Planning application imminent for 1,750 homes at Woodlands Golf Course

Masterplan (extract).
Woodlands Garden Community: The Concept Masterplan (extract).

A speculative planning application to build thousands of homes on the Woodlands Golf Course site near Bradley Stoke looks likely to be submitted within months after the developer behind the scheme launched a pre-application public consultation.

South West Strategic Developments Ltd (SWSD) put forward the Trench Lane site as a candidate for large-scale housing development when the first draft of the West of England’s Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) was being formulated in 2015. Their ‘Woodlands Garden Village’ proposal was for “up to 2,000” homes on the whole site, with a non-preferred alternative of a 500-home development (which would see one of the two golf courses retained).

Location map (satellite view).
Satellite view showing the site of the proposed Woodlands Garden Community (red outline).

However, work on the regional JSP was halted in April 2020 after government inspectors declared the methodology used for selecting the proposed set of major housing sites to be “unsound”.

A second attempt at producing a regional strategic masterplan, the West of England Combined Authority’s (Weca’s) Spatial Development Strategy (SDS), also ended in failure after South Gloucestershire Council accused Weca of trying to impose 10,000 more new homes on the district than required by government figures.

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Kitchen & Laundry Appliance Care, Bradley Stoke, Bristol.

South Gloucestershire Council currently finds itself vulnerable to speculative planning applications after inspectors at two appeals earlier this year ruled that the district doesn’t have a five-year housing land supply that accords with its current local plan (known as the Core Strategy). The council has since produced revised calculations to contradict this, but developers such as SWSD claim that the Core Strategy is in any case “out of date” as the housing quotas it contains were supposed have been reviewed within five years of the document’s approval in 2013.

South Gloucestershire Council is in the process of producing a new local plan, but this is unlikely to be adopted until July 2025 at the earliest.

On its recently launched Woodlands Garden Community website, SWSD argues that Bristol and Gloucestershire are “inextricably linked” and, as Bristol has insufficient land available to meet its housing needs, some of this demand will have to be met beyond the city’s borders.

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It goes on to say:

“We consider that this issue needs to be addressed now. Ideally this would be agreed via a regional plan for the West of England, but unfortunately many attempts to do this have failed over a 15 year period (The Regional Spatial Strategy, Joint Spatial Plan and Spatial Development Strategy).”

“Given this excessive delay, and with no reasonable prospect that a plan will grapple with how the region’s housing needs are to be met, we are considering an early planning application for the Woodlands Garden Community project. This is likely to be submitted later this year or early 2024.”

National planning policy calls for a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” in situations where a local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply (or has an ‘out-of-date’ local plan), so it is no surprise that the consultation website highlights the alleged “sustainability” credentials of the site, for example (from the homepage):

[We are seeking] to redevelop Woodlands Golf Course into a residential-led, mixed-use development that harnesses the site’s highly sustainable location to provide much needed housing, where future residents can easily access the jobs, services and public transport links that lie directly adjacent in the northern fringe of Bristol.

Latest proposals

Photo of the entrance to Woodlands Golf & Country Club, from Trench Lane.
The entrance to Woodlands Golf & Country Club, on Trench Lane.

In its latest proposals, SWSD presents a “concept masterplan” for a development of 1,750 new homes on the entirety of the Woodlands Golf Course site.

The consultation website says the scheme will include a ‘community core’ with a primary school, a medical hub, local convenience shops, restaurants/takeaways, a nursery and a care village.

Affordable housing quota

In what appears to be a significant ‘sweetener’, the developer says that 50 percent of the homes will be ‘affordable’ (according to the government definition of this term), which is well above the minimum 35 percent figure required by South Gloucestershire Council’s adopted policies.

It is unusual for commercial developments to exceed this minimum policy requirement and in many cases a lower proportion is negotiated on viability grounds (for example it is less than 20 percent for the Brabazon development on the former Filton Airfield site).

The quantum of 875 affordable homes is broken down as follows:

  • 70 percent will be social rented properties
  • 25 percent will be First Homes (maximum sales price of £250,000 and discounted at 30 percent of the market value)
  • 5 percent will be shared ownership properties

According to SWSD:

“This means that 875 households who either need affordable rented accommodation, or want to buy but can’t in the current market, will have a significantly better opportunity to be able to do so.”

Proposed access

The primary access into the site will be provided off Trench Lane, with another access provided from Hortham Lane / Gaunt’s Earthcott Lane to the north.

Masterplan,
Woodlands Garden Community: The Concept Masterplan. View a hi-res version (a) on the consultation website; or (b) on Dropbox

SWSD will pay for a new cycleway/footbridge across the M4 alongside the existing Trench Lane overbridge; this will then link into the wider strategic cycle and footway network.

The developer says the site “offers the advantage of being well located to the fast and regular MetroBus service [along Bradley Stoke Way]”, adding: “Walking and cycling improvements will make the 15 minute walk to the nearest stop as convenient as possible.”

The possibility of extending the MetroBus network to run through the development is also suggested:

“The spine road to be provided through the site is to be designed to accommodate buses and we will be offering this as a potential extension to the MetroBus network; if that is declined we will work with bus operators to provide an alternative bus link between Bristol and Thornbury.”

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Transport issues

SWSD says transport modelling has identified an number of improvements to the local highway network that the development will need to deliver in order to mitigate its impact. These include:

  • On the Almondsbury Roundabout (J16 of the M5), when coming from Aztec West/Woodlands Business Park and heading northwards, an additional lane would be provided (increasing from 3 to 4 lanes) on the roundabout
  • On the Almondsbury Roundabout, when approaching from Almondsbury (the A38 southbound), a new lane would be provided which would act essentially as a bypass onto the M5; the other three lanes would become signal controlled; and
  • The nearside lane along the M5 between J16 and J15 would be reinstated

No specific mention is made of the potential impact on traffic delays at the Woodlands Lane / Bradley Stoke Way junction which already suffers from severe congestion, particularly during the afternoon peak.

The consultation website says:

“The development will pay to deliver these works and any others that may be identified as part of further analysis of the proposals by the highways authority and National Highways, who are responsible for motorways.”

Developer’s comments

The Journal understands that recent attempts by the developer to engage with South Gloucestershire Council’s planning department for pre-application discussions have been rebuffed. As a consequence, SWSD has now chosen to force the issue by submitting a formal planning application.

Speaking to the Journal, a spokesperson for SWSD said:

“Woodlands Garden Community offers a highly sustainable location to deliver much needed housing, where a range of opportunities exist for residents to avoid using a car if they want to, given the level of facilities, services and employment opportunities that lie within cycling and walking distance of the site; it is also well located in terms of its access to public transport options.”

“The proposals would greatly contribute towards addressing the housing crisis, a national problem that is being acutely felt in the Bristol area, where rents and house prices continue to spiral, meaning insecurity for many and owning a home is a distant possibility for younger generations. The approach to housing delivery must change if we are ever to solve this problem.”

“Previous proposals to locate large scale development in more rural parts of South Gloucestershire are wholly inappropriate locations to develop housing if we are serious about minimising the climate impacts associated with delivering enough homes, and minimising the need to travel.”

“Woodlands Garden Community allows for 50 percent of the dwellings it delivers to be provided as affordable housing – a total of 875 homes – significantly over that required by adopted planning policy. This shows we are serious about putting the provision of housing for those most need at the heart of the scheme.”

Councillor opinions

Previous iterations of the Woodlands Golf Course proposals have faced fierce opposition from Conservative councillors in Bradley Stoke.

Image from an election leaflet.
Opposing the “massive Woodlands development”. Extract from a Conservative election leaflet from May 2023.

Campaign literature issued by the Conservatives ahead of the local elections earlier this year featured a promise to “Oppose the massive Woodlands development”, saying:

“We know how important it is to ensure that new houses are built in the right locations, which means protecting our green spaces and not making existing traffic problems worse. We will continue to oppose thousands of new homes on the Woodlands Golf Course site, and the traffic chaos this would lead to.”

However, with the Conservatives losing two of the four Bradley Stoke seats on South Gloucestershire Council and the local authority now under the control of a Liberal Democrat / Labour coalition, it is currently unclear how strategic planning policy might evolve in the coming years.

The direction of travel may become clearer once South Gloucestershire Council publishes an informal draft of its New Local Plan in December. This draft document will “outline strategy options to identify the number and location of homes and jobs that are needed up to 2040” and will be the subject of a 12-week public consultation.

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Local meeting

The current pre-application public consultation on the Woodlands Garden Community proposals will be discussed at a meeting of Bradley Stoke Town Council on Wednesday this week (11th October 2023). The meeting takes place at the Jubilee Centre, Savages Wood Road, Bradley Stoke, commencing at 7pm. Members of the public may speak during a 15-minute session at the start of the meeting. For details, visit: Agendas and reports for town council meetings

More information

For full details of the current pre-application public consultation on the proposals for development at the Woodlands Golf Course site, visit: Woodlands Garden Community

Comments should be made via an online questionnaire on the ‘Get Involved’ page of the above website.

Details of how to respond by email or post are given on the same webpage.

The closing date for comments to be made is Sunday 29th October 2023.

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Bristol issues draft local plan

UPDATE added 25th October 2023.

Bristol City Council has now issued a draft of its new local plan. This appears to confirm SWSD’s assertion that Bristol has insufficient land available to meet its future housing needs. The draft plan states:

“It’s not possible to deliver the entirety of assessed need inside Bristol’s boundaries. Making the best use of brownfield land does not mean that all such land is available for housing development. Land is also required to maintain and grow the city’s workspace — offices, industry and warehouses — and other land uses.”

“Greenfield sites are rare in Bristol, and most are required to be retained as green belt land, for recreation and to sustain and enhance biodiversity and food growing. The evidence indicates additional homes will need to be delivered elsewhere to ensure that the city’s need for new homes does not go unmet.”

Read more: Bristol asks nearby councils for help with new housing after regional plans scrapped (Bristol Post)

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