IT started off shrouded in secrecy. The Gazette was told on Wednesday that the Prime Minister would be in Chippenham the following morning – to launch the Conservative Party’s poster campaign for the European elections – but we were not allowed to tell anyone else.
Party officials would not tell us David Cameron’s exact destination until three hours before his arrival and we could not share the news on our website until he arrived.
Four minutes after his scheduled 11am appearance on Thursday, a silver 4X4 pulled into the Chippenham Rugby Club car park, closely followed by a Jaguar with blacked-out rear windows, from which the Prime Minister emerged.
He was met by a jubilant Michelle Donelan, the Tories’ prospective parliamentary candidate for the Chippen-ham constituency, who ushered him over to the 30 or so party faithful in the council and business community standing in the car park, keenly awaiting his arrival, including Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott.
Mr Cameron showed his appreciation with a series of handshakes before turning his back and addressing his speech to the people with the cameras and notepads.
We were given orders by his entourage – “Stay with me. Wait here. Follow me now” – and asked to wait until after he had been briefed on questions we had submitted the night before.
Four members of the media – the Gazette & Herald, Wiltshire Times, Western Daily Press and BBC – were escorted into a room and given seven-and-a-half minutes to quiz the PM; enough for one question each.
Asked what he would say to developers believed by some Chippenham residents to be taking advantage of the collapse of the Wiltshire core strategy, Mr Cameron said Chippenham did need extra houses, but he wanted local people to have a say and, in the absence of a core strategy, residents should be assured that national planning policy would offer protection against losing the green belt.
He said the planning process should not be suspended until after Wiltshire Council allocated new sites.
He said: “We would be wrong to have a complete hiatus in the planning system. If we waited for every local plan to be in place, we would not have anything built anywhere for potentially many years.
“We have made it very clear that pre-existing local plans can be taken into account by local authorities.”
Asked if his Government backed reopening Corsham station, he said it was not a priority but being considered.
With that we were done and, after a whirlwind half-hour, Mr Cameron and his entourage were gone.