Most of us live where we live in North Wiltshire because we like it like it is. Or at least I presume that if we did not - if, for example, we craved the hustle and bustle of the city - then we would go and live in Bristol or Swindon. The reality is actually the opposite - more and more people want to live like we do and would give anything to come and live in North Wiltshire. The moral question at the heart of all planning is: “Do we have some kind of obligation to allow them to do so?”
Wiltshire Council are starting the long and tortuous process of trying to decide what the County will look like through until 2036. It’s what is known as the Local Plan, and it lays out the broad parameters of planning into the future. For reasons known only to themselves, the County are proposing to provide some 5000 more homes by 2036 than the Government is asking for. That will mean a real change in the way a large part of our area will look. It will mean houses, roads, infrastructure, employment land. Do we really want it?
Wiltshire has concluded that Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury should take most of the extra housing needed (Swindon is done separately), so I guess that we should be glad that Malmesbury, Royal Wootton Bassett, Purton, Calne and Box will be relatively spared unreasonable over-development as a result. The first step towards achieving their housing targets looks like a new by-pass to the East of Chippenham, swathing through unspoiled countryside. Do we need a new bypass? Not really - there’s a perfectly good one to the West of the town. Nor must we be bribed by the £75 million the good old Government is shelling out for this road. It’s a bribe, because with it comes 7500 houses. That’s a new town the size of Calne, double the size of Malmesbury. It will mean 20,000 or so extra citizens of Chippenham; it will mean 10 or 15,000 more cars trying to weave their way to the supermarkets to the west of the town as well as to the station and motorway.
Now we do need some low-cost housing for local people. And no doubt some will be rather reluctantly provided by the profiteering developers. But most of the houses will be lovely three and four bed houses designed to attract well paid commuters. Our population and employment is currently more or less in balance, so why do we need all these extra houses? They are houses for people who do not presently live here. So why, you may well ask, are we planning to wreck a great patch of countryside in order to block up our roads with thousands of cars, overstretch our schools and surgeries and infrastructure, in order to provide nice houses for people from elsewhere? There’s no reason that I can think of.
The new road will sweep down from the Wavin roundabout (its already more or less completed from the Morrisons roundabout), round Abbeyfield School and the football ground, then across the meadows to the Lackham roundabout. Any land inside that curve will then be fair game for the developers - including large amounts of unspoiled farming and recreation ground.
Add to that a wholly unnecessary and hideous solar farm down beyond where the road will cross the A-4, and you land up with significant urbanisation half the way to Calne. If we allow either we will risk ruining the very fine environment which all of us who live here love so much.
So now is the time for action. Take up cudgels on behalf of our countryside, our quiet market towns and villages and stop the onward march of philistine developers. Letters, petitions, protests, judicial reviews. Let’s go for it. Let’s keep North Wiltshire how we like it - green and pleasant.