Plans to redevelop the Welton Bibby and Baron factory site have been labelled ‘broad’ and ‘purely speculative’ by B&NES’ Planning Officers.
The decision to turn down the planning application which included 200 new homes, a convenience store, pub, budget hotel, elderly care home and business space, was reportedly not taken lightly by the local authority, which is keen to see the area
In its published decision, B&NES said that: ‘The Council wishes to see this site move forward for mixed-use development, but an application which is so vague that it does not provide a meaningful basis for assessment cannot be supported.’
The local authority was also concerned that plans for the former factory site, which has been empty since 2013 when the firm relocated to Westbury, did not provide enough replacement employment, with only around 160-170 jobs, as opposed to the 330+ that were once provided. In an attempt to try and progress the plans, the Council notes that the Economic Development team proactively suggested an employment mix that would be favourably viewed at planning, which the applicant reportedly declined to agree to.
The decision also expresses concern about the lack of plans for affordable housing and the threat to the former stone-built 19th century brewery building, the retention of which made the scheme potentially very expensive.
In its comments to the local planning authority, Midsomer Norton Town Council added that ‘a piecemeal approach to such a key site would be unacceptable’ and called for a wider strategy. This is the second attempt at plans to redevelop the site, with the first by a different agent putting forward housing and a new supermarket, which were also refused.
“We all want to see the Welton Bag site regenerated and brought back into use to the benefit of Midsomer Norton and the whole Somer Valley, said Cllr Paul Myers, (B&NES Conservative, Midsomer Norton Redfield). “Unfortunately, the recent application submitted to B&NES Council lacked the necessary detail to give planning approval. My hope now is that Welton Bibby and Baron will work with residents, the Town Council and B&NES on an application that meets the aspirations of the community, including a mix of much-needed employment space, as well as community facilities and affordable housing.”
Speaking to The Journal this week, B&NES Ward Councillor, Barry Macrae (Midsomer Norton North), said: “It strikes me that perhaps this entire project is being given very limited and very low priority by the agents and even by the site’s owners. It is costing them money to keep the site secure and the buildings are very rapidly deteriorating – it is now a sad blot upon our local community and visually, it does immense harm to our shared Council ambitions to promote new jobs, investment and improvement.
“Whilst not a ‘perfect’ scheme, there was some exciting vision, with the reopening of the Wellow Brook through the site and a new network of tree-lined footpaths and cycleways, linking our existing estates to the town centre. But some of the other proposals were too vague and were just words on the application form.
“To say that I am disappointed is too much of an understatement. There is far too much at stake for Midsomer Norton and for B&NES to back down. The applicants are able to resubmit a new application within twelve months at no additional cost to them – it’s their choice.
“Our town’s newly-won status as an Enterprise Zone starts from next month. We need those new jobs to reduce our present incredibly high volume of daily out-commuting to improve the quality of life for our current residents, to bring trade back to the High Street, provide employment and apprenticeships, and to provide affordable homes for our locals. And we need them urgently.”