Written Representation 228

Freshford Mill





2368/B1 – Surrey & Counties (Sutton) Ltd
Local Plan reference:


Policy GB.3

Proposals Map, Inset 31



1.1       An objection is raised seeking designation of Freshford Mill as a Major Existing Developed Site (MEDS) under policy GB.3 and its identification as being suitable for mixed use redevelopment. This objection is amplified in proof number 2368C, which also rebuts the Council’s proof B&NES 11.

1.2       The objector suggests that the measurements of the site in relation to building mass, floorspace and height are incorrect. Alternative measurements are detailed by the objector which, they suggest, increase the ranking of Freshford Mill within those sites assessed, thereby supporting its identification as a MEDS.


2.0       CONTEXT

            Site Description

2.1       Freshford Mill, is a former industrial site located in the Frome Valley, below the hamlet of Sharpstone and to the south west of the village of Freshford. The site is located in the open countryside within the Bristol/Bath Green Belt and the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The site is shown on the map attached as Annex 1. 

2.2       The appeal site is of irregular shape and approximately 1.5 hectares in area.  It is currently occupied by a variety of vacant and derelict buildings ranging from single to four storeys in height.  The buildings also range in age from the original 17th Century Mill and associated buildings constructed of stone and slate, to modern industrial units of a more utilitarian appearance constructed of concrete block and render.  Additionally, the north eastern part of the site comprises a tarmac car parking area where there is also a small disused sewage plant and rubble from two demolished buildings. Vegetation on the site is predominantly limited to the site boundaries and consists of native trees and hedging.

2.3       The site is bounded to the north west by the River Frome and Rosemary Lane, the north eastern boundary of the site is also formed by Rosemary Lane. To the south east and south west are paddocks with the mill race running along the western periphery of the site.  The boundaries of the appeal site are formed mainly by hedging and trees with some areas of chain linked and barbed wire fencing, a substantial metal gate restricts vehicular access to the site. 

            Planning History

2.4       There is an extensive planning history pertinent to the objection site.  In summary, the only recent approvals on the site have been for:

·     The creation of a rural recreation area, nature sanctuary and workshops in 2005.

·     The use of one of the buildings and the associated yard area for the manufacture and storage of roof trusses in 2003.

              Neither of these applications has to date been implemented.

2.5       There have been a number of applications (some of which have been withdrawn prior to determination) submitted to the Council for the conversion of the mill and associated buildings in recent years, none of which have been approved other than the two described above. 

2.6       Of particular relevance are two applications for mixed use redevelopment submitted by the objectors (Surrey and Counties (Sutton) Ltd) comprising 21 residential units, 5 live/work units and employment use, provision of improved access with associated landscaping, parking and demolition.

2.7       Both applications were refused by the Council, one on the 21 March 2003 and the other on 26 April 2004. These refusals were the subject of a joint appeal, the Inquiry for which commenced in April of this year and was still ongoing at the time this proof was prepared and submitted.

2.8       It is agreed that, as the objectors state in para 1.4 of their statement (2368C), the authorised use of the site is an unrestricted B2 industrial use. However, this differs from the fallback position i.e. what the objectors could do without any fresh planning permission, which was the subject of discussion at the recent Section 78 Appeal Inquiry. At the Appeal Inquiry the Council stated that the prospects of a ‘fallback’ position must, as a matter of law, be real and not merely theoretical. Evidence was presented that, in the event the appeal proposals were dismissed, there are no reasonable prospects of the appeal site reverting to B2 use. Therefore, it was concluded that the fallback position is a vacant site.


2.9       The approach of the Council in assessing and identifying MEDS is set out in section 3 of Topic Paper 7: Green Belt and proof B&NES 11. A two stage process has been employed which accords with both advice set out in Annex C of PPG2 (CD A1.1.2) and the Wansdyke Local Plan Inspector’s Report (CD A2.4.3).

2.10     The two stages of the process are:

1. Determination of which sites were sufficiently substantial to qualify as MEDS.

2. Assessment of these sites to decide whether they should be identified in the Plan as suitable for limited infilling and/or redevelopment.

2.11     The criteria measured in undertaking stage one are set out in Topic Paper 7, along with an indication of which criteria are considered to be the most important. Results of the assessment of potential MEDS is set out in Annex 2 of Topic Paper 7. On the basis of the assessment undertaken by the Council Freshford Mill is ranked 16th on the basis of building mass.     Comparison with the designated MEDS against the measured criteria is also set out in proof B&NES 11 (see section 3.9 and Annex 1).



3.1       The response to this objection is set out below in relation to the two stages of the process of designating a MEDS under policy GB.3.

            Stage 1

3.2       The objectors suggest that the figures set out in Annex 2 of Topic Paper 7 and proof B&NES 11 are inaccurate in relation to Freshford Mill and that building height is a critical factor as it impacts on openness of the Green Belt.

3.3       The Council agrees that building height is important in terms of impact on openness. However, in the assessment set out in Topic Paper 7 the height figure relates to the maximum height of a structure on a site. This could relate to only a very small element of the site thereby skewing its assessment. The criterion of building mass is regarded as the most important factor as this reflects both the footprint/floorspace of buildings and their height. As such it is considered to most strongly influence the impact of the site on the openness of the Green Belt. Therefore, sites are ranked according to this criterion.

3.4       With regard to the figures, the objector suggests in paragraph 2.4 of their proof that the building mass on site is 26,000m3 as compared with 21,155m3 shown in Annex 2 of Topic Paper 7. However, in a later prepared part of the proof (Section 1) other alternative measures are set out; these include a building mass of 28,540m3. These figures have been arrived at following a detailed CAD aided study.

3.5       In the process of dealing with the Section 78 Appeal (referred to in paras 2.7 and 2.8 above) a Statement of Common Ground was agreed between the objector and the Council (see document 2368D submitted by the objector). This included agreement of the figures in relation to existing building floorspace, footprint and volume. These figures are shown in paragraph 2.4 of the Statement of Common Ground.

3.6       Whilst the Council has therefore agreed with the objector’s measurement of building floorspace, footprint and building mass or volume (of 28,540m3), it should be noted that these figures are based on measurements taken from building plans/elevations dating from 2000. These plans were also used and assessed by the Council in estimating and agreeing the relevant figures.

3.7       Since that time a number of building elements have either partially or completely collapsed. It is evident on site that elements of buildings in the blocks labelled as A, B and C in the 2000 plans attached as Appendix 2 to the objector’s proof (document 2368C) have collapsed. Of particular relevance is the sizeable building in the western part of block C labelled ‘dilapidated timber building’ on the 2000 plans which is no longer present on site. In addition buildings R and S have also been completely demolished.

3.8       Whilst the Council accepts that the figures set out in Annex 2 of Topic Paper 7 are inaccurate and are an under representation of the buildings on site it is also clear that, due to the changes on site referred to above, there is considerable doubt in relation to the accuracy of the objector’s figures agreed in the statement of common ground. It is estimated that the floorspace figure should be reduced by approximately 10% as a result of these changes. The impact on building mass is likely to be proportionally less but is difficult to estimate due to the lack of necessary information.

3.9       The floorspace and building mass figures would, however, still be higher than those set out in previous Council evidence and therefore its ranking as suggested by the objector would also increase. On the basis of the increased floorspace figure Freshford Mill is still smaller than all of the designated MEDS with the exception of Burnett Business Park.

3.10     As referred to in paragraph 3.3 above building mass is regarded as the most relevant criterion in terms of representing its impact on the openness of the Green Belt and whether the site is ‘substantial’ or ‘major’. On the basis of the revised building mass figure (which will be less than the 28,540m3 based on the 2000 plans) the site would be the 13th most substantial in the District. It is more substantial than Littleton Mill in Chew Magna but remains significantly less substantial than Monkton Combe School which is the smallest of the designated MEDS.

3.11     In conclusion the Council accepts that its previous measurement of Freshford Mill was inaccurate and that figures relating to building height, floorspace and building mass are greater than those set out in previous evidence. However, through comparison with those sites designated as MEDS it is still considered that Freshford Mill is not sufficiently substantial to qualify as a MEDS within Bath & North East Somerset.

Stage 2

3.12     In the event that the Inspector disagrees with the Council and considers that Freshford Mill does qualify as a MEDS, stage 2 of the process i.e. assessment of the suitability of the site for designation and consideration of the policy allowing limited infilling and/or redevelopment needs to be undertaken. The objector is seeking its designation under policy GB.3 in order to allow for mixed use redevelopment (which it is clear from recent applications is intended to include a significant residential element). The Council considers that for a number of reasons explained below the site is not suitable for such a designation.

            Flood Risk

3.13     Freshford Mill lies wholly within the floodplain of the River Frome (as shown on the Deposit Draft Proposals Map, Inset 35 (CD A2.1.5)). Floodplain maps are regularly updated by the Environment Agency and in the current maps the whole of the main block of buildings on the site lie within a zone 3 floodplain (i.e. areas most at risk from flooding) as shown on the map attached as Annex 2. Whilst policy NE.14 of the Revised Deposit Draft Local Plan (RDDLP) (CD A2.1.10) allows for development within areas of flood risk where the flood hazard can be mitigated or other circumstances apply, the Council do not consider it appropriate to allocate a site for mixed use development that lies within an undefended zone 3 floodplain. This accords with the precautionary approach set out in PPG25: Development and Flood Risk (CD A1.1.25), particularly in relation to proposed residential development.  

            Vehicular Access

3.14     In addition to flood risk Freshford Mill is subject to severe vehicular access difficulties. The approach roads to the site are generally narrow (single carriageway width) country lanes. In particular the approach from the west along Rosemary Lane (providing the most direct and quickest route to the A36 and the strategic road network) is, in places, only 2.4 metres wide and subject to steep gradients. On all approach roads there are also a number of blind bends and extremely limited opportunities for vehicles to pass. There are no footways on these roads, nor over most of the route, any verges which pedestrians might use to avoid passing traffic.

3.15     Mixed use redevelopment of the site would lead to significant traffic generation on local narrow country lanes that are not suited to accommodate such traffic flows. It is difficult to be certain of the ‘directional split’ of traffic, however, it is likely that the majority would use Rosemary Lane to the west of the site as this represents the most direct route to the A36. Rosemary Lane is subject to an absolute weight limit meaning that it is not suitable for goods vehicles.

3.16     The nature of the local road network and Rosemary Lane in particular is such that two vehicles would not be able to pass each other. As a result of narrow road widths and a lack of inter-visibility for vehicles between passing locations it is very likely that vehicles will have to reverse significant distances in order to pass each other.

3.17     In addition the road width is such that, in places, there would be a significant risk to other road users i.e. pedestrians and cyclists. Government guidance set out in Design Bulletin 32 “Residential Roads and Footpaths: Layout Considerations” (extract attached as Annex 3) suggests that 3 metres should be regarded as the minimum width on a single track road system to enable a car to pass a cyclist or pedestrian with care. Stretches of the local road network are narrower than this (see para 3.14 above) and are as narrow as 2.4 metres, which is inadequate to allow cars to pass pedestrians and cyclists and even to allow some drivers to get in or out of some vehicles in the event of a breakdown.

3.18     The likelihood of these risks arising is increased by the car dependent nature of development due to the unsustainable location of the site (see paragraphs 3.20 – 3.28 below). It should also be noted that Rosemary Lane regularly floods in the vicinity of the site and therefore at such times will not be available for use by traffic.

3.19     In assessing whether a site should be designated as a MEDS there are parallels between Freshford Mill and the Polysulphin Works in Keynsham. The combination of flood risk and poor vehicular access were the main reasons why the Polysulphin Works in Keynsham (ranked as the third most substantial in terms of building mass) was not identified as a MEDS under policy GB.3.


3.20     The Council also considers that sustainability factors mean that allocation of Freshford Mill for mixed use development would be inappropriate.

3.21     PPS1: Delivering Sustainable Development (CD A1.2.1) and PPG3: Housing (CD A1.1.3) whilst advocating the re-use of previously developed land and buildings place emphasis on development taking place in sustainable locations.  This guidance is supported by paragraph 17 of PPS7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas (CD A1.2.7) which states the Government’s support for the re-use of appropriately located and suitably constructed existing buildings in the countryside where this would meet sustainable development objectives.  Settlement patterns and accessibility to service centres are amongst the factors that paragraph 17 of PPS7 advises should be taken into account.

3.22     These principles are reiterated in RPG10, the JRSP and the RDDLP (e.g. see vision and strategy and settlement classification chapters). In applying these principles to Freshford Mill, the characteristics of the site are that it is a previously developed site as defined in Annex C of PPG3, but is isolated in terms of location, neither lying within nor immediately adjoining a settlement. Access to public transport from the site is poor (this is considered in more depth below). 

3.23     In terms of accessibility PPG3 (CD A1.1.3) and PPG13: Transport (CD A1.1.13) outline criteria which assist in assessing sites.  Regional guidance in Annex A to RPG10 (CD A2.12) also sets out accessibility criteria for new residential development, including requiring development to be within walking distance of a food shop and primary school (600m).  The village of Freshford (classified as a R3 settlement under policy SC.1 of the Local Plan) does provide a small local store and a primary school, approximately 1.2km from the site, but offers very little else and has very limited employment opportunities.  The closest centres where such facilities are readily available is Bath and to a lesser extent Bradford-on-Avon. 

3.24     Paragraph 75 of PPG13 states that, walking is the most important mode of travel at the local level and offers the greatest potential to replace car trips.  JRSP (CD A2.9) Policy 1 aims to promote sustainable practices and in relation to movement seeks to encourage cycling and walking whilst minimising the need to travel by motorised vehicles and the dependence on the private car.  This objective is reiterated in Policies 1 and T1 of the RDDLP. 

3.25     Paragraph 78 of PPG13 (CD A1.1.13) goes on to state that cycling also has the potential to substitute for short car trips.  However, the nature and topography of the footpaths and roads in the vicinity of the appeal site, which provide access to the limited services and facilities (shop, post office and rail station) available in Freshford (approximately 1.2km away), are that they are isolated, have no lighting and natural surveillance and in respect of the roads are narrow and lack footways.  It is also noteworthy that the footpaths providing direct access to the services and facilities pass through the floodplain and are muddy in inclement weather and are unlikely to be utilised on a daily basis.

3.26     The closest bus service to the appeal site (route No.94) has stops in Freshford (1km) and Sharpstone (0.3Km), this route provides access to Bath and Trowbridge on a two hourly basis.  Freshford is also served by a rail station approximately 1.5km from the appeal site, which has an hourly service providing access to Bath, Bristol, Trowbridge and beyond.

3.27     Having assessed the location of the site, it is considered that due to these significant constraints and the limited level of services available within walking or cycling distance, residents of the proposed development are unlikely to substitute car journeys with walking or cycling, except for leisure purposes.  As such future residents of a mixed use development would be highly dependent on the car as a mode of transport, due to the limitations of other modes of movement. 

3.28     It should also be noted that the closest services and facilities to the site are accessed via a route which is prone to flooding and would be unavailable when the River Frome is in flood.  During such an event, the site would only be accessible via the lanes from Bradford-on-Avon.  Furthermore, in periods of flood the bus route serving Freshford and Sharpstone would not be available. This further exacerbates the unsustainable nature of the objection site.


4.0       CONCLUSION

4.1       With regard to the two stage MEDS assessment process the Council considers that Freshford Mill should not be designated as a MEDS suitable for mixed use redevelopment as suggested by the objector.

4.2       Whilst the Council agrees that its measurement of the buildings at Freshford Mill presented in previous evidence is inaccurate, the site is still regarded as not being sufficiently substantial to qualify as a MEDS. Furthermore, for the reasons set out in this proof i.e. flood risk, poor vehicular access and sustainability factors, it is not considered appropriate to allocate the site for mixed use redevelopment. Proposals for mixed use redevelopment will therefore need to be brought forward and considered through reference to ‘very special circumstances’ to justify inappropriate development in the Green Belt referred to in PPG2 and RDDLP policy GB.1.



5.1       It is requested that the Inspector recommends that no change be made to the Local Plan for the reasons set out in the proof.



Annex 1 – Site map

Annex 2 – Freshford Mill showing the extent of zone 3 floodplain

Annex 3 – Extract from Design Bulletin 32: Residential Roads and Footpaths: Layout Considerations



CD A1.1.2 – PPG2: Green Belts

CD A1.1.3 – PPG3: Housing

CD A1.1.13 – PPG13: Transport

CD A1.2.1 – PPS1: Delivering Sustainable Development

CD A1.2.7 – PPS7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas

CD A1.1.25 – PPG25: Development and Flood Risk

CD A2.1.5 – Bath & North East Somerset Local Plan, Deposit Draft 2002, Proposals Map

CD A2.1.10 - Bath & North East Somerset Local Plan, Revised Deposit Draft 2003, Written Statement

CD A2.4.3 – Wansdyke Local Plan Inquiry Inspector’s Report

CD A2.9 – Joint Replacement Structure Plan

CD A2.12 – RPG10: Regional Planning Guidance for the South West



Topic Paper 7 – Green Belt

Proof B&NES 11 - MEDS


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Published Date:- 24/05/2005 14:24:00
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