A COUNTY councillor has defended his plans to build 35 homes near Crewkerne against a local backlash.

Councillor Mark Keating represents the Coker division on Somerset County Council, which includes his home village of Haselbury Plucknett.

Mr Keating has submitted plans to South Somerset District Council to build 35 houses on his land at Bay Tree Farm, claiming it will provide affordable housing and bungalows for the community.

The plans have prompted outcry from villagers, several of whom have made serious allegations about Mr Keating’s conduct and business practices.

Mr Keating has dismissed these allegations as “malicious rumours” put about by “a small minority of individuals”.

Of the 35 homes proposed in the outline plans, 12 would be affordable – though the number of bungalows intended for the scheme has not yet been specified.

Access to the development would be from Claycastle, with the new homes being at the eastern end of the village and around one mile from the busy junction between the A30 and A3066.

Haselbury Plucknett Parish Council voted to recommend refusal of the plans on February 25, at a meeting at which 124 residents showed up to object.

William Hunt, one of the objectors, said: “The proposed site is disconnected from the village and would create a hamlet annexe, blocking social interaction and pedestrian communication with the rest of the village.

“There is no practical pedestrian access and disabled people will be excluded from living at the site.

“The application wilfully disregards the Village Plan that was created and approved by the parish council in 2014, with the consultation of the entire

village and endorsed by the district council. The need for this housing has not been described or proven.”

Mr Hunt went on to claim that Mr Keating owned £237,000 to local businesses and former staff when his company Eden4flowers went into liquidation in 2018 – a claim which Mr Keating has strongly denied.

He added: “Mr Keating’s behaviour has made him a pariah in his own community and may prevent him from standing for election again for the Coker Ward.

“He has the audacity to stand as a candidate in the Crewkerne Town Council elections on May 2 – a community in which he dumped of good proportion of debts on local businesses.”

Other villagers have also put across strong accusations about Mr Keating’s business practices and his personal conduct.

Allan Giles, whose business is based on Claycastle, said Mr Keating had “broken the golden rule of business and not paid his bills”, describing him as “a danger to the community”.

John Thompson added: “I walk daily along this road, as do many others along with dogs, horses, runners and cyclists.

“Only by good fortune, local people have so far avoided serious incidents from vehicles such as tankers, articulated lorries and white van deliveries.

“Mr Keating has sold the village out to save himself and make a few pounds at our expense.”

Mr Keating said his business had been put into voluntary liquidation in May 2018 due to “ongoing commercial pressures” as well as a rise in wholesale costs and “acute trading factors that were not within our control.

He added: “Myself and my family have always been honest hard-working people. Any private conversations we may have had with creditors or assurances we may have given will remain private. Nothing was owed in wages to the one member of part-time staff remaining.

“Over these last 12 months we have experienced a plethora of unkind, uncalled for and unfair accusations, claims and malicious rumours.

“We have received spite-filled letters and other communications designed to hurt, from a small minority of individuals regarding our planning application to build 35 family homes, including bungalows for older people and 12 affordable dwellings, on our land.”

The district council is expected to make a final decision on the Bay Tree Farm plans by the end of March.