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Part of the proposed development site, with Castle Street on the left

Developers say they are pressing ahead with plans to build 130 homes on a greenfield site on Castle Street in Mere despite strong opposition from many local residents and councillors. At a sometimes noisy council meeting last month at the Grove Building, members of the public and councillors voiced their concerns at the proposed development on farmland that lies in the corner between Castle Street and the B3092 to Gillingham. Objectors said the housing estate would compromise the character of the town, put too much pressure on local services such as school and health provision, was not needed and was simply putting money in the hands of ‘profiteers’.

But Richborough Estates who are behind the scheme say they believe they have a strong planning case for the development and that despite the opposition argue that it is both necessary to meet housing needs and will benefit the local economy. In a letter to Mere Town Council sent after the meeting the developers’ planning consultant Darren Parker spoke of the ‘urgent need for additional housing in South Wiltshire’ and the ‘considerable benefits for the local community’ that the project would bring. However, Darren Parker admitted the developers were ‘disappointed’ at the level of opposition at the meeting on February 6 compared with the reaction during consultation last year. ‘Given the overall level of public support that was evident as part of the pre-application consultation…we had not anticipated that the meeting would be dominated … by objectors to the proposals,’ he wrote.

Meanwhile Richborough Estates’ regional manager Robert Mitchell told Gillingham News that plans were moving forward and they are expecting to submit revised plans ‘imminently’. He says that figures show that this part of Wiltshire has an overall shortfall of more than 600 homes. ‘We feel that should be dealt with. We feel that Mere is a sustainable town and we believe we have a good site.’ But he added that they took on board the opposition from local councillors and residents. ‘They are clearly opposed, we’ve listened to why they’re opposed which is why we’re trying to make revision to the application,’ he said.

The 6 February council meeting in Mere certainly highlighted the current deep hostility to the plans. Quentin Skinner from Castle Ground Farm said that, given existing plans for 130 new homes on the site of the old Hill Brush site, the town did not require another development on this scale. ‘There is absolutely no need for this development to be given the green light for the benefit of outside profiteers,’ he told the meeting. It is on a greenfield site and would put ‘uncalled-for strain’ on traffic, schools and other services, he said.

Adrienne Howell from Old Hollow, Mere, said the town had done its fair share in accepting new housing and still had a ‘special ethos and community spirit’. She added: ‘But this will be difficult to maintain if continued large-scale developments like this are allowed. A halt must be called to the creeping suburbia of Mere if it’s to maintain its character and sense of community.’ And Mary White from Mill Lane was concerned about where residents of the new estate would find work. ‘There is no future for these houses, no employment for the people who might live there,’ she said, describing the plans as ‘unseemly, unwanted and not necessary’.

The chairman of the Town Council, Brett Norris, also voiced his opposition to the scheme, saying that it was outside the town’s settlement boundary – the dividing line between the urban area and the countryside. ‘And we were told no building would happen outside of that. It’s also a greenfield site and you don’t want to build on your greenfield sites unless you absolutely have to,’ he said. Councillor Norris noted that only ten years into its 2006-2026 plan Mere had already more or less met its housing targets. ‘So there is no need to have another big development imposed on us.’ He agreed that the area was ‘desperate’ for more affordable housing and that the developers were proposing that 30% of the new homes would fall into that category. ‘But why have we got to have 100 houses we don’t want for 30 we do want?’ he asked, before councillors voted to object to the plans.

Will GP surgery move out of town?
The possibility that Mere’s GP surgery could move out of its town centre location was also raised at the meeting, and could be the subject of a tug-of-war between rival developments. Richborough Estates say they have been approached by medical site developers Medcentres on behalf of the surgery about building a purpose-built medical centre at the proposed Castle Street development. The developers say that they are revising their plans accordingly and that it represented a ‘valuable opportunity’ to improve medical services that are ‘constrained by the building at the practice’s current location in Dark Lane’. However, at the council meeting on 6 February planning consultant George Mellery-Prat, whose clients own the Townsend Nursery site between the Castle Street proposal and the town itself, said the surgery had contacted his clients about the possibility of relocating there. ‘We are in the process of creating plans for them,’ he told the meeting.

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