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Latest from the Chamber – 17th April 2024

The 17th April full council meeting was busier than most: on the agenda was a response to the planning application for Selwood Garden Community, a proposed significant development of 1,700 houses, along with leisure, education and employment facilities, between Frome and Blatchbridge.

Toilets and CCTV

As always, the meeting opened with updates and questions and Town Clerk Paul Wynne confirmed that FTC were now responsible for the cleaning and maintenance of the Market Place toilet block. The toilets were in a worse condition than previously thought, but work was under way. CCTV provision, also agreed at the March meeting, was still in progress.

Food bank referrals

John Drake, Trustee of local charity Fair Frome, raised the issue that Somerset Council access points had abruptly stopped referring people to the food bank, this had followed on from the Frome Job Centre ceasing referrals earlier in the year due to a DWP directive citing GDPR issues. Citizens Advice Somerset continue to refer but do not have a face-to-face service except on Mondays. John and Fair Frome Coordinator Lenka Grimes appealed to FTC for help.  Paul Wynne confirmed that the council would help look into what could be done. Councillors are keen to investigate the matter urgently.

Critchill Court

Somerset councillor Martin Dimery shared another development that had come as a surprise, but in this case a good one – Frome care home Critchill Court, threatened with closure, will remain open with a new provider, Agincare, taking on the facility.

Cllr Dimery also shared a proposal to reduce the size of the Somerset Council planning committee from 13 to 11 members. Given the high interest in development around Frome, Cllr Dimery was of the strong opinion that the presence of Frome area councillors on the committee should be maintained, and that he is resisting the change.

Selwood Garden Community

Then to the main agenda item – Selwood Garden Community. Meeting chair Philip Campagna reminded the assembled company of the council’s protocol about being respectful of others’ views. In the event, the general tone of the discussion was very friendly and respectful, despite a range of views. Planning and Development Officer Jane Llewellyn, author of a report for the council ahead of a vote on FTC’s position, shared the main objections and queries from the community to date, including the loss of green space, how the developer could be held to their pledges for facilities, the issues with water and sewage provision and more. Additionally, if the development is to proceed, FTC would want to be the freeholder of any open spaces, see a policy of ‘local people first’ for buying homes, an increase to 40% of affordable housing, and the provision of sufficient Section 106 funding for health, education and leisure.

Cllr Steve Tanner, as chair of FTC’s planning committee, chaired the discussion for this agenda item and opened the floor to the general public.

Resident Lyn Sands of Stop SGC and Pat Smith from Frome Civic Society both expressed concerns that the developer would renege on pledges made, as they have done in similar developments, and that once approved, FTC would lack the authority to challenge them. Addressing FTC’s statement that the overarching development would result in better outcomes for the town than smaller, piecemeal developments, Lyn Sands stated that the Section 106 funding proposed by the developer was not pledged to materially enhance life for the existing community, but simply to mitigate the sheer number of additional people and traffic that would occur. Pat Smith praised the report, but wished to see more data to back up the objections, stating, among other things, that the concern about increased travel by car was a fact, not a risk, with the distance from the centre not conducive to active travel, and that this could be quantified to provide evidence for objection.

Jenny Raggett, a trustee of Somerset CPRE (Campaign to protect Rural England) backed up the previous speakers and also recommended an objection. She noted that the Selwood Garden Community Development was not in the local plan and therefore there was a lack of scrutiny and right to reply. Without inclusion in the plan, the impact of SGC and other developments was not assessed for its cumulative impact on biodiversity.

 John Clarke of FACLT (Frome Area Community Land Trust), asked the meeting to take a different view, given the housing crisis announced by FTC in 2023, and asked people to view the application in that context. Frome is expanding, and John Clarke suggested that we need to recognise and accept the opportunity SGC offers for providing more social housing to rent, despite the many challenges and the impact on infrastructure, which he agreed needed to be robustly addressed. Mr Clarke agreed with the recommendation for 40% affordable housing at SGC and suggested Somerset Council could use its powers to implement a local lettings policy at the site. Development, he asserted, relies on developers, and we have to work with them, although they must be held to account for the provision of education, employment and open spaces, not just homes, at any cost.

Chris Bennett of Selwood Parish Council, where the majority of the proposed site falls, thanked FTC and Grassroots LVI for their support to date and echoed the need to hold Wessex Water and the developer to account for any development at the site. People need homes, he said – but not at any cost. However, it is the view of Selwood Parish Council that development is inevitable, and that piecemeal development would lead to worse outcomes and accountability than SGC.

Summing up, Cllr Steve Tanner acknowledged the shared scepticism about developers fulfilling their pledges, citing the school and footbridge that residents of Edmund Park expected, that will not now be funded by the developer, and a lower delivery of affordable housing than they promised. Cllr Tanner reiterated the desire for FTC to have an active role in the implementation of Section 106 funding should the development proceed.

Jane Llewellyn confirmed the recommendation for FTC to object to the Selwood Garden Community application in its current form and told the meeting that additional concerns about Frome becoming a ‘dormitory town’ and data and statistics would be used to bolster the existing concerns in the report. The councillors present voted unanimously in favour of the recommendation.

The Frome Independent

The final item on the agenda was the Frome Independent’s request to change its status to a Community Interest Company (CIC) to allow access to new funding streams. Sustainability Manager Victoria Robinson took the meeting through the market’s origin and history, the value of markets to communities and the facts and figures of the Independent, including 60,000 annual visitors and an estimated contribution of around £2 million to the local economy. The council voted unanimously to approve the change of structure, provided that FTC and Somerset councillors had observer status at meetings, to continue their close working relationship.

Watch the full council meeting on YouTube at https://bit.ly/council-meeting-17apr24. A further Extraordinary Council Meeting is planned for Wednesday 1st May at 6.30pm, for a discussion about development of the Saxonvale site. Book a space at https://bit.ly/extraordinary-mtg-may24.

19 April 2024
Last Updated
23 April 2024
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