THREE major developments which will change the face of North Petherton were approved today (Tuesday, February 13).

Sedgemoor District Council's development committee had a tricky morning filled with debate as it discussed, and eventually approved the plans for a farm expansion, 248 homes, a new school, community hub and a Premier Inn.

The first application up was an application from Agri Fruit Ltd to expand its business at Folley Farm off Taunton Road so it can provide millions of strawberries to supermarket chain Aldi.

The company, which produces 500 tonnes of strawberries a year, wants 180 temporary polytunnels, an irrigation pond and five mobile homes for staff on the site.

They say the proposal will create 60 new full and part-time jobs.

Hugh Loxton, a farmer and contractor spoke in favour of the application.

"There is an increasing demand for quality British food and the staff will will be well-paid and well looked after. I know there are concerns about flooding but I believe these are completely unfounded. In 35 years I have never known the A38 to close due to flooding."

North Petherton Town Councillor Julian Taylor spoke against the polytunnels expansion saying there would be ecological damage to the water system and added: "These are chemical strawberries - not normal or organic, and we should not collude with with this as an authority."

Ward Cllr Bill Revans cited concerns over the visual impact - saying the polytunnels would 'dominate the landscape'.

Once the public speakers had their say, the committee members debated the application.

Cllr Janet Keen said she thought it was commendable to see a significant employer making a large investment that would benefit the local ecomony and said that on the site visit, despite the heavy rain there seemed to be little evidence of flooding.

Cllr Alex Glassford said it was good to see a local business expanding so well, however Cllr Dave Loveridge said he could not vote in favour of the expansion due to concerns over the long term effects of surface run off and soil erosion.

The application was put to the vote and approved by six votes to three with one abstention.

Next up was the hybrid application for 248 homes on land north west of Wilstock Farm. The application included a community hub and outline permission for a school.

Development manager Stuart Houlet explained that the new school for Wilstock and Stockmoor, Somerset Bridge, is already at capacity.

"Land is often harder to get for new schools than funding so we see this as a very positive move. Because the developer is contributing this land for the school we believe that outweighs the need for an affordable housing contribution," Mr Houlet said.

He also explained that because the new Community Infrastucture Levy was now in place, it would bring in £1,172,871 for the local councils.

"I understand concerns about the school creating extra traffic, however it is based in the centre of the development and as such we hope the majority of students will be within walking distance," Mr Houlet said.

Linda Hyde spoke on behalf of North Petherton Town Council and said that while they welcomed the school and community hub, there were serious concerns over the traffic.

"We are acutely aware of the needs for the community hub and school - but Wilstock and Stockmoor already suffer traffic congestion and this will only exacerbate the problems," Cllr Hyde said.

"We do not want the same mistakes being made again on this development."

Cllr Bill Revans added: "There needs to a condition that Somerset County Council adopt the highways as that has proved a major nuisance and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

"While I accept this development has a much-needed school and community hub, it is regrettable there is no affordable housing at all."

Cllr Graham Granter, the mayor of Bridgwater, questioned why the school had to be instead of affordable housing, when 'there is a need for both'.

Cllrs Bradford and Keen cited concerns over the highways, with Cllr Keen stating: "I really am concerned about the access - how on earth will the people in the corners of development get out - they will be trapped."

The 248 home application was approved by six votes to three with two abstentions.

Then finally the councillors moved on to the new 100 bedroom Premier Inn planned on the Compass House site near Bridgwater Gateway.

Planning officer Rebecca Miller explained that EDF had written in support, saying there was an additional need for hotels as many were completely occupied.

Cllr Revans once again spoke against the proposal.

"Highways continually say there will not will be a substantial impact on traffic from each development but there seems to no strategic impact on the bigger picture," Cllr Revans said.

"You cannot salami slice each individual application and say it will not have a substantial impact.

"With the Bridgwater Gateway, housing developments at Taunton and Monkton Heathfield, Wilstock and Stockmoor these are all impacting on the A38 and the total impact of all these extra vehicle movements needs to be considered."

However Cllr Anne Fraser was in favour, saying this was precisely the sort of development that would benefit the area, bringing lots of jobs that would be within walking distance for many in North Petherton, Wilstock and Stockmoor.

The hotel plan was approved unanimously.