Selwood Garden Community

Frome Civic Society have sent the following letter to Frome Town Councillors & Frome’s Mendip District Councillors in response to the proposal by LVA to build 1700 new homes on the southern slopes of Frome. For background information see this website.

Selwood Garden Community letter Oct 2020

South Frome Urban Extension (‘Selwood Garden Community’) Response to Consultation by Frome Town Council

Frome Civic Society plays a major role in reviewing and advising on planning applications that affect Frome and its surroundings. We generally also respond to pre-application public consultations. However, in regard to the proposed development known as ‘Selwood Garden Community’, the Society has chosen not to make a formal response to LVA/FTC’s current consultation. We cannot endorse its core premise that Frome requires, is obliged to deliver, or would benefit from, a greenfield development of 1,700 new suburban homes. We are concerned that FTC is collaborating with LVA on consultations that gloss over the key planning issue for the outline application – quantum of housing – and focuses almost entirely on what would be reserved matters.

To be plain: this development would result in an increase Frome’s population by at least 7,000 in the next 10 years, a pace of growth two and a half times as fast as that experienced over the past decade.

Such unprecedented expansion raises unexplored and complex issues regarding capacity to provide the required public infrastructure and services. There will be unavoidable impacts on high- ways, traffic and pollution, and irreversible damage to landscape and ecology. Given the town’s existing employment deficit, the prospect is almost certainly one of a dormitory suburb from which the majority of new residents will commute out of Frome to work.

The questions we would expect the council to be addressing now are whether such a radical, place-changing scheme is either desirable or necessary, and if so, whether any benefits would outweigh the potential harms to both people and place.

The Civic Society completely accepts that Frome will need to play its part in meeting MDC’s targets under the government’s LHN methodology. However, the uplift from the current housing trajectory required to meet those new targets would amount to only 250 extra new homes in Frome over the next 5 years. Projected over 10 years, the requirement would still be only 550 extra homes. A quantum of 1700 new dwellings reflects the single-minded commercial ambition of LVA to exploit the pressure on MDC to deliver volume housing schemes – no matter where – as well as the landowners’ appetite for a 60-fold increase in the monetary value of their acreage. LVA’s scanty justifications for this volume of accelerated housing growth do not stand up to even the most basic level of scrutiny.

The vision of a cohesive and sustainable ‘garden community’ is appealing, but no-one should imagine for a moment that LVA can ever be held to account on their promise. As a promoter, LVA is contracted only to purchase the land. Once outline consent has been granted, it will achieve its £multi-million profit by selling on parcels to commercial house builders. They in turn can be expected to submit applications for the usual unremarkable housing estates, which will be readily granted by MDC, or whatever unitary authority succeeds it. The resulting suburban sprawl would bear no relation to the housing or civic needs of Frome, or indeed the original ‘garden community’ vision. LVA is not in this for the long term. They have no interest in building the Selwood Community, only in getting planning permission, selling the permission to the highest bidders and keeping the profits for themselves and the current owners of the land.

There is also no realistic prospect that increased supply will reduce house prices. Commercial housing developers simply do not release more stock than they can sell for a good profit. If the market slumps, the development may be paused or even terminated, possibly leaving new homes without the promised infrastructure or community facilities. As the Saxonvale viability assessment has shown, affordable homes will always be the lowest priority.

The Civic Society is not necessarily opposed to a town extension that fulfils the criteria set out for genuine garden communities that create transformational developments of an existng settlement. These urban extenions are expected to deliver transformational outcomes – economic, environmental and social – for the settlement as a whole. FTC needs to be asking, on behalf of its constituents, whether Frome as a whole would gain anything from SGC.

You may be aware that a group of concerned individuals and organisations are now working on their own research into the key impacts that ‘Selwood Garden Community’ would have on the town, with an emphasis on housing needs, town and transport infrastructure, services (medical, social, education, police, emergency), landscape and ecology. Frome Civic Society will be supporting the group’s aims to build an evidence base that will enable informed responses to be made on the forthcoming application from LVA, with the interests of Frome at heart.

We would obviously prefer to see FTC leading this kind of work itself. However, if present resources make this impossible, we urge the Council to avoid taking any kind of action now that would prejudice or constrain its future ability to make decisions when more evidence arising from the future planning application is available for scrutiny.

Therefore we trust that the formal response made by FTC to LVA will be placed firmly in the broader context, and will not suggest, by default, that the council endorses the SGC proposal in principle.

Richard Swann (then Chair)

Patricia Smith (current Chair)

Phil Gryce

Rebecca Harrison

Debbie Little

Jean Lowe

John Peverley

Frome & District Civic Society Planning Panel