FARMLAND near the site of a popular Somerset musical festival could soon be replaced with 230 new homes if plans are approved.

The Watchet Music Festival was held near Parsonage Farm off the B3191 Brendon Road annually for 25 years, with the last event happening in the summer of 2022.

The Watchet Live Community Interest Company (CIC), which organised the festival, announced in June that the festival would no longer take place due to the current tenant farmer ending his lease on the site.

The Wyndham Estate has now published plans for 230 homes on the festival site, with new commercial space being provided by converting the existing buildings.

Watchet Live CIC confirmed the festival would no longer be held in a statement published on its official website in June.

A spokesman said: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unfortunately not able to renew our lease on the land that we use at Parsonage Farm.

“The tenant farmer is retiring and vacating the farm, and the proposed future housing development will be on most of the fields and the farm that is used to stage the festival.

“Because of this, we feel after much soul searching and debate that it has become apparent that this is the right time to allow Watchet Festival to come to a natural end.

“After 25 years of voluntarily organising events, some of the team feel that it’s the right time for them to retire completely from event planning.

“Other members of Watchet Live CIC will continue for the foreseeable future to present other events in the town, including carnival weekend and the wheelbarrow race.

“After discussions with the land agents on their offer of potentially identifying alternative land on which to possibly relocate the event, we know that taking Watchet Festival out of the town and starting afresh on new land isn’t feasible.”

If planning permission is granted, the new development will  be brought forward in two phases.

Phase one will see the creation of a new access road off Brendon Road and the conversion of the existing Parsonage Farm buildings, providing commercial space for local businesses, including 11 light industrial units.

Phase two will see the access road extended to the new homes, along with new allotments and orchards in the southern portion of the site.

The homes will be concentrated in the northern half of the development, with the existing public footpaths through the site being enhanced and green space near the existing homes on Brendon Road being maintained.

The new properties will range from one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom houses, with 35 per cent of the new homes will be affordable – the equivalent of 81 dwellings.

A spokesman for LHC Design (representing the applicant) said: “The layout shows how buildings could be located on the site to maximise the green space and benefits of open space, without compromising on a sustainable layout and development form.

“A new access is provided from Brendon Road, with the existing hedgerow being retained as far as possible whilst allowing for the required visibility for highway safety.

“Extensive areas of natural green space have been provided, especially in the buffer area around the retained Parsonage Farmhouse and along the retained drain to Churchill Way.

“A new orchard, as well as areas of wildflower planting across the site will
enhance biodiversity and visual interest on the site.”

Watchet is expected to see significant housing growth in the coming years, with the town and many of its neighbouring settlements being unaffected by the phosphates crisis which has held up around 18,000 homes across Somerset.

Summerfield Developments is currently delivering 250 homes on the Liddymore Park site at the town’s south-eastern edge, along with additional parking for the nearby Knights Templar Church of England & Methodist First School.

Outline permission is in place for new homes either side of Normandy Avenue on the east of the town, with Edenstone Homes submitting detailed plans for 139 dwellings in January.

A further 280 homes could end up being delivered on the former Wansborough paper mill site further up Brendon Road after Stratton Land Ltd. secured permission to raise the site using topsoil from an ongoing development in Minehead.

The Wyndham Estate, which owns land across the former West Somerset area, has also been bringing forward new developments in the neighbouring village of Williton, delivering the Orchard Brooks development of 90 homes on Doniford Road and securing outline permission for a further 350 homes on the A39 Priest Street.

Numerous local residents have already lodged objections to the Parsonage Farm proposals, arguing it will lead to increased traffic and put pressure on the town’s already strained amenities.

Bernie Scott-Field, who lives on Churchill Way with her husband Len, said: “We are both social workers and totally understand the need for decent affordable housing.

“But Parsonage farm is a greenfield site – why would building on green
fields still be supported by the council when there are clearly brownfield sites available that need development?

“We struggled to find an NHS dentist when we moved here a year ago. We know schools are at maximum intake, NHS services are oversubscribed, the fire service is struggling and we have a police service that cannot meet demand.

“The closure of the B3191 Cleeve Hill has yet to show its full effect. It is likely local shops and services will close – we have already lost our post office – and this will make a new housing development unattractive to purchasers.”

Jan Martin, who lives on Saxon Close, concurred: “Somerset Council has declared a climate emergency, and this destruction of wildlife habitat, paving over of land (increasing local flood risks) and lack of attention to the increased car journeys the development will cause is not in keeping with the authority’s stated aim to put the environment first.

“Since the closure of the B3191, there is no other way in and out of Watchet except via the single lane stretch of road at the Five Bells junction.

“This is already subject to collapsing verges caused by traffic impacts, and causes tailbacks and congestion when the spot is under pressure.

“There is also no safe access for pedestrians to either Watchet or Williton, as both routes involve walking on roads without pavements.”

Anthony Forester-Bennett, who lives on Stoates Mill, added: “It will not be practical for people living into Parsonage Farm to get into our tiny town centre.

“If you allow this development to go ahead, there is a risk of Watchet becoming another Burnham-on-Sea, and nobody wants that – do they?”

The Wyndham Estate has clarified its position regarding the festival, stating that the employment element of the planned development would allow the event to be restaged nearby in the future.

A spokesman said: “To clarify, the Watchet Music Festival did not take place on the land that forms the site of the proposed development.

“The organisers of the Music Festival who had run the event for a number of years on Wyndham Estate land, decided earlier this year that they did not want to continue its organisation, and there was no one forthcoming to take over the organisation of the festival.

“Part of the application site had previously been used for camping only and this would have needed to be relocated to another field.

“The applicants, along with its planning consultants, were in proactive and ongoing dialogue with the festival organisers with a view to accommodating this.

“An alternative field close to the festival site was identified and offered to the organisers for this purpose, prior to their deciding that they would not continue with the festival.

“The organisers of the festival had previously used the existing curtilage farm buildings to the south west of Parsonage Farmhouse for storage of items such as stage equipment and merchandise.

“The scope of the planning application continues to permit this, formalising the use of the buildings for storage rather than agricultural.”

Somerset Council is expected to make a decision on the Parsonage Farm plans in the spring.

Given the size and scale of the development, such a decision is likely to be taken in public by its planning committee west, which makes decisions on major applications within the former Somerset West and Taunton area.