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Mayday Saxonvale

What’s really going on at Saxonvale?

The Mayday Saxonvale Community Day at The Silk Mill

Saturday 26th March saw a large crowd from every generation at the recent Mayday Saxonvale event at the Silk Mill in Frome. The event was to publicise the Mayday plan for the Saxonvale site - which offers an alternative, sustainable, community led development to the one proposed by Mendip District Council and Acorn Property Group. The highlight was a premiere of a film made by ex BBC reporter Freddie Rostand looking at both proposals and what they both might mean for Frome. It is highly recommended viewing:

This video was created by Freddie Rostand

Living in Frome, it has been almost impossible to not be aware of the ongoing discussions and plans for the regeneration of the Saxonvale site in central Frome. Mendip District Council took a bold and unusual move in 2018 in buying the empty site for regeneration. Having purchased the two adjacent plots of land - amounting to more than 9 acres of land, the council’s planning board voted in late January 2021 to grant permission for the Acorn Property Group to redevelop the brownfield site in Frome town centre.

The Saxonvale site

The plan was to deliver 300 new homes along with employment units, arts and leisure facilities and a new footpath over the River Frome. However, the proposals were met with criticism from all quarters including local councillors with Richard Swann from the Frome Civic Society commenting:

“We absolutely believe in the Saxonvale project in principle. But 300 dwellings is too many, and too greedy. Mendip and their developers are determined to maximise profit on an unsustainable scheme that doesn’t meet Frome’s economic or social needs. It will squander this once-and-only opportunity to create a vibrant town centre extension and cause irreversible damage to the town’s unique character.”

Acorn Property Group’s commercially driven plan, is dominated by high density apartment blocks, roads and car parking. The plan failed to deliver on Mendip District Council’s own policy on the commercial space Frome needs and affordable housing requirements.

The proposed Acorn plans for the Saxonvale site

Even though permission was granted for a second time in September 2021, and work to clear the site (funded by a Homes England grant) has been under way since August, the legal agreements between the developer, district and county councils remain unsigned – meaning the construction of the new buildings cannot begin.

This has left the door open for a rival proposal for the Saxonvale site. Mayday Saxonvale was formed by the local community as a not-for-profit social enterprise with the sole objective of developing the Saxonvale site for the social, community, and economic benefit of Frome.

The proposed Mayday plans for the Saxonvale site

The Mayday Saxonvale plans have been extremely well-received by the people of Frome and could become the first community led masterplan to succeed in the UK.

The Mayday Saxonvale plans promise:

  • A genuine, mixed-use, town centre extension that Frome deserves

  • 11,000 sqm of employment space to generate the jobs that Frome needs

  • Affordable housing delivery above the 30% policy requirement

  • Distinctive residential neighbourhoods, including the UK’s first Tiny Homes community

  • Community owned assets with any profits to be retained for the community of Frome. To include a new boutique hotel, workshop/studio space, outdoor riverside lido, spa, and rehearsal space for young bands

  • A central relocation site for St Johns’ School

  • A masterplan that is focussed on sustainability

  • Preservation and reuse of historic structures and buildings

  • Placemaking design and imaginative green infrastructure, including rooftop gardens

  • Pedestrian priority, with parking hidden from view

Mendip District Council failed to meet the statutory timeline and determine the application in January 2022. They requested an extension until March 2022. It is now clear Mendip will not be meeting that extension deadline either. This is hugely frustrating as Mayday Director, Damon Moore explains:

“Whilst our application is delayed, there is nothing stopping the council engaging with us (as they did with Acorn prior to their planning permission). We have already been subjected to an extended pre-application process of 11 weeks instead of the five we were promised…..The Mayday Alternative Plan has received overwhelming backing from our community, with over 1000 comments in support submitted by residents on the planning portal. Delaying our planning determination is not only frustrating for us, but it's also extremely frustrating for the people of Frome.”

Mendip District Council had been seen to be ignoring the alternative proposals for the Saxonvale site, but when announcing that the grant funding deadline has been extended further, giving contractors until March 31, 2023 to complete all the necessary enabling works, a council spokesman said:

“The Mayday Saxonvale application is still under consideration, but we don’t have a firm date as to at which planning board it will be discussed.”

The proposed Mayday plans for the Saxonvale site

A number of Frome councillors, including Councillor Janine Nash, chairwoman of the council, and Councillor Damon Hooton, who chairs the planning board have sought to reassure residents that they will be approaching the Mayday Saxonvale proposals with a fair and open mind when the board finally meets.

In a joint statement, the six councillors said: “It cannot have gone un-noticed that we are facing criticism and are coming under pressure to take a stance on the Mayday Saxonvale application. To the people of Frome. We were elected to represent your views. Please be assured that we are doing just that. We are listening. We are very aware of the level of support that has been expressed both on the council’s planning portal and via our inboxes. We have all received a great many emails on the subject as individual councillors and also some of us as members of the planning board. Those of us that sit on the board and cannot overtly comment (at the risk of being perceived as predetermined) wish to preserve our legitimacy to hear the application, in order that Frome councillor can be part of the decision-making process.”

They continued: “In this pre-election period, and with a live planning application yet to be heard, we do not feel comfortable to express a view and to pre-empt. You can be forgiven for thinking that this is a convenient response. Please also consider that not feeling free to speak, as we find ourselves, is a difficult situation to be in, especially at this time.

“In response to the perception that we are pushing one proposal over another it is pertinent to remember that the council and Acorn have been working on plans to re-develop the Saxonvale site since 2017, and during this time it was the only available plan. It is only more recently that the Mayday alternative has come forward.

“Currently the application is on course to be heard by the planning board on May 11, and the board will listen to the application with objectivity and an open mind as with any application.”

The Mayday Saxonvale Community Day at The Silk Mill

Whilst the future of the Saxonvale site looks to be delayed further, at least it seems that parties from both sides will be entering into discussions and the alternative Mayday Saxonvale proposals will be heard fully.

For more information on the full Mayday Saxonvale planning application along with all other supporting documents and how to submit a comment please follow the links below:

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Apr 12, 2022

Brilliant article.


Apr 07, 2022

Good article Becki

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