REDEVELOPMENT of the former Wansbrough paper mill site in Watchet has moved a step closer after the land was sold to a local housing developer.
The site off Brendon Road has been vacant for nearly nine years after the mill closed with the loss of 176 jobs.
Now, Watchet Paper Mill Development Company (WMDC), which anticipated houses would be built on it, has sold the site to Stratton Land Ltd, which is currently building 69 new homes off Hopcott Road, Minehead.
Stratton was recently given planning permission by Somerset Council to temporarily use the paper mill land to store soil from the Minehead site.
Now, it expects to submit amended housing development plans for Watchet in the next few months.
The Hopcott Road development is being partially funded through a £5.7 million loan from investment firm CrowdProperty.
The topsoil storage project will see four parts of the Watchet site levelled ahead of any future redevelopment.
A spokesman for Stratton previously said: “The site will be developed to construct at least 280 residential dwellings with private gardens, associated roads, footways, parking, drainage, landscaping, public open space, and associated infrastructure.
“However, parts of the site fall under flood zones and consequently ground levels require raising.
“The scope of works for this application is to stockpile sub-soil in readiness to raise the levels as necessary.”
The paper mill site is known to be at risk of flooding by the Mill Race to the south and the Washford River, which runs to the north near the West Somerset Railway and the Mineral Line active travel route, which connects Watchet to Washford.
WMDC director Mohammad M. Uddin said: “We have entered into a contractual agreement to sell the site of the former Wansbrough Paper Mill to Stratton Land.
“This agreement includes the handover of the existing planning application, and we hereby give full consent for Stratton Land to take over the planning application from hereon.”
Plans to redevelop the site with up to 350 new homes, a hotel, leisure facilities, and a ‘visitor information centre’, were put forward in mid-2020 by Tameer Homes, but the application was never determined.
Somerset Council major projects officer Simon Fox said: “Stratton Land has recently assumed responsibility for this application, seeking residential and commercial development.
“The scheme, if approved, will require the importation of material such as topsoil to create landscaping areas and rear gardens.
“This is because most of the flat area of the site which is developable is currently largely laid to hardstanding with the quality of ground underneath unknown, but likely to need supplementing with new material.
“The quantum of material being proposed to be brought to site is envisaged to be easily incorporated into any approved scheme.”
The soil from the Minehead site is expected to be transport to the paper mill site by the end of October.
However, Old Cleeve parish councillors have expressed ‘considerable concern’ that the topsoil haul route was along the A39 through Washford and Bilbrook, which was so narrow that HGVs had to give way to allow traffic to pass.
They called on Somerset Council to record the condition of the road before the haulage began and after it finished in order to require the developer to contribute to any repairs which were needed.
Parish chairman Cllr Ian Duncan said: “The A39 in both villages is narrow with limited or no footways.
“On Butlin’s changeover days, Mondays and Fridays, traffic is already often queued on both approaches through the village to negotiate the narrowest section of road in Washford.
“The council does not support any proposals that could worsen traffic conditions for residents and other road users.”
Cllr Duncan said in Washford, pupils had to wait on the A39 itself for school buses and they would be at extra risk from more HGVs.
He said Somerset Council should require the topsoil haulage to be carried out outside the morning rush hour during school term times.