Press release from Mayday Saxonvale, Frome
August 6th 2020
Build beautiful? Not in Frome. Local people are horrified.
A new era of building more beautiful places has been launched by the government in its new planning White Paper…but will ugliness really be turned down? The town of Frome could be a test case.
The Somerset town of Frome is threatened with this ugly barracks-like development (above), to be plonked right next to its beloved historic centre with its 450 listed buildings. With the new government Planning for the Future White Paper putting the emphasis on beauty and beautiful and well – designed developments, and the importance of acceptability by local people, the town hopes this will be a test case and that the local authority will see that this development should not go forward. Mayday Saxonvale has meanwhile launched a local counter-proposal offering the chance for a new town quarter, genuinely planned by the community.
Highlighted in the National Press as one of the “Best Places to Live in Britain”, Frome has been described as
a welcoming, charming and vibrant place to visit, with a wealth of history, culture and natural beauty. The town’s charm lies in its higgledy-piggledy streets, its independent shops and businesses and friendly community feel.
But now the very character of Frome faces its most serious planning fight since what is known to locals as ‘The Battle for Trinity’ in the 1970s. Local people have launched the Mayday Saxonvale campaign to prevent an enormous barracks-style housing development being built on a brownfield site only a stone’s throw from the mediaeval streets where the Poldark series and other historic footage is filmed.
The bleak and unfriendly-looking housing development consists of about a dozen blocks of flats crammed together with very few trees or greenery on former industrial land known as Saxonvale which abuts the town centre. Architecturally the scheme is entirely out of keeping with the town. The planning application’s Design and Access statement includes drawings by Acorn Homes for a bland, grid of repetitive four-storey units with limited viewpoints and public spaces, that other architects have commented would be more suited to a major city centre.
The development proposal by Nash Partnership and Acorn Properties is not what the town wants and the planning application has attracted an overwhelming number of objections from the public with detailed comments from residents sent into the District Council’s Planning portal without a single letter of support. Statutory consultees, Frome Town Council, Frome Civic Society and Frome Chamber of Commerce have rejected the plan three times but the fear is Mendip District Council, (who are also the planning authority), will waive the development through. The same developers and architects were previously responsible for Kingston Mill; a similar, grimdark development in nearby Bradford on Avon (see photo below). This development is unpopular because of its ugly and barren feel.
In response to the threat of ugliness and poor design, the town is unveiling a different, greener and creatively designed alternative for the Saxonvale site, conceived by the community it will serve – the people of Frome itself, and matching in many ways the aims of the new government Planning White Paper. Andrew Kirby Architects, who have a passion for working with communities to find socially responsible and environmentally sustainable ways to develop sites, will work towards an evolving masterplan that matches far better what the town wants and needs.
Damon Moore representing Mayday Saxonvale explains:
“We can’t believe how ugly and out of keeping with Frome this giant development will be. The government has now made it clear in its White Paper that it wants quality developments that are beautiful and well designed. Although a new era of better locally-led planning and design is at an early stage, the government’s intensions are clear. We hope that the development in its proposed form will be refused permission.
So many alternatives and exciting futures for this site are possible. We are therefore launching as a social enterprise using a local investor and self-build model enabled by one of the south-west’s leading social value architectural practises. We can change the story of Saxonvale and do something that will really benefit the town and show what modern innovative planning can really accomplish.
- Acorn’s planning application, (2019/1180/OTS) is scheduled for determination by the District Council Planning Board but no date has yet been fixed and the hundreds of pages of letters highlighting problems with the application are liable to be ignored. The planning application is outline only,
- With most aspects being ‘reserved matters’, designs can be modified, (eg. made even worse) or dropped in the future according to tried and tested arguments on viability (whether the scheme is sufficiently profitable) and other developer priorities.
- The District Council’s ‘official’ vision for the site is: ‘A generational opportunity to deliver an exemplar development on the banks of the River Frome. High quality design taking the historic grain of Frome as its starting point, and delivering a vibrant, mixed use neighbourhood, with flexible commercial/employment space, high quality public realm, and homes for all ages’ .Campaigners argue that the planning application does not match this official vision at all. It is not a vision for a high-quality public realm but for low quality architecture that would sacrifice Frome’s economic prosperity and reputation as a relocation hotspot. Hundreds of new homes are being built elsewhere in the town with hundreds more in the pipeline. Without an expansion of Frome’s historic employment zone supplying a new commercial district, the town could become little more than a string of housing estates serving the commuter market. Acorn’s application does not conform to Mendip’s Adopted Local Plan, Frome’s Neighbourhood Plan and Design Statement and breaches protections for Conservation Areas and Listed Building clusters. In fact, no-one, not even Town Councillors have any idea what the developer is ultimately committed to or intends since the whole of the application, (other than access into the site) are ‘reserved matters’ meaning terms can be negotiated and altered at any point post consent.
- Up to 223 letters of objection have been sent in to the planning portal by local residents including by nearby St John’s First School who want to relocate their school into a new build on the Saxonvale site. All the formal consultees, Frome Town Council, Frome Civic Society and Frome Chamber of Commerce are highly critical of the application. Huge pressure is being applied by the District Council with veiled threats coming from the developers who imply that the Town Council is back-tracking on previously agreed commitments.
- Historic England states Frome as having 477 listed buildings and Mendip District Council’s website states: ‘Listed buildings are a finite and irreplaceable asset. The council has a statutory duty to ensure that listed buildings, their settings and any features of special architectural or historic interest which they possess are preserved’. Acorn’s plan however intends to demolish 50% of one of Frome’s historic bartons, (narrow passageways common to textile towns) in the Conservation Area. It would also demolish an existing heritage structure, only feet away from the Silk Mill, one of the best preserved textile mills in the south-west. Also included in the planning proposal is a 3-storey new build directly opposite Grade 2* listed St John’s Church in Vicarage Street. The church dates back to St Aldhelm in the late 7th century.
Mayday Saxonvale (to sign up to join the conversation or support the campaign)
01985 844305 / 07974 985165