A BRIDGWATER housebuilder has been left feeling short-changed after its plans to extend a site in Berrow were refused by a planning officer who was due to go on annual leave.

S. Notaro Ltd says it was 'supported and encouraged' by Somerset Council to extend its development in Berrow near Berrow Primary Church Academy.

The Phase II plans for the site outlined 49 new homes, 20 of which would have been affordable - but to the housebuilder's confusion, these plans were refused on Wednesday, January 3.

S. Notaro Ltd claims Somerset Council officers, including the planning officer handling the application, were 'not willing to engage' with the company during the process.

The housebuilder also feels it was not given time to respond to requests from the planning officer, who stated a response was needed by the end of the week before their scheduled annual leave, to avoid refusal.

The company has evidence of this interaction which took place on December 14, 2023.

S. Notaro Ltd states it sent regular requests to the council seeking to agree an extension of time that would have allowed updated specialist reports to be submitted in response to consultee comments; work that was ongoing at the time.

These requests were allegedly repeatedly denied despite the developer agreeing an extension of time to assist the council after four weeks of the application period were lost through validation backlogs.

S. Notaro Ltd also states that the planning officer did not submit the updated ecology survey report to the county ecologist for consideration, even though it was issued to the agent on the December 14, 2023.

This was one of the five cited reasons for refusal, along with the homes being deemed 'visually intrusive' due to being built on raised ground.

The housebuilder feels the decision was rushed through and lacked the detailed assessment and balancing of the development proposals needed for a fair outcome.

The company also feels short-changed after paying around £20,000 for the planning fee, as well as spending more money on a housing needs survey for the site.

S.Notaro Ltd believes there is a need for more housing in the area due to Hinkley Point C and the creation of up to 7,500 new jobs at the Gravity gigafactory.

The company states all of the proposed 49 homes in Berrow could have been occupied by local families by January 2025 if plans were approved.

In total S. Notaro Ltd has spent in excess of £60,000 to date in trying to obtain planning for this site.

The company feels there has been potential maladministration on behalf of Somerset Council and national planning procedures have not been adhered to.

S. Notaro Ltd will appeal the planning officer’s decision to refuse planning on this site and will be seeking costs from the council in response to this.

In response, Somerset Council says it did not encourage or support the extension of S. Notaro Ltd's Berrow development but it has been in contact with the member of staff who handled the application.

A spokesperson for Somerset Council said: "The application was submitted without the benefit of pre-application advice or prior discussions with the Local Planning Authority.

"The application was granted an extension of time by the agent as there were outstanding consultations and they were advised of concerns on the application as the responses were received.

"Before the decision on the application, the agent was advised that the application was going to be refused and sought to provide further information.

"The application was refused for five reasons which raised concerns with the form, layout and impact on the countryside; the dominance of the development due to the need to increase land levels to address flood risk; and insufficient information in terms of ecology, the exceptions test in respect of flood risk and insufficient drainage strategy.

"Given the concern raised with the principle of the site, it was not considered reasonable to delay the determination of the case further.

"The council has been in contact with the agent since the determination and has encouraged further engagement with the Planning and Policy team."