A consortium of developers have pledged to complete a significant housing development in Somerset’s county town despite progress being stymied by the phosphates crisis.

The Orchard Grove development, which was granted outline planning consent in 2018, will eventually deliver 2,000 new homes, a new primary school, commercial space and a ‘park and bus’ facility between the A38 Wellington Road and Honiton Road on the western edge of Taunton.

The Orchard Grove Consortium – which comprises Bovis Homes, Linden Homes, Taylor Wimpey and housing association LiveWest – has been proceeding with different elements of the site since the new roundabout on the A38 was completed, with 250 homes already being finished and occupied.

Building out the entire site over the coming site may prove challenging, with the developers needing to secure additional mitigation to prevent any net increase in phosphates within the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar site, which is protected under international law.

But following the award of central government funding before Christmas, Somerset Council and the developers have pledged to find a way forward to deliver “a thriving new community in the heart of Somerset” and meet local needs.

Entrance to the Orchard Grove development on the A38 Wellington Road in Taunton
Entrance to the Orchard Grove development on the A38 Wellington Road in Taunton (Daniel Mumby)

The Dutch N court ruling, and the resulting legal advice from Natural England, requires additional mitigation to be provided for any new development which could increase the phosphate levels within the Somerset Levels and Moors catchment area – which includes Taunton and the neighbouring parishes.

The need to secure mitigation from developers has resulted in a huge backlog of planning decisions and new house-building, with around 18,000 homes across Somerset being held up.

The council has put a number of temporary measures in place to try and unlock new housing, from investing £2m in new wetlands to implementing a system of phosphate credits, whereby developers pay for off-site mitigation.

While this has allowed homes at the western end of the development (near the A38 Wellington Road) to be delivered, this fallowed land cannot be built upon until alternative phosphate mitigation has been secured.

The only exception to this is the site of the new Orchard Grove Primary School, which is currently under construction and is expected to open in September.

A spokesman for the Orchard Grove Consortium said: “We are committed to delivering new homes to support the needs of the local population, within a thriving new community in the heart of Somerset.

“The vision is to create a garden community, complete with 2,000 homes, a range of amenities and 100 acres of green space.

“We continue to work closely with the local authorities to deliver the facilities and infrastructure that are essential to a project of this scale as quickly as possible.”

Entrance To The Orchard Grove Development On The A38 Wellington Road In Taunton
Entrance To The Orchard Grove Development On The A38 Wellington Road In Taunton (Daniel Mumby)

Only one reserved matters application remains undetermined for the Orchard Grove site – a parcel of 51 homes west of the existing junction between Comeytrowe Road and Queensway.

Separate plans for 160 homes south of Higher Comeytrowe Farm Lane were submitted in September 2023 but withdrawn two months later – with the developers arguing this was done “in order to focus on and complete existing projects across the site”.

In addition to the new homes and primary school, work is ongoing on the new green spaces within the development, with the first ‘pocket park’ expected to open in the coming weeks.

The delivery of the new business park (which was approved in June 2023) is “moving forward” – including the delivery of a new care home near the A38, which was approved in January 2023.

The new ‘park and bus’ facility will not be run by the council like the Gateway and Silk Mill park and ride sites; instead, it will be run as a separate entity, with the tender process currently ongoing to appoint a commercial operator.

Part of Lipe Hill Lane – which separates the western and eastern neighbourhoods – is currently closed until mid-April to allow for new gas infrastructure to be installed to serve new homes in the middle of the site.

The spine road (known as Egremont Road) will eventually run all the way to Honiton Road, where a new roundabout is planned – though this will be delivered in small stages as the eastern neighbourhood is built out.

A spokesman said: “The spine road has been completed as far as Orchard Grove Primary School, which is set to open in September.

“New footpaths and cycle paths alongside this section of the spine road will be in place this summer, which will enable families to walk and cycle to the new school.

“The remainder of the spine road and the junction at Trull will be developed as the community grows and is some years from being progressed.”

The council was informed in December 2023 that it would receive £9.6m from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to expand its existing phosphate credits programme, potentially unlocking thousand of new homes across the county.

The council has not confirmed how much (if any) of this funding will be directly applied to the Orchard Grove site, but said it would shortly publish a strategy laying out how and where the money would be most effectively allocated.

A spokesman said: “We have been awarded £9.6m of capital funding to increase the delivery of phosphate mitigation measures and to make available additional phosphate credits for developers to purchase to help unlock impacted developments.

“We are currently developing a delivery strategy to allocate the funding to phosphate mitigation projects, and has also produced guidance to assist developers with identifying suitable phosphate mitigation measures.

“In the meantime there are a number of third-party credits schemes available across Somerset, providing phosphate credits for developers to purchase and these are signposted on our website.”

Persimmon Homes has also confirmed it wants to build a large housing development off Popes Lane, Rockwell Green. The spokesperson said the development would be in line with the principles outlined in the Wellington Place Plan which was drawn up by the former Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT) before it was replaced by the new unitary Somerset Council.