The Chair to advise the Committee of any items on which members of the public have requested to speak and advise those members of the public present of the details of the Council’s public participation scheme.
For those members of the public who have submitted any questions or statements, please note, a three minute time limit applies to each speaker and you will be asked to speak before Councillors debate the issue.
Temporary measures during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Due to the Government guidance on measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19), we will holding meetings in a virtual manner which will be live webcast on our website. Members of the public will still be able to register to speak and ask questions, which will then be read out by the Governance and Democracy Case Manager during Public Question Time and will either be answered by the Chair of the Committee, or the relevant Portfolio Holder, or be followed up with a written response.
The following letter was submitted in respect of Item 7 on the Agenda
Dear Councillor Wren
I have been asked by a group of local businesses, all involved with the development and construction industry in the district, to write to Somerset West and Taunton Council to register their concerns over the action the Council have recently taken regarding the non-determination of planning applications.
We have been advised by your officers, that following a notice from Natural England regarding elevated phosphate levels in the watercourses of the Somerset levels, that planning applications relating to residential and commercial development will for the foreseeable future, not be determined.
This notice was issued with no consultation or any lead in period to allow developers, architects or planning consultants to make contingency plans or make representations before the planning system was effectively closed down.
Within a period of six weeks of planning “lock down” so far, we are feeling the effect of this action, with a number businesses already having to make staff redundant and make enforced pay cuts. We are all having to deal with the challenges that BREXIT and COVID has created, however, this issue is and will continue to have a direct and significant effect on our local economy and local businesses. We are at the front end of this situation, but very soon the consultants, the sub-contractors and suppliers we use, will also feel the effect. There are a significant number of small builders who may be unaware of this situation, who will also soon see their workload dry up as their clients planning applications do not get processed. This will, very quickly affect many hundreds, if not thousands of local jobs.
Having undertaken some research in to the issue of rising phosphate concentrations in the Somerset levels, it appears that this issue has been known about for many years and Somerset West and Taunton Council were made aware of this earlier in the year. Which begs the question, why has the door closed immediately on determining planning applications. Looking at Wessex Water’s five year plan, in their Green Prospectus, they have been planning and are now putting in measures to improve the quality of water leaving their sewerage treatment works. Why is it, Wessex Water apparently have years to address this issue, though the planning system is shut down overnight. We had no prior warning, consultation, nor time given for architects, agents or developers to consult, discuss options and possibly implement improvement measures to improve the current and future quality of the water in the Somerset levels. If Wessex Water, Natural England and the Environment Agency had been consulted during the making of the Local Plan, one would have expected that they should have planned for the growth in housing and jobs in the area. If not, then should they not have raised this issue and their concerns at the growth of housing within the county, at that time?
We also understand that, whilst in theory, if mitigation measures are the way forward e.g. on-site package treatment plants, nutrient neutrality assessments, etc. We understand that Natural England have decided that some options are not acceptable. How are we supposed to overcome this issue? The more strategic and wider mitigation plans, that we have been informed are being considered, are going to take a considerable period of time, months if not years to implement, leaving us with no solution to this immediate issue.
The local development and construction industry are reliant on the construction of homes and commercial and public property, we cannot readily look beyond the county in which we operate. It takes months if not years to find development land, negotiate legal agreements and submit planning applications and then many more months/years to secure a planning permission. The larger regional and national developers have the ability, to switch their resources to other regions. Unfortunately, we do not have that ability.
Whilst the Somerset levels are important to us all, so too are the thousands of jobs and livelihoods relying on construction and development in the county. We urge you to immediately review your stance on the determination of planning applications (whether full, S73, or RMA), the discharge of conditions, signing section 106 agreements and also the mitigation measures that can be employed to reduce the impact of phosphates in the Ramsar catchment area.
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this situation with the appropriate parties to find solutions to enable the development and construction industry to continue working in Somerset.
Mark Thomas, Acorn Developments Ltd., Chris Winter, Cherwyn Developments Ltd.,
Colin Graves, Gadd Properties Ltd., GTH Land and Planning,
Andy Lehner, Otter Construction Ltd., Jonathan Scanlan, Reed Holland Architects,
Ed Khodabandehloo, Summerfield Developments Ltd., Andy Lehner, West of England Developments Ltd.,
Robin Upton, WYG
Lori Busch, Charity Manager of the Mankind initiative made the following submission in respect of item 12 on the agenda.
Please note the response below to my email earlier today at 3:41am stating that I had only just found out about the future of the historic building Flook House being on the agenda for tonight through an article in the Somerset County Gazette.
I wish to put on record my formal complaint about the response as well as the fact that we have not had the opportunity to make formal representations or speak at the scrutiny panel meeting tonight. This makes myself personally and the members, employees and trustees of charity feel that we have been disenfranchised from democratic process.
There is a public expectation that that those impacted will be involved in the process however it appears that this has been pushed through during lockdown with no public scrutiny or tenant involvement.
Flook House is also mentioned in historical documents stating that John Trenchard MP resided there during the election of 1715 and was the site of many weddings, and registrations of births and deaths while it was the registry office.
It therefore beggars belief that this council is happy to wilfully let historic buildings fall into disrepair through lack of maintenance and then vote to demolish them, removing yet another part of Taunton’s history.