Inspector throws out ‘car dependent’ village housing plans

A PLANNING inspector has dismissed an appeal by developers over plans to build 180 homes in a South Gloucestershire village.

More than 600 people objected to Bloor Homes’ proposed housing estate on four agricultural fields west of Sodbury Road in Wickwar.

South Gloucestershire Council opposed the application but the company lodged an appeal, prompting an eight-day public inquiry in October and November, which began with ward Cllr Adrian Rush presenting an 800-name petition against the plans.

A government-appointed inspector has now thrown out the scheme because it would be car dependent and cause visual harm to the landscape and a nearby Grade II-listed farmhouse.

In his report, published on Monday, David Prentis said: “My overall assessment is that the adverse effects of this appeal proposal would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.”

Council leaders have welcomed the decision and said it “protects a vital green space”.

Mr Prentis’s report said the development would “fail to preserve the setting” of the listed South Farmhouse and would “result in harm to its significance”.

It said that it was doubtful that a proposed local convenience store would be created and that the new residents would still travel elsewhere for shops, jobs, education, health services and leisure facilities.

The report said that despite investment from Bloor for a bus service, it would be loss-making and require a “significant level of public subsidy”, even if it was more frequent and had a more direct route.

Mr Prentis wrote: “The great majority of trips outside the village made by future residents of the appeal site would be made by car.

“I conclude that the appeal proposal would not contribute to the objective of limiting the need to travel.

“Nor would it offer a genuine choice of transport modes for destinations outside Wickwar.

“The proposal would be almost entirely car dependent, such that there would be no meaningful sustainable transport solution.”

Plans would have a ‘significantly harmful effect’ on area

His report said the development would “radically change the landscape character of the site” and have a “significantly harmful effect” on the Wickwar Ridge and Vale Local Character Area.

It said: “I consider that there would be significantly harmful visual impacts for those using the public rights of way network to the north west and west of the site, and from the vicinity of Frith Farm.

“There would be a marked change in the rural character of the views experienced and a reduction in the sense of remoteness.

“There would also be harmful visual impacts for those using Frith Lane and those approaching Wickwar along Sodbury Road.

“Sodbury Road is the main route into the settlement so the effects would be experienced by many people.

“I conclude that the proposal would harm the character and appearance of the area, in that it would result in significantly harmful landscape and visual effects.”

Mr Prentis judged that the council did have a five-year supply of land for housing, which previous planning inspectors have disagreed with when upholding recent appeals.

A map shows the fields at the southern end of Wickwar where the homes would have been built, marked in red. The green and white areas opposite the site are developments that already have planning permission.

South Gloucestershire Council cabinet member with responsibility for planning Cllr Chris Willmore (Lib Dem, Yate North) said: “This is brilliant news for the community – it protects a vital piece of land.

“I want to thank Cllr Adrian Rush, who campaigned for this result and presented the petition from residents, and all the residents. 

“I sat through much of the inquiry and saw the level of argument the developers were putting, and officers really did well.”

Cllr Rush (Lib Dem, Chipping Sodbury & Cotswold Edge) said: “This is wonderful news.

“In winning this appeal we’ve protected a vital green space and the village.

“I would like to thank all the residents who campaigned alongside me to deliver this result.”

Bloor Homes appealed to the Planning Inspectorate because the council missed a deadline to make a decision.

But councillors on two planning committees then agreed that they would have refused the application if they still had the power to do so, despite advice from officers to grant permission.

Members feared the development would extend the village southwards and that it could eventually merge with Yate, destroying the Wickwar’s village character.

They were also concerned about a lack of public transport and that local schools were full.

Bloor Homes’ barrister told the inquiry that consent should be granted because the local authority had failed to provide enough homes or affordable housing and that there was no prospect it would do so.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Top image: A picture from Bloor Homes shows what the new homes would have looked like under the plans.