TS Eliot's village East Coker loses 2,500-home planning battle
Impassioned pleas to save the village immortalised by poet TS Eliot from being “swamped” by urban expansion failed last night.
Now only a planning inspector can stop fields close to picturesque East Coker being eaten up by a 2,500-home extension of Yeovil.
Residents formed an action group, former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion backed them and international support came from the T S Eliot Society in the American-born poet’s homeland.
But South Somerset District Council maintains that land to the south and south west of Yeovil is the best place for the town to expand.
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Dozens of villagers packed the council chamber last night and spilled over into an adjoining room as the council considered “minor” amendments to the Local Plan it has drawn up for development in the district to 2028. But despite pleas it saw no reason to change its strategy for Yeovil. The council maintains that a “buffer zone” will protect the village from the extension, which will include a new school and other facilities.
All objections to the plan from across the district will now go before a planning inspector at a public inquiry due to be heard before April 28. Once he has made his decisions the plan will come back to the council for adoption.
Only 1,565 of the urban extension homes would be permitted before 2028, with the remaining 935 expected later.
Villagers, English Heritage, and the local Labour Party have called for the idea of a single area of expansion for Yeovil to be scrapped in favour of multiple sites.
Stan Shayler, chairman of East Coker parish council, told the council: “No consideration has been given to East Coker residents. This will see an increase from 1,900 people to almost 9,000. No plans for road improvements have been given consideration other than indicative roundabouts. For the district to say these will be attended to later shows a lack of credibility.”
Others at the meeting deplored the loss of top grade farmland.
Council leader Ric Pallister said: “We have probably spent more time on East Coker than anything else. Nothing new has come forward to suggest that there should be a change.” Last night was the seventh time the plan has been debated. Mr Pallister warned that until the Local Plan is adopted all communities are at risk from speculative developers whose applications will have to be approved if they are sustainable. A record number of applications have been made in recent weeks.
Eliot’s ancestor, Andrew Eliot emigrated from East Coker to the United States in the 17th century. In the 1930s the poet visited the village, known for its Ham stone cottages, hollow lanes and sense of tranquillity, and immortalised it in his Four Quartets, one of which bears the title East Coker. His ashes are buried in the village church and Eliot fans come on pilgrimage from all over the world.
More than 200 people at Ilminster who oppose proposals to develop the Shudrick Valley were given hope by the council. Council leader Ric Pallister said the council would not have a problem if the planning inspector decides to switch Ilminster’s development area back to Canal Way.