Plans for more than 200 homes on the Seven Brethren in Barnstaple are still on the table after councillors backed them in an ultimatum over the future of the site.

The masterplan for the Seven Brethren site. Picture: LHC DesignThe masterplan for the Seven Brethren site. Picture: LHC Design

North Devon Council’s strategy and resources committee today (Tuesday, September 1) unanimously agreed to press on with the scheme for the leisure centre site, which had previously been awarded £2.2m of the Government’s Land Release Fund.

The plan proposes up to 245 homes, with a mixture of apartments and three-storey town houses on the site of the current leisure centre and existing long-stay car park, which will be moved.

A first bid to find a delivery partner for the site back in 2018 had failed, but the council was preparing to go back out to the market just prior the Covid-19 crisis and a planning application for the site was on the verge of being submitted.

The council’s strategy and resources committee was asked to consider the future of the site.

The impact of Covid-19 meant it was ‘necessary to sense check’ the way forward, given that the £2.2m funding cannot be transferred to another site, so if councillors had opted to scrap the scheme it would have to be paid back, and that a delivery partner needed to be found by the end of 2020.

They were given two options – to proceed with the submission of a planning application and to procure a delivery partner, or that housing is no longer considered the right solution for Seven Brethren or that the housing numbers required by the Land Release Fund are too high – but the committee unanimously agreed they had ‘nothing to lose’ but continuing to search for a partner.

Cllr Malcolm Prowse said: “We have nothing to lose and ought to test the market again.

“There are some risks in this, but there is a big reputational risk in sending back the money when we have come this far.

“If we can’t find a partner, then the site will still be attractive in the future, but if we don’t go ahead with this, then just have a semi-derelict site on the riverside.”

Cllr Frank Biederman added: “We have nothing to lose to keep moving forward and there are some fantastic opportunities here.”

Cllr Graham Lofthouse said that he was happy for further investigations as to what could be done with the site to be carried out, subject to the Local Government Association extending the time period to find a delivery partner from December 2020 to March 2021, and that the houses are to be made as carbon neutral as possible.

Regeneration manager Sarah Jane Mackenzie-Shapland had recommended that the council did resume the search for a partner and said that it was likely that the deadline for finding a partner would be extended to March 2021, but even so, there was no guarantee a delivery partner for this site would be secured.

The committee unanimously agreed to proceed as planned and to submit the planning application and go to the market to secure a delivery partner for the site.