Congresbury Residents Action Group (CRAG) was angry but determined to fight on this week after North Somerset Council betrayed the village and decided to approve a new building scheme.
Most of the council’s planning committee followed the u-turn by officers and agreed to the proposal for 50 houses on land off Wrington Lane, Congresbury.
Despite passionate, well-informed arguments from local councillor Tom Leimdorfer and CRAG members Susan Hibberd and Peter Walton, a majority of the committee followed the party line and approved the scheme.
As CRAG members pointed out, strong arguments for refusing the application had already been made by council officers before their change of heart. Those included a sub-standard highway with a junction onto the busy A370 and Kent Road, frequent flooding and the threat to the existence of the rare breeds farm next to the site.
Mr Leimdorfer said the application from land agent Gladman should be turned down because the proposal for up to 50 houses was twice the recommended density for a site of that size; there was a rocky mound on the site that can’t be built on; a previous scheme for the site had been withdrawn because it was considered unsuitable.
And he quoted the council’s landscape reasons for originally rejecting the scheme: “The proposed development by reason of its scale and location, which is on an elevated field with wide views of the river Yeo valley and hills beyond to the north and south, will transform the appearance of the site and result in an encroachment of the built-up area in to the countryside.
“The position, scale and extent of the proposed development will have a significant urbanising effect on its rural location and when taken cumulatively with other developments will erode this rural character.”
With a truly spectacular volte face, the council now contends: “it is possible to develop this site as an extension to this part of the village and not seriously harm the rural character and setting of the village. Any adverse effects would be localised and limited in their extent and the proposed development would not give rise to any unacceptable landscape and visual harm.”
Mr Leimdorfer pointed out that he did not oppose all planning applications – he and several neighbours had supported a scheme on an adjoining field.
Clevedon Cllr David Shopland said that the committee should be consistent and reject the application, but with interventions from Richard Kent and Councillor ap Rees, the Tory majority won the day and the scheme was approved 12 votes to 8 with five abstentions. The firm of land agents had agreed to include “up to” 30 per cent affordable houses in the plan. Mr Leimdorfer successfully moved an amendment to remove the words “up to” so that the developers are tied to the figure of 30 per cent.
After the hearing at Weston Town Hall attended by around 15 members, CRAG chair Mary Short said: “We are very disappointed with the result. It seems odd that because of a last minute road amendment, the officers have dropped their original objections.
“We are certainly not giving up the fight because CRAG believes that one scheme for 38 houses in that corner of the village is quite enough. Wrington Lane is obviously not suitable for current traffic demands let alone an estimated increase of at least 60 per cent.
“I really cannot understand these councillors. If the developers have not proved their case – and they clearly hadn’t – councillors should have voted against,” said Mary.
Now CRAG is looking at the possibility of taking on Gladman at a public inquiry.