10 Planning

The Borough's responsibility for building control came with the Public Health Act of 1875, coinciding with the developing practice of producing more detailed plans for most building work. The first plan for a new housing estate was proposed in 1912 by the Co-partnership Glastonbury Tenants Ltd, formed by leading townspeople and inspired by Hampstead garden suburb, to provide rented cottages for working people.  It was for 142 houses on 17 acres of land straddling the Beckery New Road and included tree lined squares and areas for allotments and recreation.  All that was built were the two rows of six houses each, to the south of Mill Lane, and the Beckery New Road itself.

The first low density estate completed was on the New Town area.  It was designed by Harold Alves in 1925 and built by the Borough on Butt Close between the High Street and Manor House Road, thus changing the view of South View Terrace which was built in 1888.  The Borough was at the same time encouraging private house building with £75 subsidies (for houses costing no more than £625).  Many of these houses were built in Hill Head and the Old Street Road, then renamed Roman Way.

This comparatively unrestricted development of the town was halted when the County Council, enforcing the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act of 1935, rejected proposals for the extension of houses along the Street Road into Wirral Park and for developments at Edgarley and along Wells Road.

In contrast, under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932, the Wells and District Joint Town Planning Authority zoned land between Chalice Hill and the Tor as suitable for building (at no more than 8 houses to the acre).  The need by the Borough for more house building led it also to consider this land on the hills below the Tor.  The estate off Windmillfield Lane on Edmund Hill (re named Windmill Hill) then led to plans in 1943 for the widening of Ashwell, Basketfield, Bulwarks and Stonedown Lanes and the re routing of Lypyatt Lane to make way for 450 houses between the Tor and Paradise Lane.

Fortunately, decisions on such environmentally sensitive proposals were now to be taken by the County Council and the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act enabled them also to stop the scattered development between Chalice Hill and the Tor.  A less sensitive area for new estates was identified below the cemetry on the Wells Road and most of the land between the railway and the foot of the hill from the New Town as far as Edmund Hill Pottery has been used since the 1939 war.  A negative aspect was the encouragement given by the County Council for the development of houses in the top of Bushy Coombe.  However they were designed by local architect 'Jackson' Hepworth (who had just assisted in the design of parts of the Festival of Britain and the festival Hall) and are good examples of the then current 'modernist' style.  

The shortage of suitable green field sites can be seen by the need to build in such unsuitable places as Leg of Mutton Road, incidentally ruining the views of the town from the west; the extension of the Windmill Hill estate to the point where it intrudes upon the skyline of the view of Glastonbury from the north; Bushy Coombe Gardens, adding to the desecration of what was one of the area’s beauty spots.

Despite the warnings of concerned onlookers with a national perspective, including Nikolaus Pevsner and John Betjeman, the unique views of the town's major assets have increasingly come under pressure. The planners’ criteria always apparently lag behind educated public opinion.  How otherwise can we understand the development of St Dunstan’s car park in front of the facade of St Joseph’s Chapel on land actually owned by the Local Authority.  Or the encouragement and approval of the Actis Estate development and the earlier proposals for it’s extension along the lower slopes of the Tor to Edgarley, thus spoiling for ever the view of Glastonbury from the south made famous by Hollar since the middle of the seventeenth century.

The debate about the relationship between anti social behaviour and the design and layout of public housing is now being reflected in recent Glastonbury houses.  A survey in the 1970s of some of its residents whose traditional homes were threatened demonstrated a vociferous preference by the majority, particularly by lonely single or widowed people, for terrace houses with small manageable gardens and doors opening straight onto busy pavements.  We believe that some of the lessons of desirable housing densities and the relationships between neighbouring homes and anonymous open spaces have been learnt from our own town and reapplied here for the benefit of future generations.

The legislation concerning the designation of Ancient Monuments, Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas and Tree Preservation Areas has resulted in consideration being given by a wider range of arbiters to proposals to destroy or alter the character of our town.  Even so, the short term views of some owners and developers have so often prevailed that what remains needs even more careful enhancement or the uniqueness of Glastonbury, that attracts its visitors and is its most valuable commercial asset, will have gone even before it has been properly appreciated.

It may be that a more careful and detached strategic view of the development of the area would recognise the fragility of Glastonbury's key assets and would more effectively redirect large scale housing and incompatible industrial developments to neighbouring towns. This would probably result in more jobs being created in total as Glastonbury realised its potential as a good place for many to visit and to be in.




All images and text © Glastonbury Antiquarian Society 2021

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