No political subject is more likely to meet with eyes swivelling heavenward, yawns, a general glazing over by one’s audience than planning. That is partly because it is so wrapped up in jargon and mysterious procedures that no-one bar an occasional planning anorak has much clue what it’s all about. Yet the planning system and its outcomes can have a more profound effect on all of our lives – especially perhaps in a beautiful and relatively unspoilt area such as this - than we might realise.
I very much welcome the Government’s attempts to return decision-making about planning to local people as represented by their Wiltshire Unitary Councillors. It should be the people themselves who decide how many houses should be built and where and when, albeit fulfilling an overall target handed down by Central Government. It should be the Planning Committee of Wiltshire Council who decide these matters, and be answerable for them at the ballot box, rather than Government appointed Planning Inspectors. That Localism agenda was created by abolishing the old Regional Planning system and replacing it by the Wiltshire Core Strategy which lays out what building should be allowed and where through to 2126; and the Neighbourhood Plans, which are even more local in their intent.
However achieving agreement on the Core Strategy –which will in the future become the planning ‘Bible’ has proved troublesome, especially in the last remaining area to be agreed- around Chippenham. The plan was to allow up to 4500 houses to be built mainly to the North and East of the town, including a kind of By-Pass running from the Morrison’s Roundabout down to Springfields Academy or thereabouts. The Council identified five potential areas for housing, and it was going to be down to a Public Enquiry to decide which should be chosen. However, in the event, the Inspector threw out the Site Allocations Plan as it is known and asked for it to be wholly re-thought, allowing the Council six months to do it. There is a real risk of speculative applications in the meanwhile, which I hope that the Authorities will resist.
I am wholly opposed to allowing building to the East of Chippenham- whether around the Barrow Farm area near Langley Burrell or further South East towards Bremhill. Those proposals have all kinds of problems, associated with river crossings, greenfields, floodplains, and are altogether an unwarranted invasion of the countryside. So I have written to the Planning Inspectorate to lay out my objections, and to suggest a different solution.
I am no expert, and nor do I have any real formal role to play in these matters. But is there not some merit in considering a completion of the Chippenham By-Pass by building a new road from the Lackham roundabout to the Lysley Arms at Pewsham perhaps. That would take the traffic straight round the town and down the A4. It would then be possible to build sufficient houses to the South of Chippenham to afford this new stretch of road which would achieve the targets and would also fit well with new industrial developments to the South of the Town.
Nothing is easy, nothing without its detractors. But I just have a sneaking feeling that a Southern by-pass and associated development is a great deal better than that proposed to the North and East of the town. I hope that the Inspector, and the people will give the idea at least some fair consideration.