A MAJOR housing development on the edge of Bridgwater will contribute less money to local services than originally planned following a decision by councillors.

Cavanna Homes secured outline permission in December 2021 to build 675 homes on the Cokerhurst Farm site north of the A39 Quantock Road, along with a new primary school and community facility.

The developer will soon begin construction a new crossroads which will link the A39 to both its new homes and a separate development to the south of 352 homes, being brought forward by Persimmon Homes Severn Valley.

Somerset Council has now ruled that Cavanna will not have to contribute as much funding towards local amenities and can deliver fewer affordable homes after concerns were raised about the viability of the development.

When new housing developments are built, developers provide financial contributions towards local infrastructure, including roads, schools, doctors’ surgeries, sports pitches and children’s play areas.

These contributions are typically secured through one of two legal routes – a Section 106 agreement, or the community infrastructure levy (known as CIL).

Money from Section 106 agreements can typically be spent on infrastructure either within the given development site or very close to it, while CIL funding from different sites can be pooled and spent on larger projects.

In the case of the Cavanna site, the new school will be funded through Section 106 funding. with nearly £3.7m being provided along with more than £580,000 for early years provision.

Bridgwater Mercury: The revised plans for the scheme.The revised plans for the scheme. (Image: Grainge Architects)

The developer will also meet the entire cost of putting in the new crossroads (another £3.7m), rather than sharing the cost with Persimmon, and provide £600,000 towards local bus services.

In light of this, Cavanna’s outline planning permission included a clause that only 11.6 per cent of the new homes would be affordable (the equivalent of 78 properties) – much longer than the 30 per cent (203 homes) which would normally be insisted upon within the former Sedgemoor area.

This was subsequently reduced further to 7.11 per cent (48 properties) after Somerset Council requested an additional financial contribution of £865,652  towards upgrading the Dunball roundabout, which will finally begin in the summer.

This upgrade – which is primarily funded by grants from the levelling up fund and the Bridgwater town deal – has been hit by inflationary issues within the construction industry, with the accompanying upgrade of the Cross Rifles roundabout being scaled back to free up additional funding.

But even to achieve this low level of affordable homes, the amount of CIL for which Cavanna Homes is liable must be cut by 50 per cent – missing the community could miss out on hundreds of thousands of pounds for other improvements in the town.

Without this reduction, there is a risk that the development would either proceed without any affordable homes at all or that construction would have to be halted before the new community hub was delivered.

The council’s planning and transport policy sub-committee met in Taunton on Thursday afternoon (January 25) to discuss granting CIL relief for the site.

Nick Tait, the council’s planning service manager, said in his written report: “Granting exceptional CIL relief will enable development to finally
commence.

“Officers are in regular discussions with the developers, and it has been
confirmed that a start on site will be made as soon as this application is
approved. This is likely to be in February 2024.

“This site is a critical strategic site allocated in the Sedgemoor Local Plan. Commencement of this major strategic site will be an important milestone supporting delivery in line with assumptions set out in the current five-year housing land supply.”

The legal agreements between Cavanna Homes and the council include ‘uplift clauses’ – meaning that additional affordable homes will be delivered within the site if the market housing proved to be more profitable than anticipated.

Even with the CIL relief, more than £600,000 of CIL would be provided from the first 238 homes within the site – and further funding may be secured as the following phases are built out in the coming years.

Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, complained that this CIL relief seemed to have been built into the planning approval being granted – making the committee’s decision a fait accompli.

She said: “Where in the process going forward would the request for CIL exemption happen?

“It seems to me that it’s already been agreed and all we’re doing is rubber-stamping this.

“I find the lack of social housing difficult to swallow – we need to think about the priority of Section 106 funding going forward.

“Hopefully the Persimmon site will be fully CIL compliant when it comes to affordable housing.”

The committee voted to approve the CIL relief after around 25 minutes’ debate – meaning construction can begin in a matter of weeks.

The new junction into the Cavanna and Persimmon sites will be constructed under a 20mph speed limit to reduce disruption to motorists and local residents.

Once the crossroads is completed, the existing 30mph limit will be extended to the west to ensure the safety of new residents.

The first homes within the Cavanna site are expected to be occupied by Easter 2025.