This evening saw the presentation and explanation of the Retirement Villages planning proposal and, once again, there was an exceptionally good turn-out with, by my estimation, 120 people in the audience. Once again, the Dunny car park was full.
Andrew Gunn, a planning officer from SSDC, is to be congratulated for walking into the lion's den and he handled the presentation will humour and patience. Some of the audience seemed to think that he was representing the applicant but, by the time I left at 8:10pm, he had managed to navigate his way through the questions and had retained his composure in doing so. 10:10
Andrew walked the audience through the key elements of the scheme and it was clear from his comments that, at present, the Planning Authority isn't exactly wild about the proposal. Which is good new for this evening's audience because they weren't wild about it either. The main issues under fire were:
The 'massing' of the proposal ie the physical bulk of the buildings compared to the (lesser) bulk of the adjacent buildings.
The capacity of the development (85 beds) and the likely level of parking demand which will be generated and not catered for within the site itself.
The relationship between the proposed development and the roads into which it will vent and which will also service it.
There were other issues raised but these three seemed to me to be the major issues of concern. At the end of the day, the application is for what is, in effect, a glossy and gated care-home. The application recognises the relationship between age and infirmity and seeks to address that issue. However, Somerton may not be the best location for this proposal, partly because of the chosen location and partly because of Somerton's existing, and limited, GP service. There is no doubt that this application, were it to come to fruition, will inevitably put additional pressure on local health-care resources which are already in need of expansion. (Langport's GP practice occupies excellent and extensive premises which are being extended further.)
For my money, its a stunningly boring proposal. It looks like the sort of thing that a developer would conjure up if they didn't really have enough money to do the job well. A number of the audience commented on the fact that the only part of the proposal which was well detailed was drawing of the gates which looked suspiciously like those you might find in front of a crematorium.
But there was another serious aspect to this evening's meeting and that was illustrated by the age range of the audience in the hall. From what I could see, the youngest member of the audience, with possibly one exception, was Cllr Sam Mildon. The rest of the audience was from the opposite end of the age range and exactly in the target age range for Retirement Villages. There are younger people in Somerton but you wouldn't think it going by this evening's audience and that poses a problem and a challenge. How do we bring younger members of the community into the audience for a meeting like this evening's? As we age, certainly beyond middle age, we become more set it our ways, more resistant to change, less capable of considering or accepting anything that doesn't conform to our likes or dislikes. An audience that is almost exclusively approaching, at or beyond retirement age risks presenting a view that is too rigid, too resistant to change, unwilling to consider challenging alternatives.
In fact, why do we need 'Retirement Vilages' when Somerton already is one?
Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly