In what has been a long battle of opinions, both for and against the Somer Valley Enterprise Zone, B&NES Council have decided to approve the plans for the £30 million business park on the outskirts of Midsomer Norton.

Plans to bring jobs back to the Somer Valley by designating farmland as a £30m business park where companies do not need to apply for planning permission have been given the go ahead despite major local opposition.

Bath and North East Somerset Council say the scheme will bring the young people of Midsomer Norton, Paulton, and Radstock “jobs like their grandparents had” — but the farmers whose land will be lost to the scheme say it will shatter their grandson’s dream of taking over the family farm.

Creating the business park will cost almost £1m per acre, as the 33 acre site will require about £30m to be spent on road improvements, infrastructure development, new cycling and walking routes to the site, and a major upgrade to the Thicket Mead Roundabout. This will be funded by grant funding won by the Council from various sources.

At a meeting on February 1st, the Council Cabinet voted unanimously to approve the local development order for the Somer Valley Enterprise Zone (SVEZ) on fields next to Midsomer Norton’s Old Mills Batch “volcano,” essentially granting planning permission in advance for companies to develop the site. Businesses will still have to submit a “compliance application” showing that they meet the design code and masterplan set out by the Council.

It is hoped that first jobs at the “green business park” will arrive in three to four years, although it could take up to a decade for the site to be fully developed. The Council hopes it will bring 1,300 local jobs back to the area, reducing the need for people to commute out of the Somer Valley to work.

Councillor for Clutton and Farmborough Ward, Sam Ross, who has been campaigning against the SVEZ, told The Journal: “The decision by the cabinet was disappointing. However, while the cabinet went to some length to suggest that those opposed to this scheme were against the provision of jobs for young people, that has never been the case.

“Arguments have been consistently made around the opportunities to provide and retain good quality jobs in the NES area which have been lost and wasted by both Conservative and Liberal Democrat run administrations since the SVEZ was first included in the Local Plan in 2007.

“This has resulted in empty shops and units on the high street with existing industrial/business parks and brownfield sites being ignored, neglected, sold off or reallocated to housing over the intervening 17 years.

“Councillors are currently putting together a call-in as there are still unanswered questions which need to be addressed.”

Paul Roper, Council Cabinet Member for Economic and Cultural Sustainable Development, said: “What essentially we are trying to do here is to recreate the local, stable, high-quality employment that used to be provided by the now-defunct employers in this area.”

He added that Great Mills DIY closed its headquarters in 2005, costing around 250 jobs; the Welton Bibby bag manufacturing site shut in 2013, losing another 300 jobs; and Purnells & Sons Printers — which at its height provided 2,000 jobs — closed in 2005.

He said: “[Purnells] was one of the most advanced printing companies in the world and it was located in Paulton, of all places. Printing is a highly technical and skilled profession and it just shows what this community is capable of, given the right opportunities.”

Mr Roper said that although unemployment in the area was low, people were having to commute long distances to work, and the SVEZ would ensure there were jobs in the local area. He said: “There are schoolchildren now who will be of employment age when the jobs are being created. They need something to aspire to, something to look forward to, somewhere to work — jobs like their grandparents had.”

An active travel route will connect the site to Farrington Gurney in one direction, and link up with the Norton-Radstock Greenway in the other, with the hope that people will be able to commute to the site without needing to rely on their car.

But the plans will absorb much of Royal Oak Farm, “overshadow” the farmhouse and cut off access to the north part of their farm. Owners Barry and Morag Flowers — whose family have owned the farm for over 70 years — were among a host of people who travelled to the Council Cabinet meeting in Bath to urge the Council to drop the plan.

They told The Journal: “We are the landowners of some of the fields that B&NES are requiring for the Somer Valley Enterprise Park at Old Mills Paulton.

“There has been a lot of objections to this project and we have been fully behind these objections so it was a great disappointment to us when at the Cabinet meeting on 1st of February an LDO ( local development order ) for the SVEZ was passed.”

Ms Flowers told Councillors at the meeting: “Barry took over the running of [Royal Oak Farm] at the age of 21. We have farmed and looked after this land for the last 54 years. We raised a family here and have a grandson of 18 who wishes to carry on the tradition of farming on the farm he has grown up on.”

She added that the farm was grade one agricultural land and said that they had suffered “untold stress and anxiety” from the uncertainty over the project — which has been discussed for seven years. She warned that it would cut their yearly income in half.

Ms Flowers said: “How can it be that B&NES is going to tear up this prime agricultural land that is used for food consumption to build an industrial park that the majority of local people do not want or see the need for?”

The Council will negotiate with the Flowers over buying the land. If no price is agreed, it could seek to force them to sell through a compulsory purchase order.

Councillor — and orchard owner — Matt McCabe told Mr and Mrs Flowers he understood how they felt because he had previously had his land allocated in Council plans, although it did not end up being developed. But he said: “Is it really the case that we value a field of brassicas over the future prosperity of our young people?”

Mr Roper said that  “in a perfect world” jobs would be delivered on brownfield sites but said that there were none in the area that were appropriate. He added that the vacant  12 acre Welton Bibby site in Midsomer Norton — which locals have dubbed a “festering boil” said should be redeveloped — is too small and in the wrong place.

The fields by Old Mills Batch were first allocated as land for employment by the Council in 2007 but businesses did not step forward with plans for the site. It became an “enterprise zone” in 2017 but businesses will miss out on associated fiscal benefits, as these expired in 2022.

Although Paulton Councillor Liz Hardman supports the SVEZ development, she explained her reservations to The Journal: “I broadly welcome the opportunity for jobs in our area, which is what the SVEZ offers. In Paulton we have had over 600 homes built, with the possibility of even more homes planned for the Midsomer area. With all this residential development, we do need to have plans for more job creation in our area, which is being offered by the SVEZ.

"However, I do have concerns about the new design for the proposed roundabout at Thickermead. With the increased traffic generated by the SVEZ, I do not think the design for this roundabout is fit for purpose.

“I have asked B&NES to look again at how well it will cope with the extra traffic and to come up new plans if necessary.”