South Somerset Local Plan Review 2016-2036 Preferred Options Consultation (Regulation 18)

2 Spatial Portrait of South Somerset

Overview

2.1 The spatial portrait section aims to set out what South Somerset is like today. The following sections provide a snapshot of the key strategic and geographic issues affecting the demographic, economic, social and environmental structure of South Somerset.

Location and Strategic Context

2.2 South Somerset is located within the south-west of England. It is the largest district in Somerset and covers an area of 958 square kilometres (370 square miles).[1]

2.3 It is a largely rural district which encompasses a number of towns, villages and hamlets. The rural nature of the area is emphasised by the low population density of 1.7 persons per hectare, less than half the national average.[2]

2.4 South Somerset has a number of settlements of similar size, this is reflective of their historic market town status and the geographical extent of the District.

Figure 2.1: Map of South Somerset

Figure 2.1

1. 236,989 acres; 95,906 hectares [back]
2. South Somerset Authority Monitoring Report, October 2018 [back]

Demography & Population

2.5 South Somerset has a population of 164,982 people[3] ; since 2001 it has grown at a relatively consistent rate of around one thousand people per year. Yeovil is the largest town in the District, with a population in 2016 of 47,780[4] .

2.6 The main cause of population growth in South Somerset is internal migration from within the UK[5] , mostly in the 65-69 age group, highlighting the attractiveness of the District to retirees.

2.7 South Somerset’s population is ageing, with a sharp growth in those aged over 60. Recent data shows significant losses in those aged 30 to 44[6] . It is likely that this trend will continue over the long term, therefore the District may face challenges in providing a sufficiently large and competitive labour force in the future.

3. ONS Mid –year Population estimate 2015 [back]
4. Office for National Statistics: 2016 Mid-Year LSOA Estimates [back]
5. South Somerset Authority Monitoring Report, September 2016 [back]
6. South Somerset Authority Monitoring Report, October 2018 [back]

Economy

2.8 The functioning of the South Somerset economy is affected by influences at the national, regional and local levels. A Functional Economic Market Area (FEMA) captures the way in which the economy and commercial markets operate in a given location. Local authorities are required to plan to meet the land and floorspace needs of businesses within the FEMA that is relevant to them. For planning purposes, South Somerset District broadly comprises a FEMA. The FEMA extends along the A303 corridor which is a strategic transport route that connects Somerset with the wider South West. The FEMA is shown in Figure 2.2 below.

Figure 2.2: Functional Economic Market Areas in Somerset

Figure 2.2

Source: Housing Market Areas and Functional Economic Market Areas in Somerset, ORS, 2015

2.9 The A303 corridor provides a strong ‘east-west’ axis through the District, facilitating business connectivity as well as easy access to markets, labour, goods and materials.

2.10 Overall, there is a high degree of self-containment; 80% of people living in South Somerset also work in the District, and 81% of all jobs in the District are filled by residents[7] .

2.11 Whilst the population of South Somerset has been growing, the traditional working age population (those aged 16-64) has been falling since 2008. The economic activity rate and employment rate are both higher in South Somerset than the national average and unemployment is lower than the regional and national benchmarks, both of which suggests a high number of people of working age are working[8] .

2.12 South Somerset has a lower proportion of its working age population qualified to the highest level (NVQ Level 4 and above) than national and regional benchmarks. This is reflected in the occupational profile, with fewer residents employed in professional occupations or as senior managers. Earnings are lower in South Somerset than the South West and national average[9] .

2.13 The structure of the South Somerset economy has traditionally been dominated by agriculture, manufacturing and advanced engineering. There is a strong over representation of people working in the manufacturing sector, particularly aerospace manufacturing, reflecting the long history of rotorcraft manufacturing and its associated supply chains in the District. There is also a concentration of food manufacturing. The predominance of manufacturing exists alongside an under-representation of what might be termed “office based” activities such as financial, professional, and business services.

2.14 Tourism makes a significant contribution to the South Somerset economy and the planned improvement to the A303 and A358 should provide an opportunity to increase that expenditure.

2.15 South Somerset has experienced a much slower growth in its business base than comparator areas, although the survival rates of businesses which do form are good. Micro businesses (0-9 employees) are very important to the local economy; 89.7% of all enterprises are classed as micro-businesses[10]

2.16 ONS Jobs Density is the most complete measure of all jobs in an area. This records 82,000 jobs in South Somerset in 2015, equivalent to 0.86 jobs per working age person, which is in line with national and regional averages[11] .

2.17 Whilst current participation in the labour market is high, the economy has not seen any real growth in jobs in recent years. This, in addition to the reliance on the manufacturing sector, which is forecast to decline, and lower educational attainment and skills levels, is of concern. The micro businesses are incredibly important to the area.

2.18 Yeovil town centre is the largest in South Somerset in terms of physical size and trading ability. Yeovil is supported by a number of small market towns, district and local centres that serve a more local catchment area, according to size. Whilst Yeovil remains the most important centre within the District, the town centre has suffered mixed fortunes over recent years. It faces competition from out-of-town retail parks including the Peel Centre in West Dorset. In addition, since 2006, the recessionary impacts have been felt in the town centre, with an increase in vacancy rates; they currently stand at 16.9% which is higher than the national average 11.2%[12] .

2.19 Future plans for the regeneration of Yeovil, Chard and Wincanton Town Centres are integral to the Council’s “investing in infrastructure” programme.

7. South Somerset Employment Land Evidence: review of FEMAs and Understanding Market Trends, HJA, 2017 [back]
8. South Somerset Employment Land Evidence: review of FEMAs and Understanding Market Trends, HJA, 2017 [back]
9. South Somerset Employment Land Evidence: review of FEMAs and Understanding Market Trends, HJA, 2017 [back]
10. South Somerset Employment Land Evidence: review of FEMAs and Understanding Market Trends, HJA, 2017 [back]
11. South Somerset Employment Land Evidence: review of FEMAs and Understanding Market Trends, HJA, 2017 [back]
12. South Somerset Retail and Main Town Centre Uses Study, 2017 [back]

Housing

2.20 The housing market in which South Somerset operates and for which the LPR must plan to meet housing need is known as the Housing Market Area (HMA). The HMA for South Somerset has been confirmed as being the District boundary[13] .

2.21 Affordability remains an issue across the District, with an average home in South Somerset costing around 7.5 times the average income.[14]  This makes it difficult for those people who are not yet on the housing market to buy a home. Prices in South Somerset are on a par with the County as a whole; albeit in some cases a little lower than in Taunton Deane. Prices are higher than in Sedgemoor, except for flats. Prices in Mendip are consistently higher than across the rest of the County, probably due to the proximity of many of its settlements to Bath and Bristol where the economies are especially strong.

2.22 Average house prices in the District (December 2017) range from £131,722 for a flat to £373,803 for a detached property[15] .

2.23 In terms of housing need, given the population aged 65+ in South Somerset is set to increase by 57.5% between 2014 and 2039 [16] – there will be a need to consider housing options to meet the needs of older people.

2.24 There is a continuing need to find accommodation for Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople, both for transit and for permanent residence[17] .

2.25 Housing delivery in the ‘Market Towns’ and ‘Rural Settlements’ in South Somerset remains strong, it is ahead of target and is greater than envisaged at this point in time in the South Somerset Local Plan (2006 – 2028).[18]

13. Housing Market Areas and Functional Economic Market Areas in Somerset, ORS, 2015 https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/media/1317/housing-market-areas-functional-economic-market-areas-sep-15.pdf [back]
14. South Somerset Authority Monitoring Report, October 2018 [back]
15. South Somerset Authority Monitoring Report, October 2018 [back]
16. Mendip, Sedgemoor, South Somerset and Taunton Deane Strategic Housing Market Assessment, October 2016, Figure 11.2, page 216 https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/media/1344/strategic-housing-market-assessment-oct-16.pdf  [back]
17. Gypsy and Traveller Needs Assessment Update, September 2013  [back]
18. South Somerset Authority Monitoring Report, October 2018 [back]

Transport and Accessibility

2.26 South Somerset is linked to other areas by three major railway lines with regular daily services to London, Exeter, Bristol and Weymouth. The A303 Trunk Road and the A30 run east to west through the District and link it with London and the South West peninsula.

2.27 Highways England has recently submitted the Development Consent Order for proposals to upgrade the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester to dual the carriageway (2018) and also plan improvements to the A358 Taunton to Southfields (Ilminster).

2.28 Bus service coverage is poor, reflecting the rural nature of the District, and services are infrequent except in the largest settlements. However, there are three Community Transport Schemes in South Somerset providing essential journeys for those who do not have access to a car or public transport and meet certain eligibility criteria. Typical journeys include medical appointments, Day Care Centre visits and shopping.

2.29 South Somerset Community Transport operates a fleet of wheelchair accessible minibuses in the Yeovil, Chard, Ilminster, Somerton and Langport areas. The scheme also operates South Somerset Community Cars offering bespoke journeys and the pre-bookable Chard & Ilminster Slinky bus.

2.30 South Somerset Community & Accessible Transport (SSCAT) similarly provides accessible transport to the communities of Wincanton, Bruton, Castle Cary and the surrounding villages including the ring & ride ‘CAT’ bus and a community car scheme.

2.31 Crewkerne Voluntary Transport, which is run entirely by volunteers, offers group transport for residents of Crewkerne, Merriott, Hinton and surrounding areas. However, this scheme does not offer hospital or medical transport.

2.32 Congestion is an issue of concern in Yeovil, Crewkerne and Chard. There is a heavy reliance on the car for journeys to work and services. This presents a challenge for the District to move to more carbon friendly modes of travel.

Health and Wellbeing

2.33 The residents of South Somerset are generally in good health; in 2011 only 1% of people ranked themselves as having very bad health[19] . National health issues such as increasing levels of obesity, declining physical activity levels and an ageing population bring their challenges.

2.34 The life expectancy at time of birth for South Somerset residents in 2014 was 80.9 years for males and 84.40 years for females[20] ; this compares well to the South West life expectancy of 80.2 years for males and 83.2 years for females. The national average is a life expectancy of 79.5 years for males and 83.2 for females[21] .

2.35 A number of Local Super Output areas in Yeovil and Chard are within the most deprived 20% in England; conversely both towns have areas within the least deprived 20% in England[22] . Those living in the most deprived areas are likely to suffer poorer health and need more support.

2.36 Some residents, particularly in rural areas, suffer inequalities. High house prices make it difficult to enter the housing market and have an impact on rent prices, thereby making it more costly to rent. Whilst very limited public transport can make access to employment and services such as health facilities, shops and schools difficult. These inequalities can be compounded by poor mobile and broadband services, making online alternatives for example, for healthcare, also inaccessible.

19. Census 2011: Key Figures for Health Care [back]
20. Somerset Intelligence Partnership: Index of Multiple Deprivation [back]
21. ONS Census 2011 [back]
22. Super Output Areas are units of area used by the Office of National Statistics to gather and compare data. [back]

Environmental Quality

2.37 South Somerset has a mainly undulating, agricultural landscape with some very fertile belts that have traditionally been farmed for top quality products such as apples and dairy produce. Much of the District is Best and Most Versatile (BMV) agricultural land.[23] Topography and agricultural practices have helped secure special status for outstanding landscapes such as the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to the south west, a small part of the Cranborne Chase and West Wilts AONB to the north east, and the Dorset AONB which runs along the southern boundary of the District. Management Plans are produced by the AONB areas. The Dorset AONB Management Plan 2019-24 is currently in draft form.

2.38 The District is known for areas of high nature conservation value. The European designation of Special Protection Area and RAMSAR[24]  site applies to parts of the Somerset Levels and Moors in the north of the District. There are two other National Nature Reserves at Hardington Moor and Barrington Hill, near Ilminster.

23. Best and Most Versatile (BMV) agricultural land is defined in the Annex 2 of the NPPF, 2019 as land in grades 1,2 and 3a of the Agricultural Land Classification. [back]
24. Designated by the RAMSAR Convention (The Convention on Wetland of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat) as a term to identify wetland sites of international importance. [back]

Historic Environment

2.39 South Somerset has a rich and diverse historic environment. The villages and historic parts of the larger settlements are built with distinctive local stone such as Ham Stone and Blue Lias. The area has a high concentration of listed buildings and Conservation Areas as well as Listed Parks and Gardens and estates owned by the National Trust. There are 97 Grade I Listed buildings in South Somerset, and 89 Conservation Areas.

2.40 There is a strong link between the environmental quality and productivity of the area and the success of the local economy, through commerce, recreation, tourism and providing an environment where people want to live and work.