SOMERSET College hopes to attract more students by building student accommodation on its Taunton campus.
Planners voted last night (Wednesday) in favour of outline proposals, which would be funded by bulldozing the college’s existing out-of-town halls of residence and building executive homes there.
The multi-million pound scheme at the Wellington Road site will see 210 bed spaces, eight disabled parking bays and all-weather and grass football pitches, while there will be 32 homes at Canonsgrove.
An officer’s report to Taunton Deane Council’s planning meeting yesterday said some students were being put off coming to Somerset College because of its distance from the halls of residence.
It said: “The location of the existing halls relative to the college’s main campus and Taunton town centre is not very appealing to prospective students and the accommodation is becoming increasingly costly to maintain.
“This weakens the college’s prospects for the future because when making decisions about where they plan to learn, students are increasingly looking for accommodation that is close to the college and the town centre.”
Planners were recommended to conditionally approve both proposals, although the highways authority said there should be more parking spaces for the new halls to ensure students did not park in nearby streets and Sport England expressed concerns about the loss of playing field space.
A total of 13 letters of objection cited problems such as noise levels, increased traffic, possible flooding and loss of privacy.
Trull Parish Council opposed the Canonsgrove scheme, claiming it would “bring no benefits to the parish at all”.
The officer’s report recommended approving the project to “help secure the future viability of higher education” at the Somerset College site.
After the meeting, Cllr Mark Edwards, deputy leader of Taunton Deane Council and ward councillor for Trull and Staplehay, said: “I fully support the wider plans and aspirations for Somerset College and their aims to be a university and appreciate their importance to the local economy and I am fully behind their proposals to bring their student accommodation on site at Wellington Road. I will continue to support these aspirations and do all I can to help.
“I am however disappointed that Trull and Staplehay are paying such high price without any benefits.
“I fully appreciated the benefits of removing the student accommodation from the locality but am extremely disappointed that it has been necessary to approve development outside the footprint of the existing buildings and car park and on to existing playing fields.
“I believe there would have been another way of delivering their ambitions without my community being disadvantaged in this way and whilst I am pleased they listened to my initial concerns and dramatically reduced the number of houses it was not quite far enough.”