THE future of a key factory site in a Somerset town remains in the balance more than two years after it closed its doors.

Oscar Mayer closed its factory on the A358 Furnham Road in Chard in August 2021 at a cost of 860 jobs, with the company arguing it was too expensive to modernise the existing buildings within the site.

The site was sold off by JLL in September 2022 to an undisclosed buyer, with the BBC claiming the site would be redeveloped into housing.

But nearly 18 months on from this sale, the site remains vacant with no formal planning application for its redevelopment or regeneration.

The site lies on the western side of Furnham Road – one of Chard’s busiest roads – and is surrounded by housing on three sites.

The site was not allocated for any form of development within the South Somerset Local Plan, since this was approved at a time when the factory was still within active use.

Chard & Ilminster News: Numerous sites near the Oscar Mayer site have been either identified for development or are subject to active planning applications.Numerous sites near the Oscar Mayer site have been either identified for development or are subject to active planning applications. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

A spokesman for Somerset Council said: “The site is located within the development area for Chard. Specific allocations within Local Plans are generally used where land is expected to come forward for development of a particular type of the plan period – they are unlikely to be used to outline areas that are already developed.

“It is too early in the plan-making process for the new Somerset-wide Local Plan to consider specific site allocations.”

The new Somerset Local Plan is expected to be completed by the end of March 2028, with the main round of public consultation not expected to be held until the spring of 2025.

Numerous sites near the Oscar Mayer site have been either identified for development or are subject to active planning applications – including proposals for a 66-bed care home between Furnham Road and Chaffcombe Lane, and a possible development of 67 homes further to the north (which could deliver a section of the long-awaited Chard eastern relief road).

The council said it had not received any formal application for the Oscar Mayer site from the new owners or any third party – and stressed it was keen for some form of employment to be retained within the site.

A spokesman said: “We have provided advice to the previous landowners on the issues they would need to address in bringing forward development proposals. No  environmental impact assessment screening or scoping applications have been submitted.

“The need for marketing of employment sites is set out in the South Somerset Local Plan.

“Applicants will be expected to submit a marketing statement with the planning application, which demonstrates that the site has been actively marketed for a maximum of 18 months, or a period agreed by our planning officers prior to an application being submitted.

“The agents for the landowner have provided  us with updated marketing reports, setting out the level of interest and the number of follow-ups to original expressions of interest.”

Brownfield developments in Somerset can attract central government funding to ensure more affordable housing and commercial space can be delivered than would often be possible with a purely market-driven scheme.

Homes England provided more than £3m to clear and decontaminate the Saxonvale site in Frome, with the council currently exploring which of the two schemes for regenerating the site will be taken forward.

The council said it would not apply for any such funding until a formal proposal for housing, commercial space or other uses for the site had come forward.

A spokesman said: “As we have not seen any proposals from the most recent purchasers, it is too early to comment upon the nature of any particular redevelopment proposals and whether or not they may raise viability issues, either to deliver the site or to secure affordable housing.”