In January 2021 an application was made to Mendip District Council (MDC) to build 49 houses on land abutting Clay Lane and Church Lane (known as “Barbara’s Field”).
The application was unanimously opposed by Rode Parish Council (RPC), and over 160 villagers wrote to MDC objecting to the development. There were no letters of support.
In August 2021 MDC, the local planning authority, turned down the application, citing several material reasons for refusal, which can be summarised as follows:
- The site is in open countryside, would result in an excessive quantum of development, and the harm caused by the development would demonstrably outweigh the benefits;
- The proposal would result in an unacceptable degree of visual encroachment into the countryside and harm the rural character of the site;
- Public benefits that would outweigh the harm to nearby listed buildings and the Rode Conservation Area have not been demonstrated.
Additional reasons for refusal related to the absence of an adequate surface water drainage strategy, and no legal mechanism to secure contributions to local services, etc.
The applicant decided to appeal that decision and submitted a revised application. This was substantially the same as the original, albeit the proportion of affordable homes was increased from 30% (15 houses) to 40% (20 houses). The applicant believed that the development had a number of merits (providing affordable and age-restricted homes; much of the existing Brown’s Ground would be open to the public, offering health and wellbeing benefits for the community; enhancing biodiversity). They also believed that the benefits of the proposal would outweigh the impact on the landscape and nearby heritage assets.
An appeal hearing was held in January 2023, attended by representatives from RPC.
The result of the appeal was published on Friday 21st April 2023, with the Inspector dismissing the appeal. The grounds for dismissal were fairly wide-ranging, and are supportive of both MDC’s original refusal, and Rode Parish Council’s submissions.
In particular, the Inspector found that:
- The proposal would result in an excessive amount of unplanned development in Rode;
- It would conflict with MDC’s spatial strategy, and would be contrary to several critical MDC planning policies (eg: Core Policies 1, 2 and 4);
- The proposed development would adversely harm the existing openness of the site, and would represent an intrusive form of development into an undeveloped rural site, resulting in the permanent erosion of open countryside;
- It would harm the setting of a heritage asset (The Old Rectory on Bradford Road).
The Inspector acknowledged that the development would bring a number of benefits, but concluded that “the accumulation of harm significantly and demonstrably outweighs the benefits of the proposal.”
The full decision document is available on the Planning Inspectorate website (search for Appeal Reference 3292838), and on the Somerset Council website: https://www.somerset.gov.uk/planning-buildings-and-land/ (go to “view and comment on a planning application”, check you are in the “Mendip” section of the website, then search for the original application reference: 2021/0071/OTS).