The Public Inquiry into the proposal to build 200 houses on the green field above Castle Cary Railway Station started on Tuesday, 9th November at Caryford Hall. The Inquiry was organized by South Somerset District Council (SSDC) which had refused Outline planning permission. We estimate over 200 local residents attended with a queue for signing in across the car park. There were considerable problems caused by the need for Covid distancing and SSDC’s microphone technology but after a number of people went home to watch the livestream the Inquiry was opened by the Inspector with addresses by Counsel for the appellant and for SSDC.
There followed contributions by speakers from Castle Cary Town Council, Ansford Parish Council, Care4Cary, the Neighbourhood Plan group and CPRE which were reinforced by several individual speakers. All objected to the proposed house building for a variety of reasons.
The main points made by speakers were:
The significant and adverse impact the development would have on the landscape of the Brue valley, a point made by CCTC, APC and CPRE and individuals.
The adverse visual impact the development would have on the Northern setting of Castle Cary and Ansford, an impact impossible to mitigate, argued CCTC.
The scheme would be well outside the direction of growth in the Local and Neighbourhood Plans.
The 200 houses were not necessary to meet housing needs in the town when some 600+ new houses had been built or consented and the Neighbourhood Plan required a ‘pause’.
To ignore a Neighbourhood Plan made as recently as 2019 would undermine public trust and confidence in the planning process, a view put by CCTC. The Plan had been passed by referendum notwithstanding SSDC had no 5 year Housing Land Supply and therefore had validity, a point made by the Neighbourhood Plan group.
A professional Traffic Report, prepared for Care4Cary, had identified a number of very serious road safety problems on the A371 and these were highlighted to the Inspector by Care4Cary.
The above included the narrow footways and lack of safe crossing points, made worse by a blind bend and speeding traffic including HGVs, which would be a grave risk to schoolchildren from the 200 houses walking to Ansford Academy and the Primary School as well as adult pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.
The out of town location, distant from shops and services, would mean more car use and parking congestion, and was unsuitable walking for people with disabilities, elderly people and parents with toddlers.
Walkers on the Monarch’s Way long distance footpath would lose views across the green field and across the valley, a point made by Care4Cary;
A petition on paper was presented by Care4Cary with almost 1,500 signatures objecting to the scheme.
Questions were raised by Ansford Parish Council about surface and foul water from the site which required uphill pumping to the A371 sewer at risk from power cuts and consequent backing up.
CCTC, Care4Cary and CPRE also provided the Inspector with a proposed walking route for her to see the adverse impact of the scheme on views of the Brue valley and the traffic risks of the A371.
A speaker for the Millbrook Surgery referred to the increased load on doctors and other health workers which would arise from a further 200 houses, commenting on current pressures and the lack of space for expansion.
Several Ansford residents drew attention to the dangers of the A371.
An online petition with some 500 signatures objecting to the scheme was presented by a member of the public.
On Day 2, 10th November, the Inspector adjourned the Inquiry, citing audience numbers, the Covid risks and insufficient microphone and IT provision. The date to resume the Inquiry was 24th November but we understand from the Planning Inspectorate this may change: a firm date will be published once a decision has been made by them. It may be in Spring, 2022.