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Wincanton 'People Power' Shuts Down Dancing Lane Building Plans

Wednesday 7 January 2015, 14:23
By John Smith

District Council Office building, Churchfields, Wincanton

The District Council Area East meeting on Wednesday 10th December at Churchfields was a standard affair, and the first morning session passed uneventfully. However, the mood, and the atmosphere soon stepped up a gear.

After the break the scene was transformed as local residents arrived, complete with protest banners and placards (fresh from the Wincanton-In-Crisis protest march on Saturday 6th December) to fill the meeting room to capacity. This controversial session included a planning application for 25 new dwellings to the west of Dancing Lane. The atmosphere was electric with anticipation, especially when the attending planning representative announced that this application was being recommended for acceptance.

With the floor opened to members of the public who had registered their intention to speak, Mayor Martin Russell got the ball rolling. He explained the Town Council’s concerns that multiple planning applications would smash residential building limitations set in the original Wincanton People’s Plan from 2008 to 2028. In fact the limit of around 700 new homes had already been passed with 14 years of the original term still left. He stated that the local infrastructure was already under strain, and that the Council wanted to see urgent improvements in various areas before any more developments were considered.

Wincanton-In-Crisis” supporters and other members of the community joined in to express their concerns about:

Lack of spaces at local primary schools

  • Congestion issues on our roads because of the growing number of vehicles on the roads
  • Security of local health facilities, especially at Wincanton Community Hospital
  • Increased Traffic on Dancing Lane leading to a higher risk of accidents, especially to students attending King Arthur’s School
  • Risk of flooding on the site evidenced by the floods back in January.

Wincanton in Crisis protest march proceeding down South Street

As the current applications were being submitted prematurely before the town’s Neighbourhood Plan had been fully implemented, a grey, shady area had been created. With land banks and Neighbourhood Plans in place the onus is on developers to satisfy the authorities that their developments comply with the Town’s plans. Without such plans the onus would be on the planners to prove that applications didn’t comply.

It was felt that all such premature applications should be held back till the plan was available for consultation. One protester had contacted Government Minister Eric Pickles’ Government Department for clarification on the use of “Prematurity” as a reason for rejection. Mr Pickle’s department stated that “Prematurity” can be used legitimately in this way.

Serious questions were also raised about the viability of reports from Highways and Wessex Water, because they had been completed from a desktop survey, with no site visit made. This was made more poignant with images supplied by protestors showing serious flooding in the storms at the start of 2014. The desktop survey stated that there were no flooding issue relevant to this application.

When the public protesters finished expressing their concerns, the developer’s representative (a “Queen’s Counsel”) tried to support the developer by explaining that far from being to the detriment of the community, passing this application would actually help the town in its fight to prevent development of the site at Wincanton Community Hospital. His short address, far from helping the developer’s cause, actually raised tensions in the room.

Discussion among the councillors round the table showed clearly that they were not enamoured in any way by the Queen’s Counsel. In fact it was felt that he had only done damage to the developer’s plans. After in-depth discussions a motion by Councillor Nick Colbert to reject the application was unanimously approved.

Please remember that this is just one application. The way ahead could yet be filled with tension as further applications/appeals are processed. This ongoing process will need the Town and District Councillors to be supported by the people of Wincanton to stay the course and stand fast in the hope of bringing about better quality planning and development that works with the town and not to its detriment.


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