HAVE plans for a controversial 3,000-home garden village near Thornbury been given the go-ahead before planning permission has been submitted?

This is the question being asked by campaigners in the town opposing proposals for the Buckover Garden Village as they call for a boycott of “invite-only” workshops launching the public consultation.

When the concept was first discussed in public by the Tortworth Estate, after the Gazette revealed in May 2016 that the concept had been put forward to South Gloucestershire Council, a timeline was presented that implied the planning process could take around five years.

But since the signing of a long-term agreement between the estate and developer St. Modwen, plans have progressed substantially, with an application potentially being submitted later this year.

Colin Gardner, co-chairman of Thornbury Residents Against Poorly Planned Development (TRAPP’D), said that South Gloucestershire Council have changed their approach in recent months, and it was “very clear they are trying to run the plan-making process and the approval process much more in parallel with just a tiny bit of a lag”.

“Clearly what they have decided to do is to run as fast as they can,” he said, “and we are quite annoyed by this.”

Concerns have also been raised over whether the plans have unofficially been given the go ahead, with provision for the concept being approved by South Gloucestershire Council for inclusion into the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP), the regional development plan up to 2036, prior to any public consultation.

Gazette Series:

The site of the Buckover Garden Village (left) and the "Fudged-Gate" email being presented to South Gloucestershire Council (right)

This vote was supported by the ruling Conservative party despite an email from council planners being uncovered indicated transport proposals to support the village could have been “fudged” to appear more attractive.

“Buckover is different, because it exists in its own location,” said Mr Gardner. “In effect, once you have approved the Joint Spatial Plan, you almost make it impossible not to do Buckover, because it means that within the overall plan’s housing numbers, you have the target represented by Buckover.

“So if you don’t do it or an equivalent, they will be straight back into the problems of being behind target they have been.

“But then, as with “Fudged-gate” and simply saying that a solution needs to be found for the A38, none of the difficult issues are being ironed out in the Joint Spatial Plan.”

An SGC spokeswoman said that they were in the process of “developing transport solutions as would be normal when planning for major growth across the district” and that strategic transport assessment identified in the JSP were entirely separate from the comments made on the expression of interest in which the planner’s comments arose.

The JSP will now go to the Secretary of State for approval.

Two separate applications for funding to support the planning process have also been made by the council, with both being turned down, thanks in-part to intervention by Thornbury and Yate MP Luke Hall, who has backed protesters in opposing the plans.

A 3,000 resident survey conducted by the MP showed an overwhelming 92 per cent of the area were opposed to the plans.

Gazette Series:

Thornbury and Yate MP Luke Hall has backed campaigners against the Buckover plans

More recently, the proposed 370-home “Land South of Gloucester Road” development in Thornbury was opposed by South Gloucestershire Council on the grounds that its proximity to Buckover could damage the legitimacy of the “garden village” status.

This was an unprecedented decision as far as developments in Thornbury go, with each application having previously been decided independently of other prospective sites.

Mr Gardner described the decision as a “surreal experience” as the council’s planners used a series of arguments to argue against the proposals that TRAPP’D had put forward in the past, only to fall on deaf ears.

“We have put a lot of time into arguing the effects of traffic, the distance these houses are from the town centre and that Thornbury is taking already taking on more development than it has needed to,” he said. “To hear them reel these off when it suited them was unreal.

“There are government guidelines for a garden village that are required to get funding, such as that it must not be an extension of an existing significant development, which arguably it is, and must be locally supported, which it clearly isn’t.”

SGC say that, despite the agreement to submit the draft JSP to the planning inspectorate, including the scope for the village, a planning application would still need to be submitted and determined in the normal way.

The council spokeswoman said that the potential impact of the proposed garden village was factored into the consideration of the ‘Land South of Gloucester Road’ application because it is significantly closer to Buckover than other sites put forward.

She added: “In addition, given this site’s specific location on land situated between Thornbury and the proposed garden village at Buckover, it was correct that this should further be cited as a refusal reason in this particular case.”

The Tortworth Estate and St. Modwen have officially launched the public consultation, with a series of workshops targeting the neighbours, community organisations, businesses and other stakeholders of the potential village, and a public exhibition to follow later on.

Mr Gardner said that TRAPP’D had been invited to one of the workshops, but have since declined after organisers told them the location of the proposed settlement would not be part of the discussion.

“These are clearly designed for the developer to say they are engaging with the community, and that they are running with the ideas given to them, so people are just being used,” he said, urging others that have been invited not to attend.

Gazette Series:

Robert Moreton of the Tortworth Estate (right) with members of the garden village team

A Tortworth Estate spokeswoman responded by saying that “extensive research” had been undertaken over the past two years, with the estate listening to the community to ensure the village “will meet local aspirations” and will “address the needs of the rural areas”.

“The workshop on April 17 will be an opportunity for everyone attending to contribute to the master planning of the garden village.

“Those invited have been carefully selected, as representatives from across the community, to ensure that feedback is diverse and comprehensive. This will be followed by a public exhibition in due course.

“Being ‘plan-led’ by the JSP and by the South Gloucestershire Local Plan, now is the right time to hold the workshops; it is an opportunity for the local community to develop, inform and shape the future before any planning application is submitted.”