CRAG: Deadline extended as public meeting discusses development plans

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crag-meetingCongresbury’s strong community spirit was demonstrated again when residents gathered to hear about the latest development scheme for the village.

Around 70 people packed the Methodist Hall to hear from Congresbury Residents Action Group (CRAG) and local authority representatives.

CRAG secretary Viv Tomkinson told the meeting that the main subject for discussion was the proposed development by Strongvox on a field off Brinsea Road, behind Venus Street and Nomis Park.

The development company had applied for access to the field from Brinsea Road and for a possible 24 houses, although no formal scheme had been submitted.

Viv stressed that actions taken by CRAG to oppose the scheme needed the backing of individual residents. She added that because North Somerset’s planning website was so often out of service, CRAG had been given an assurance that the deadline for comments was extended to 3 October.

District councillor Tom Leimdorfer gave a masterly exposition on the history of the planning processes to explain why North Somerset villages were being targeted by developers.

He said the good news was that policy CS32 – that part of planning law which applies to service villages like Congresbury – was back on track. The council’s sites and policy plan states that the only places in the village identified for development were at Venus Street and Wrington Lane, which had already been approved.

But Tom cautioned that CS32 had not been fully adopted, so theoretically more schemes could be put forward. Once adopted, the council could refuse any further development plans.

Council officials were considering a total of eight appeals against planning decisions including the Gladman scheme for another 50 houses off Wrington Lane.

Tom was asked by a member of the audience what consideration councils gave to the opinion of the community, because, citing Yatton’s example, houses were being built yet road and rail links were overcrowded as were schools and medical services.

The district councillor replied although the planning inspector decided on each individual case, the Government was in favour of development unless it caused actual harm.

Viv answered that public opinion does count “as Congresbury proved with Barratts” – a reference to last year’s public inquiry in which the inspector rejected the developer’s plan for 80 houses on the opposite side of Brinsea Road.

Parish council chair Di Hassan said their planning policy was based on the need for sustainable development. The only development outside the village boundary that the parish approved was for local social housing.

“Any development should be community led, not led by developers,” said Di. She added that the cumulative effect of development should be considered. Residents wanted some development, based on affordable homes for first time buyers.

Chair of CRAG Mary Short raised the subject of archaeology in the development process. Yet, she said, North Somerset had failed to appoint a new archaeologist to replace the post holder who retired earlier this year.

Mary’s husband Chris made an impassioned appeal on the importance of our heritage and urged residents to fight for it. He added that Historic England had taken an interest in the village’s 800 year-old market cross, a publicly thanked Di and the parish council for what they had started.

Chris added that the local group had surveyed the proposed development site and discovered possible Romano-British kilns. He added: “If you write to object to these plans, please mention archaeology. North Somerset council has a legal obligation to protect our heritage.”

CRAG’s Susan Hibberd outlined the work being done on biodiversity for the group. Talking about the Gladman scheme for Wrington Lane, she said: “Developers often dismiss these fields as low-level pasture, but these are important because the invertebrates provide food for foraging bats that roost in nearby Kingswood and Urchinwood.”

Greater horseshoe bats foraged in that field and there were hedgehogs, frogs, toads and crested newts in nearby ponds, added Susan.

Returning to the Brinsea Road scheme, Geoff Pearson questioned the suitability of disabled access to and from the site. “In the Barratts case, the inspector paid great heed to whether people would be able to use a wheelchair along Brinsea Road.”

At the close of the meeting, Viv thanked residents and added: “Believe in yourselves – you can make a difference.” The audience responded with a spontaneous round of applause.

Afterwards Tom commented: “My congratulations (to CRAG) on another well organised and useful meeting. I noted several helpful points which were raised. Excellent attendance, reflecting the community spirit which makes Congresbury such a great village to represent.

“It was really unfortunate that the surgery meeting at Langford clashed. I hope some Congresbury folk did manage to get there too and made their views heard.”

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John Mills John Mills

Journalist and jazz saxophonist John Mills has lived in Congresbury for more than 25 years, moving to the village from West London with his wife Rocki and 10 month old son, Sam in 1979. After a few years in Clevedon, John and Rocki moved back to the village in 2006, renovating and extending a bungalow in Yew Tree Park. Sadly, Rocki died in 2013. John, 71 keeps busy musically, playing with Cadbury Wind Band, with his son in the Sam Mills Quintet, and with a newly formed duo, Sax in the City with fellow Congresbury saxophonist and vocalist, Louise Harris.

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