Planning officers found themselves under fire when 150 people turned out to see where “at least” 2,625 houses may be built in Chippenham.
Alistair Cunningham, associate director of economic development and planning at Wiltshire Council, tried to allay fears the town could lose all its green spaces as a result of the revised core strategy.
Referring to a council map of potential sites, Wiltshire councillor Chris Caswill told Monday's meeting: “We don’t want all that blue space built on. That will ruin the green spaces of Chippenham.”
But Mr Cunningham said: “The blue land identifies where we have willing landowners; it does not mean we are going to build on all this land.”
He said the planning team had “agonised” over preceding the town housing need figure with “at least”, as the only town in the county to get this preface.
Chippenham is said to be problematic because it does not have the roads needed to accommodate the required housing. As roads are expensive to build, it is argued they would only be viable with the building of an enormous number of houses.
Mr Cunningham said: “The requirement of infrastructure is a significant cost in highways terms and that has an impact on the viability of sites.”
Wiltshire councillor Bill Douglas said: “For the road that justifies all that building, we are going to have to have thousands of houses. If you’re going to have a ring road to the eastern side, that costing would depend on the number of houses built in that area.
“Eight years ago, £20 million was the cost we were given. There are only plans for 750 houses at the moment; what we would have to have is 5,000 to justify that costing.”
Mr Cunningham said: “The starting point is housing requirement. It is not a charter for road building funded by development.”
Locations will be judged on six criteria: scope to deliver employment land, supporting economic growth; a mix of market and affordable housing and the necessary infrastructure to serve them; improving, not exacerbating traffic flow; being accessible other than by car; having acceptable impact on countryside and improving biodiversity; avoiding flood risk.
After a man in the audience questioned if improving biodiversity would be given as much weighting as other criteria, planning officer Carolyn Gibson said they were looking at all the criteria on an equal basis.
Another man pointed out that there was no criterion for the well-being of existing residents.
Mr Cunningham said developers would have to make contributions to mitigate for what may be lost, but also to add extra.
He warned it was important to have this plan, or be at the mercy of national policy.
He said: “It will always be a balance between the need for housing and managing development so it doesn’t cause damage to the community and countryside.”
Tom Jacques, chairman of Chippenham Vision, said: “They are taking the right approach in response to the inspector’s comments.
"The final housing numbers need to ensure that the right infrastructure is viable and deliverable to support it.”
Core strategy timeline:
July 2012: Core strategy draft submitted to Secretary of State
May-Jul 2013: Public hearing sessions judge its soundness
August 2013: Modified following hearings
Sep-Nov 2013: Consultation then examination by inspector
December 2013: Inspector declares more houses are needed in Wiltshire and Chippenham’s housing allocations are unfair
February 2014: Modifications announced, including 510 more houses for Chippenham and 80 more for surrounding villages and all Chippenham’s allocated housing sites thrown out
Apr-May 2014: Public consultation on modifications
June 30, 2014: Deadline for comments on housing numbers
Nov 2014: Public consultation on the draft Chippenham Site Allocations Development Plan Document
March 2015: Draft core strategy and DPD to be submitted to Secretary of State
Mar-Jun 2015: Examination of both by inspector
July 2015: All being well, the plans will be adopted