Oakhill

Ashwick Parish Council's viewpoint

Mendip Local Development Framework - Core Strategy.  Comments from Ashwick Parish Council on the Consultation Paper,  March 2011

The following comments are based on limited discussion at Ashwick Parish Council and attendance at the Time to Plan Exhibition at Chilcompton.  Naturally the comments are focused on the long term effects of the proposals on Ashwick Parish, primarily the village of Oakhill but also part of Gurney Slade which lies within in the Parish.

These comments reflect Ashwick Parish Council’s ‘Vision for Oakhill’ which was produced in 2009 in response to the Sustainable Community Strategy.  This vision is in effect the Parish Plan against which proposed developments are judged and states that future development should be limited to:

a.   No further greenfield development
b.   Providing accommodation for the agricultural community where essential
c.   Providing affordable housing where a need is identified by an up to date  Housing Needs Survey
d.   Refurbishment/conversion of derelict buildings in particular the deteriorating Brewery site
e.   Only brownfield sites and infilling to be considered for future development

It is relevant to note that there has already been substantial provision of market homes in Oakhill since the 1970s as a result of land becoming available from the redundant Brewery sites and to a lesser extent on land released by Oakhill Manor.  As a result the Parish Council considers that the drainage system is a critical risk area for any new large development since it was built in the 19th century for the Brewery.

Village Category
It is agreed that Oakhill should be categorised as a Secondary Village in view of its lack of shop/Post Office, limited local employment opportunities and minimal public transport.

It is agreed that Gurney Slade should be categorised as a Primary Village in view of its shop/Post Office, probably more local employment opportunities and slightly better public transport.

Rural Housing Distribution
Since the issue of the Sustainable Community Strategy in 2009 it appears that the housing quota for rural housing has increased although the logic behind that change is difficult to follow.  As a result the Residual Level of Development for Oakhill post 31/3/2010 has risen to 20.  Ashwick Parish Council is content that this allocation is consistent with their ‘Vision for Oakhill’.  The approved conversion of the Brewery (which was supported by the Parish Council) will provide 25 new dwellings and will meet the Oakhill quota in full.  Hence there is no need to consider greenfield development or to extend the current development limits.

Affordable Housing
Ashwick Parish Council supports the provision of affordable homes where the need is identified and provided such homes are only provided for families with strong local connections who:

a.   Are existing permanent long term residents
b.   Have close family ties to the parish
c.   Have permanent employee status with local business

The most recent and reliable Housing Needs Survey carried out in 2008 identified a need for 6 affordable homes within the Parish.  The detailed breakdown is not known, but it is highly likely that some of these homes were required in the Gurney Slade part of the Parish.  Before any decision on the number of affordable houses is made it will be necessary to carry out an up to date Housing Needs Survey.  However there do not appear to be any reasons why the number of affordable homes identified in 2008 should have changed dramatically.

Ashwick Parish Council had hoped that the affordable housing required would be met as a precondition of the Brewery development.  In 2010 the Parish Council reluctantly accepted that this solution was no longer feasible in the current financial climate and that there was urgent need to ensure that the Brewery was developed before it deteriorated further.  The Council suggested that the developer might make a contribution towards provision of affordable houses on another site, but this is not a condition of the subsequent planning approval.

Funding for Affordable Housing
Development Policy 5 states that affordable housing provision will be made on the basis of no public subsidy.  The prime source of ‘alternative’ funding is for developers of market housing to make available a proportion of a total development as affordable homes. This option is not available for Oakhill since there should be no large scale market housing development after completion of the Brewery conversion.

The Parish Council consider that it should be feasible to find a site in Oakhill for say 4 affordable houses on an exception site outside but bordering the current  development limits.  However the funding problem remains. 

The Consultation Paper recognises that providing affordable housing in small village communities will be problematical in some cases.  One solution might be to transfer ‘funding’ provided by developers between parishes depending on development size and local housing need.  For example it is noted that Gurney Slade/Binegar has a new building quota of 35.  This may require market housing developers to provide around 10-12 affordable homes.  If this were more than their local housing need then there may be spare ‘funding’ to provide some affordable housing elsewhere eg on a greenfield exception site in Oakhill (where the land costs would also be less).

Development Policy 6 – Affordable Housing: Rural Exceptions
DP6 Para 1 outlines the policy for providing affordable homes by exception outside the development limits on greenfield sites. Ashwick Parish Council recognises that this is probably the only viable option for providing affordable housing in Oakhill.

DP6 Para 2 states that MDC may be willing to countenance the inclusion of market housing on an exception site in exceptional circumstances in order to meet an affordable housing need.  It also states that such a proposal should have the clear support of the local community.  In the new era of ‘localism’ does this mean that a Parish Council can veto such a proposal following due consultation with the parishioners?  Such a proposal would not be in accordance with the Ashwick Parish Council’s ‘Vision for Oakhill’.   However any such development proposal would need to be presented to the parishioners via a local survey/referendum before reaching a final decision.