James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire - Town’s character comes from decency of people

What do you think it is that makes this lovely area we are all so privileged to live in as wonderful as it is?

I was pleased (if not surprised) to see picturesque Castle Combe listed in the papers as the second best village in England because of its “quintessential Cotswolds character” and its frequent use as a film set.

Sherston was fifth because of “its cider and musical festival, Royal connections and the Old Rattlebone Inn”; and Great Somerford was 21st because of its fetes and horse shows, and the “City types rubbing shoulders with farmers”. We love our picturesque villages, our character-packed market towns and our lovely countryside. But it’s about more than that.

It was good to take a turn round the Castle Combe Circuit last Friday to remember its late proprietor, my friend Howard Strawford, and to celebrate English Tourism Week. The circuit brings in thousands of visitors a year, helps keep 21,000 people employed in tourism in Wiltshire, and contributes towards the £1 billion income derived from tourism in the county.

Then Royal Wootton Bassett is proud of its lovely Town Hall on stilts in the High Street, but the character which we love derives not from its picture postcard features, but from the decency and individualism of its people.

We mourn, for example, the passing of Bassett travelling showman, George Scarrott this week. His fairs brought tourists and income to the area with a unique flair inherited from previous generations of travelling show people in his ancestry.

The people of Purton put on a great show of its local businesses and services in its village hall on Saturday. The whole character of the place derives from its village status, which is so often threatened by unwanted development and the risk of being engulfed by Swindon.

Dislike of centrally-planned housing in unwanted locations was to the fore at the Malmesbury Neighbourhood Planning exhibition in the Town Hall later that day.

I was glad that my intervention with Planning Minister Nick Boles resulted in the application for 180 houses by Gleeson to be called in for his decision.

But even better than that will be the time – which will come soon – when the Government’s ‘localism’ agenda will properly kick in and local people will be able to decide how many houses they want, when, and where.

Only we know what makes this area what it is.

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