Residents of a small Somerset village will have “no breathing room” if a new development goes ahead, the local authority has argued, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Mumby.

Persimmon Homes South West and the Johnstone Land Company (Bristol) Ltd. applied jointly in December 2020 to build 26 homes at the western end of Chapelfield in the village of Oakhill, near Shepton Mallet.

Mendip District Council’s planning board voted unanimously to refuse the plans in June 2022, citing concerns about over-development, road safety and the impact on the village’s character.

Johnstone lodged an appeal against the decision in December 2022, with the Planning Inspectorate ruling that an in-person public inquiry would be needed to settle the issue.

Planning inspector Alison Partington presided over the inquiry at Somerset Council’s Shepton Mallet offices on April 18, with her findings expected to be published later in the year.

Mendip’s planning board voted to refuse the original plans on the following five grounds: The site lies out of the boundary of Oakhill, and building homes there would “have a harmful impact on the character of the area”; The development would be too close to the existing Chapelfield homes, which would be “detrimental to the residential amenity of the occupiers”; Oakhill has “limited public services and facilities”, resulting in new home-owners having to commute excessively by private car; The development would have a “harmful impact on highway safety”, putting both pedestrians and motorists at risk; The development would result in hedgerow along the southern boundary being lost, which would have a “detrimental visual impact” on the village and the wider area.

While the plans were originally presented by two applicants, the appeal was lodged and conducted solely by Johnstone, due to Persimmon’s option on the land having expired.

Kit Stokes of Stokes Mortgan Planning Ltd (representing Johnstone), argued the development was a sensible extension to the existing village.

He said: “It sits neatly in the envelope of the village. The area is characterised by a mixture of terraced and semi-detached housing, and this development is a continuation of that.”

Funda Kemal of Regenerative Architecture (representing the council) disagreed, describing the designs as “over-development” and saying the parking spaces had been poorly laid out within the site. She said: “The layout of the parking spaces is an indication of over-development. The site is being squeezed so that parking spaces have to be put one behind the other. There is no breathing room in the public realm for anything except the movement and storage of vehicles. Our case is that there is too much dominance of vehicular movement, parking and storage in the layout. The public realm is squeezed.”

Mark Reynolds of Context Planning also spoke on behalf of Ashwick Parish Council, which represents the people of Oakhill at a local level. He said: “The views across the site would be significantly harmed by this development. This is clearly an over-development of the site. The density is greater than the surrounding estates.”

Ms Partington will carry out a site visit and her report is expected in the summer.