Councillors defer decision on Medical Centre

17/P/5592/FUL – Erection of a two-storey building to be used as a medical centre on land opposite Bird of Prey Centre, Smallway, Congresbury

Today, North Somerset Council’s Planning and Regulatory Committee resolved to defer the application pending further consideration of proposals for pedestrian access. Councillors agreed with me that the proposal required additional careful scrutiny in order to ensure that the new facility was fully accessible.

I addressed committee members at the start of the meeting. You may need to turn your sound up.

Statement delivered to the P & R Committee on 12 September 2018

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

I speak as a resident of Yatton. Let me start by saying I am not here to defend the status quo. With regards to changes in NHS funding of primary care we are where we are… and we we are lucky to still have a locally-owned GP practice. I hope it stays that way. It goes without saying that we need a more modern medical facility. But, Mr Chairman… that is not the question the Committee needs to address today.

Yatton and Congresbury parish councils are right to have scrutinised the detail in what is a full application – more so given that many of us feel the 2016 public consultation was seriously flawed and the favoured location preordained. Not all potential site options have been explored. Last week I spoke with one local farmer putting land forward for development who has not been approached. The medical practice is working with a land agent who has taken them down this particular route – without regard to or tie-in with either of the emerging Yatton and Congresbury Neighbourhood Plans.

As one objector has commented: the medical centre should be properly planned and could be located closer to the new housing and extra care facility at North End. This would of course disadvantage Congresbury residents but I would like to put on record how disappointing it would be should Yatton Ward be left without a medical facility of any kind within its boundaries… with a growing population of over 9,000.

On 2nd May, a correspondent to the local paper asked why the loss of rural land between the two villages [is] so important. Well, as Officers recognise, releasing this field for development would be contrary to Policies CS19 and SA7… but more than that, in 2016, the land agent lobbied this Council to remove not just this field from the Strategic Gap, but also three adjoining fields. Many of us worry about setting a precedent for development in the Gap.

That said, the biggest concern for most residents is the question of access.

For vulnerable and elderly patients there seems to be token consideration given as to how they might be able to travel to the proposed location. The Road Safety Audit on behalf of the applicant recognises the potential risk of pedestrian/vehicle collisions and states that no assessment has been undertaken as to the suitability of the existing pedestrian provision.

In winter months imagine walking from Yatton… in the dark… with car headlights coming at you at 40mph. When the traffic backs up Smallway – as happens frequently – you can also envisage motorists using the new access as a place to turn around.

Public transport has actually improved since last year but might easily be put into reverse and funding for community transport is precarious. Residents have spoken passionately about this at parish council meetings.

At a time when we are supposed to be promoting healthy lifestyle choices it seems a little cynical for a medical practice to be effectively encouraging more private car use, which is what this application effectively does.

As Yatton Parish Council says:

a continuous pavement should be provided from both villages and controlled crossings to link up places where this may be difficult to achieve.

So what is actually proposed? I quote from the officer’s report: a simple refuge island will provide the required safe access. That is not good enough… and this view is shared by some who have left comments online in support of the application. These things matter to people a great deal.

Officers recommend approval subject to details of a pedestrian crossing but I think the Committee needs to be completely satisfied that the applicant and officers have supplied clarity on these issues. We need more detail. Where is the report from Highways? We need an upfront commitment to fund the basic infrastructure needed or we will simply increase car dependency, which conflicts with development plan policies discouraging car dependence.

If we are to pay such a high price and you are minded to approve… then it is vital that the wording of conditions are robust and unequivocal, so I respectfully request that you pause… do not accept the recommendation of Officers’ on this application today… and defer your decision until you have received the necessary assurances and answers – or refuse it.

Thank you for listening.

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