Leave our green fields alone

What is the point of a Green Belt if you keep loosening it? My neighbours and l have our own little battle on the edge of Larkhall but just look at the issue facing those who live south of the city.

I have heard from the South of Bath Alliance who are fighting developers who want to build another 300 houses near Sulis Meadows on a beautiful rural Cotswold site.

They are very concerned about the threat of overdevelopment to their communities and the environment. With all the recent building in Bath, they ask, is there even any need for further development on green-field sites?

Here’s their submission:

The South of Bath Alliance requests your consideration and assistance:

Unwanted and unnecessary development of the South Stoke Plateau

  1. The South of Bath Alliance [“SoBA”] represents the communities who are opposed to urban expansion into the Cotswold Landscape and Green Setting south of Bath.
  2. The City of Bath has been a World Heritage Site since 1987, recognised globally as a place of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ for its architecture, town-planning, landscape, archaeological monuments, and its role as a setting for social history.
  3. One of the six Outstanding Universal Values of the City of Bath World Heritage Site is its Green Setting which encircles the city and with historic Cotswold villages beyond. The South Stoke Plateau is part of this valuable Green Setting.
  4. The Wansdyke is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) a linear earthwork that runs along the northern perimeter of South Stoke Parish and the southern boundary of the city. The monument is now on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register, its condition labelled ‘critical’ and ‘declining’.
  5. The Plateau is a biodiverse area with a highly sensitive ecology, partly used for agriculture and by walkers on its footpath network.

The recent past

  1. In 2013 following a Public Enquiry, the Planning Inspector’s decision was to allow removal of part of the Hignett Family Trust (HFT) owned land from the Green Belt in order that around 300 homes could be built together with allotments.
  2. The number of homes was not a cap, but key conditions had to be met to warrant any increase.
  3. A Comprehensive Masterplan was a prerequisite for any development.
  4. July 2014 B&NES policy B3a set out precise conditions that would have to be met to allow this and as per the Inspector’s conditions specifically ruled out any access from the East at the Cross Keys/Southstoke Road junction and any development on Great Broad Close, adjacent to the Wansdyke.
  5. June 2018 the landowners/developers (HFT/Bloor) were granted permission to build 171 units in Phase 1 on the Western side of the development to be known as Sulis Down. This was irrespective of the lack of a detailed Masterplan but subject to agreement of Schedule 106 conditions. Despite failing to satisfy all the conditions set out in Local Plan Policy B3a, and dismissing their own Landscape officer’s recommendations, the decision by B&NES Development Control Committee was made on a majority 6/4 political vote.
  6. April 2021 HFT sold the land for Phase 1 to Countryside South West PLC for just under £20m million. The development is now underway and is known as Sulis Down.
  7. HFT recently circulated via their agents Frampton’s a short survey to seek opinions about their own further excursions into the plateau via Phases 3&- Their initial proposals suggest that 300 more Dwellings might be built in this area, which, combined with Phase 1, would represent at least a 50% increase over the current Local Plan limit.

The future

  1. We are facing the persistent pushing of the boundaries by developers to exploit the landscape with even more housing, building on designated Green Belt land ignoring the provision and incorporation of essential local services, and promoting a piece-meal development approach.
  2. Such over-development of the Plateau would lead to traffic chaos in the surrounding Villages and throughout the southern perimeters of the city.
  3. It will also lead to unwanted urbanisation, increased noise and pollution levels, reduced biodiversity, threaten the already vulnerable Wansdyke, and damage the typical Cotswold landscape and the unique semi-rural setting and character of the Conservation Village of South Stoke.
  4. It will seriously affect the quality of life and well-being of established communities.
  5. Over-development ignores both the declared B&NES Climate Emergency and Ecological Emergency and does not fit in at all with the concept of ‘liveable neighbourhoods’.
  6. It will compromise the Green Setting of the World Heritage city of Bath and jeopardise its WHS Status

SoBA seeks a greater and more sensitive balance across the South Stoke Plateau of an appropriate and sustainable scale that prevents over-development. As a significant viewpoint within the important landscape setting of the Cotswold AONB and World Heritage Site, the protection and enhancement of the green, semi-rural character of the area should be the priority consideration. We plan to mobilise all local communities and campaign vigorously in opposition to any over-development.

We request your urgent understanding of the situation and request your full support of these initiatives and look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Colin Webb
Chair of South of Bath Alliance
www.soba.org.uk

The recent history of what has been imposed on the plateau can be read in a full timeline on our web site.

4 Comments

  1. Fundamentally the Green Belt has simply created a sea of lawn or “eco death carpet” in a 10 mile radius around Bath forcing prices up city house prices with cheaper car dependent homes in places like Peasedown and Radstock. Let’s not pretend that Sulis Meadows is anything other than arable/grazing land and this is much more about the alarm around extra traffic the houses will generate on Bradford Road.

    Grazing/arable land is not “green”. Now if the government required green belt land to be re-wilded and eventually returned to woodlands with glades…THEN I’d very much agree that we have a green belt, but what we have now, is eco death belt and we need to recognise that.

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    1. I know this area well and it is certainly rich in wildlife and also part of the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I have seen over 50 species of birds there, and these arable fields are the only nesting site for skylarks in this part of Bath. 11 of the 17 species of British bats are found here. Building on this land would result in a great loss to the local wildlife.

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    2. Thanks to Colin Webb for a clear explanation of the issues. AWJ Reynolds makes some interesting comments and there is some truth in what he has said. And I would certainly agree that there is much more that could be done to improve the ecological value of the plateau with some re-wilding. In terms of accuracy we are talking about South Stoke plateau. (Sulis Meadows is a housing estate that has already been built where there were once fields that also previously belonged to the Hignett Family Trust). The fields are in fact all arable and in recent years have been used to grow barley. However to dismiss this area as an eco death carpet suggests an incomplete understanding of the habitat that does remain. For sure it has been degraded in terms of biodiversity, as has most of the UK. But it does still sustain a range of plant life and wildlife including invertebrates, birds, reptiles, bats and some other mammals. Also this is about people- humans need green habitat for health and well being, which includes recreation. Every spring the plateau comes back to life with the song of sky larks ascending. Every summer, in the valley below, the village of South Stoke has very special visitors- swifts swoop and scream in the sky. They depend on the aerial plankton (small spiders and insects) that in turn depend on the green surroundings of the city of Bath. Lets keep the green fringes of Bath green for future generations. Once it is concreted over it is gone forever.

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    3. Hi Adam, it’s been a while since we lived next door to each other but I hope you’re well! I am aware how well you know Bath – especially the cycle infrastructure and am hugely grateful for the work you’ve to help improve all our cycle journeys in and around Bath. However, I am afraid by labelling the South Stoke plateau as an “eco death carpet”, or a “lawn” shows that you are not familiar with this part of Bath. Of course I won’t pretend that it’s wildlife credentials couldn’t be improved but it’s certainly richer than it appears (as Ned as illustrated above). And once it’s concreted and tarmaced over, it’ll have far less biodiversity! We need to value and preserve all green spaces and all wildlife, especially those supporting endagered bird and bat species. But, I am also thinking of all the thousands of residents in south Bath that use and enjoy these fields – on a really regular basis. The pandemic has taught us that close access to green spaces is important. If we loose them, that’ll just force existing residents into their cars to drive somewhere for a walk. Crazy! Lastly, i can assure you that the objections from residents in south Bath is about far far more than concerns about increased traffic from increased houses (albeit a legitamate concern). Actually, this is my final point: the developers are dressing this new development up being “cycle friendly” and yet installing 2 car spaces for each house (with no e-car charging points) and no solar panels. It smacks of green washing.

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