Malmesbury's nervous wait for over 180-home inquiry

Malmesbury residents are anxiously waiting to find out if a planning inspector will overturn Wiltshire Council’s refusal to grant Gleeson planning permission for 180 homes. An eight-day inquiry into the appeal came to an end last week.

If the rejection is sustained it will be a landmark victory for Malmesbury’s neighbourhood steering group (MNSG), which says it would set an important precedent in town planning.

Group chairman Coun Simon Killane said: “National policy is being put to the test in a bottom-up way. “What we will find out from this outcome is whether we as a community have a legitimate right to have a real say in the design of the future of our area.

“The top-down system led by developers is clapped out. We want to see developers competing for the land, in the same way a consumer would get three bids before choosing who provides a service for them.”

Wiltshire Council’s core strategy says the Malmesbury community area must deliver at least 1,200 homes between 2006 and 2026. A steering group of volunteers have worked for six months to come up with a draft neighbourhood plan suggesting the locations of 330 new houses for the town. It does not include land south of Filands, where Gleeson wants to build the 180 houses and a primary school.

MNSG said it decided on its preferred locations by using a scoring system based on 18 criteria such as location, conservation, environment and buildability.

Its plan is to be put to a six-week period of consultation in the community on March 5, followed by a referendum in the three parishes.

Gleeson lodged an appeal in October last year after being refused permission for its application, which received 143 objections and three letters in favour.

Wiltshire Council’s reasons for refusal included the application being premature to the area’s neighbourhood plan and the location unacceptable according to the North Wiltshire Local Plan 2011.

On Friday, the final day of the inquiry at Trowbridge Civic Hall, Gleeson said this document, which states a housing land requirement for the county, was considerably out of date and there was a shortfall of housing against the five-year supply.

Mary Cook, counsel appearing for Gleeson, said 54 of the new houses would be affordable homes and the development would boost local retail spending by £1.7 million.

Malmesbury town councillor Kim Power, who has lived in the town for 30 years, wrote the closing statement, read by MNSG member William Allbrook.

He said: “Our identified housing sites and housing numbers have been carefully integrated with employment/business sites, with school provision and also new sports, recreational and other facilities.

“Without the option of housing, these other elements could not come forward.”

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