The Future of the Historic Market Town of Frome Under Threat

29 Sep 2019

The market town of Frome located in the Mendip District of Somerset has been described as a culturally vibrant town, with an Independent town council, and a majority of Lib Dem and Green councillors at both District and County level. It has appeared in several national newspapers as one of the coolest and greatest places to live, and the iconic Catherine Hill is often hailed as one of the county’s prettiest streets.
Frome is bucking the National trend. Where empty shops in the UK’s town centres are at their highest, for four years at 10.3%, in Frome the vacancy rate is just 3%. A recent survey carried out by Frome Town Council in July 2019, shows that confidence in Frome’s business owners is on the rise, with 80% of businesses in the town centre expecting their turnover to increase over the next 12 months.
However, a deal appears to have been made between Mendip District council; who purchased Saxonvale, a former employment zone and brownfield site, a strategically important area in the town centre bordering the river; and sold it onto Acorn property developers, who are planning a huge multi-storey residential complex, with very limited parking.
Frome already has many large housing developments either underway or in the planning stage, but lacking any new schools, civic infrastructure or quality mixed-use commercial space. The District Council appears to be ignoring its own policies and Local Plan, rail-roading the pre-application timetable and resisting many well-argued objections being put forward by consultees. The entire focus appears to be on enhanced profits for the District Council, maximising high density housing and ignoring a proper return in the public interest.
In a planning statement for a recent application to install forty containers in the main town centre car park, a spokesman for Mendip District Council wrote: “The Council believes that this initiative will bring huge benefits to many people in Frome who desperately need space to develop their businesses and create employment.” Most objections to this plan were due to a loss of parking spaces, impacting on local businesses, and also that the Saxonvale site would be a much more suitable location for these commercial units.
In ignoring its own Local Plan and masterplan Mendip District Council is leaving Frome's Neighbourhood Plan as the only planning protection left and therefore Frome Town Council are not supporting the Saxonvale application.
It also appears that the land was never valued and that Mendip District Council paid £6.3m of Public money for the site, which was £1.3m over the next bid, suggesting a misuse of Public funds.
There are so many aspects to this deal which make no sense. At a time when there is such a demand for commercial space, why a publicly owned, town centre site, should be used for high density housing.  It seems that Frome's long-term commercial, cultural and public needs are being sacrificed for financial gain by the District Council. It also raises many questions.
  • How far back does the secrecy over the Acorn contract extend?
  • Why was the land agent Alder King required to sign a non-disclosure agreement?
  • Why have the large majority of Frome's District Councillors signed non-disclosure agreements that have suppressed the public consultation?
  • Why is the District Council issuing blanket denials when evidence has been reviewed and found to be of merit by some of the best specialist lawyers in the country?
  • Why are Freedom of Information requests consistently being refused?
  • Why are our public representatives not asking hard questions which now need to be asked?
  • Most importantly, Is Mendip District Council acting in the Public interest of the people of Frome?
‘Mayday Saxonvale’ is a crowd-funded campaign, which has been set up by Kate and Damon Moore (Owners of the Iconic Silk Mill studios, adjoining the ‘Saxonvale’ site) to enable a judicial review of highly confidential contracts made between Mendip District Council and Acorn Properties. The campaign is to raise £7,500 with a deadline of 9am Sat 5th Oct. Currently at £2,805 with 61 pledges. For Further information and to support the cause:
The Future of the Historic Market Town of Frome Under Threat
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