A decision on plans to expand one of Frome’s main employment sites has been pushed back until the summer to allow residents’ concerns about noise disturbance to be addressed, writes Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter.
Rockhaven Developments Ltd. applied to build a new warehouse and 61 business units, arranged in nine blocks, on Malthouse Lane at the southern end of the Commerce Park in Frome, off the A361.
Mendip District Council’s planning board met in Shepton Mallet on Wednesday evening (April 13) to debate the proposals, which were recommended for approval by planning officers.
But board member ultimately agreed by a unanimous vote to defer a decision for up to three months to allow more information to come to light – in particular, the businesses who may be moving into the site.
The new buildings (collectively dubbed the Malthouse Business Centre) are planned to be constructed at the end of Cornbrash, near the existing bases of Primavera and Acheson & Acheson.
The site lies a short distance from the existing residential properties on Compton Gardens and Croscombe Gardens, as well as the Bristol to Weymouth railway line.
The nine business unit blocks will be laid out near the existing junction with Cornbrash, with a turning circle or mini-roundabout providing a link to the main warehouse at the southern end of the site, which will be split into two sections.
Thomas Hill, chairman of the Coalway Lane Residents’ Association, said the board would be “abandoning the local residents” if permission for this latest scheme was granted.
He said: “We have absolutely no details on the end users, and so it is impossible to determine the impact on the neighbouring properties.
“Remember this is the closest point of the business park to the residential area. We have suffered and continue to suffer noise disturbance – we are working with the management company to resolve an issue at this point in time.
“This is the clearest example yet of the planning team finding a tenuous reason to give the developer what it asks for rather than protecting the residents that you represent.”
Councillor Adam Boyden, whose Frome College ward borders the site, said there was a balance to be struck between encouraging economic growth and protecting the well-being of local residents.
He said: “We need to support businesses and new jobs – there’s lots of companies who want to move into this site. We need to support sustainable employment which is close to Frome.
“However, the travel plan is encouraging only car use – it doesn’t require a bus service to the site or improvements to footpath access.
“This is a zone restricted to business which are compatible with the nearby residential area. These uses are potentially not compatible – but at the moment we do not know.
“Night-time vehicle movements do cause a lot of disturbance at night – whether it’s reversing sirens, doors slamming or people talking.”
Councillor Francis Hayden (who represents the Cranmore, Doulting and Nunney ward between Frome and Shepton Mallet) added: “I think the residents here have a reasonable case for a grievance – I think they’ve been sold a pup, basically.
“The outline plans identified this site for B1 use only [offices or light industry] – and 15 years later, along comes another application which says: ‘we said that at the time, but we didn’t mean it and we’re going to change the whole thing’.
“That is a less than community spirited way of going about things. They are trying to get the best of both worlds now – they want a new application which will remove restrictions, but they want to rely on the old application as a way of getting out of any further responsibilities in the area.”
The Commerce Park was granted outline planning permission by the council in 2004, with a proviso that all future applications (which would develop different parts of the site in turn) would come back to the planning board to ensure residents’ concerns were properly represented and addressed.
Planning officers attempted to abolish this procedure in October 2019, arguing it was causing delays and deterring businesses from coming to Frome, but they were overruled by councillors.
Councillor Damon Hooton, who chairs the planning board, said there was “enough grey areas” regarding the proposals to defer a decision until more information had come to light.
He said: “There’s not enough here for me to be comfortable about making a decision one way or the other.”
Following the unanimous vote by the board to defer for up to three months, discussions will now take place between ward councillors, officers and the applicant, with the plans due to come back for public debate by mid-July.
Messrs. Boyden and Hooton are both standing for the Liberal Democrats in the local elections for the new unitary Somerset Council on May 5, in the divisions of Frome North and Frome West respectively.
By Jess Chaffey