Yeovil Urban Extension – Site Visit

By now, everyone will have realised that an american poet’s ashes are in the church of St Michael and All Saints and that John Craven can see Yeovil from the top of the church tower.

Those with a deeper interest in the evidence will know that within the next 20 years, Yeovil will have to grow beyond its current boundaries if our children and grand-children are to have homes to live in. Fortunately, we live in some of the finest countryside in England, surrounded by fantastic heritage and served by a fragile road system. Unfortunately that makes growth without pain impossible. Councillors are faced with the difficult decision of choosing a “least worst” option.

Cllr Oakes within the southern option site

On Tuesday 8th November a number of councillors carried out a site visit to areas within the two growth directions still being considered, south/southwest and northwest.

Whilst there are maps being published by campaigners showing more specific detail, ignore them. Most are fakes or older working drafts and all are irrelevant. Only the broad direction has to be decided now, the draft maps were produced to prove to Councillors (and the Planning Inspector) that these directions are viable options. The actual form of any growth will be decided by locals, much later in the planning process.

Councillors at Windmill Lane, Montacute

The visit involved travelling around the edges of the two areas being considered and also looking at them from key vantage points such as the ridge south of the Cokers and Ham Hill Country Park.

We also walked out into the sites to look at the lay of the land, its current uses and its relationship with neighbouring areas.
One of the many difficulties with any growth near Yeovil is the loss of agricultural land, the settings of the many historic sites, listed buildings and conservation areas. To be fair, this is true throughout South Somerset, we have 4,650 listed structures, 87 Conservation areas and 17 Historic Gardens! Click here to find out more.

Part of the North-West option

Many other factors have to be taken into account, including the effect on the road system in and around Yeovil and the effect on the A303, which is strategically important to the South-West peninsular. Transport choices will be particularly important in reducing congestion and in a world where oil and energy costs are rising.

Back in 2009, I initiated a study into whether the Urban Extension could be made to eco-town standards. Early indications are that this has a critical benefit in reducing the traffic throughout the rest of the town. It also means that fully 40% of any urban extension will be green-space, allowing high levels of protection to be provided for neighbouring areas, as well as securing quality in the new homes and employment.

On critical thing we must do is to ensure that all of the required infrastructure is delivered in a timely fashion and not piecemeal. Things like bin lorries and GP surgeries don’t just happen, someone has to pay. More studies have been started and we have decided to allow more time to complete those, putting the final decision on direction back into spring.

As you can probably tell from the serious faces in the pictures above, this will be a very difficult decision … but we will do our best.

After the Election Part 2 – the way forward

Thursday 19th May saw the first meeting of South Somerset District Council.

We chose Ric Pallister to be Leader of the Council and he has made me a Cabinet member with the “Regulatory and Democratic Services” portfolio to look after. (The SSDC Press Release can be seen here and the full list of appointments is here).

John Richardson, your other Ward Councillor, was elected to the important Audit Committee. This committee makes sure that taxpayers money is spent wisely and that it is all accounted properly.

Of course, for both of us these are distractions from our primary task, which is to ensure that Brympton residents are looked after and that their voice is heard. That is the real honour, being elected as Brympton’s representatives.

A better (low carbon) future for Yeovil

A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by BBC Radio. We started recording outside on the cycle path which was once the bed of a Victorian high-speed rail link – Yeovil’s always been a town of leadership in technology. Travel one way and the path takes you to Pittards with it’s specialist leathers. The other direction takes you past AgustaWestland, Boeing and BAE Systems to Screwfix, Silverline and many other leading companies, yet sat here, in the middle of town, is Foundry House.

We went inside because the BBC likes its interviews to have “ambience”. Walking on crushed glass and echoing our way through the empty ground floor, I explained that the building had been listed after a public campaign to save this iconic glove factory. That had constrained the Council’s plan for regenerating the town centre but we had still found a way to launch work, in the depths of a recession. We had persuaded the Department for Communities and Local Government that we could create a town centre regeneration project, centred on a listed building and achieving the very highest standards of energy efficiency. In turn, they had agreed to grant-aid the project provided we threw the doors open and showed the world how it was to be done.

The development has been scaled back slightly … it turned out the Minister didn’t actually have the money to give away! It also turned out that the site was a contamination nightmare and so we ended up without affordable housing in this phase. Nonetheless, The Glove Factory remains a bold statement, a success when others are failing. Hopefully entrepreneurs will see that Yeovil has heart and confidence … and bring their business investment here.