I remember taking a keen interest in the development of Wiltshire Council’s Core Strategy for the future of planning and development in the county even before I was elected to Parliament, and I know it remains a concern to many of my constituents.
Even the most conservative of estimates predicted that the strategy would have been adopted by the council by now.
The length of the process and the number of consultations on the plan has not been helped by last-minute insertions of new policies by councillors. One such example was the effective ban on wind turbines in the county, which I challenged.
Just last month a government planning inspector rejected the council’s Core Strategy. He said, amongst other things, that it does not provide for enough housing to meet local needs, and that the council has not properly considered Chippenham 2020’s alternative proposal for new housing to the east of Chippenham, instead of the south. I’d be surprised if this is much less controversial than other proposed sites have been.
The failure to adopt a local plan so far means developers are bullish in their claims that Wiltshire doesn’t have the required five-year supply of housing, and has fuelled fears among local residents that land that is not suitable for development may be vulnerable.
I have already asked the Planning Minister for reassurance that, even before the Core Strategy is adopted, planning officers can take the policies in it into account when making decisions and they should recognise the character and beauty of the countryside. I have also gained his assurance that, once it is adopted, the government will defend the local plan from speculative development.
I have tabled a Parliamentary question to the Planning Minister about local plans such as Wiltshire’s, and hope to ask for his support in ensuring that Wiltshire is able to soon adopt a local plan when I return to the Commons on Monday, having been away on paternity leave.
My first two constituency surgeries of 2014 will be at my office in Avonbridge House, Chippenham, on Friday, January 24, from 1-2.30pm and at Melksham Town Hall on Saturday, January 25, from 10-11.30am.
Should you need my help before then, there will also be a session in my office in Avonbridge House on Monday, January 20, from 3-4.30pm for you to meet one of my caseworkers.