strongvox’s head of planning, told the committee when it met in Bridgwater on Tuesday April 5 that the cost of delivering the new junction with the A39 had “fallen from £440,000 to £1.1 million , with more to spend” since construction began. He added: “We have proactively engaged in discussions with officers and identified 16 plots which can be purchased by the council. [to develop as affordable homes].

“Currently, Homes England funding cannot be withdrawn while the provision of affordable housing is in the Article 106 agreement – which is now undeliverable.” Homes England grants are provided by central government to ‘unlock’ housing sites, whether by removing contaminated land and overgrowth (as at the Saxonvale site in Frome) or providing a new road link (as at the Brimsmore key site in Yeovil).

Plans for 109 houses on the site of Cricketer Farm on the A39 Cannington Road in Nether Stowey

The council can apply for this funding, but it does not have sufficient funds in its own reserves or in contributions from Hinkley Point C construction to deliver the 16 affordable homes on its own if the grant application is unsuccessful. Councilor Mike Caswell, whose Quantocks ward includes the site, said the developer’s excuse for the cost of delivering the new junction was “a red herring”.

He said: “Once again we have a developer looking to take away much needed affordable housing with no regard for local people and Sedgemoor Borough Council. Whoever built on this site should have brought these adjustments to the A39 We were stabbed in the back for pure profit.

“This is another case of getting planning permission and then doing whatever you want – which seems like an epidemic.” Councilor Kathy Pearce agreed: ‘To think the developer hadn’t planned enough to account for the motorway works – I find it impossible to support the app as is.’

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Councilor Alistair Hendry, however, argued that failure to allow the change could lead to potential legal action against the council. He said, “We don’t base our decisions [like this] on the value of a home or whether the developer will make a profit. As it stands, it’s not a big enough problem to stop that. Even if it’s not ideal, it should be.

“If we go against this today, it will make our housing stock problem worse and the developer will come back to us. It’s not ideal, but it’s acceptable.” A vote to remove all affordable housing from the development site was lost by four votes to nine.

After that, the committee voted nine to four to defer a decision to a future meeting to give councilors more time to consider the viability assessment. The council has not indicated how soon the plans will come back to the committee, with the next meeting due on May 3 – just before local elections.

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