A DESPERATE bid to save neighbourhood planning in Malmesbury was launched this week after the Court of Appeal ruled a controversial 180-home estate could be built.
It is feared the body blow dealt to the draft plan, which has yet to go to a local referendum, could have repercussions throughout the rest of the country as towns and villages attempt to bring in their own neighbourhood plans under the government’s Localism agenda.
Developers Gleeson welcomed the decision. MD Scott Chamberlin said: “We will now work with Wiltshire Council to satisfy the planning conditions so that these much needed new homes, including 30 percent affordable homes, can be built as soon as possible.”
He also suggested the permission, along with the Dyson expansion, meant Malmesbury was in a better position than other town and that the employment and new homes brought by such development would offer a “solid foundation for substantial economic growth and the social benefits that come with it.”
Reaction in Malmesbury was mixed, with some pleased at the news, pointing out the town had a shortage of affordable housing and suggesting the site at Filands was suitable.
But chairman of the neighbourhood plan steering group Cllr Simon Killane urged residents to lobby Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles to save it.
“We have been wounded by the farcical conclusion to the Gleeson Planning application appeal but we can still assert our right to democratically decide what is best for future development in our neighbourhood,” he said.
He also wants Mr Pickles to meet the steering group and develop a policy to protect local plans as they progressed.
Mayor Sue Poole said: “This is obviously very disappointing to everyone as it flies in the face of the neighbourhood planning process. Not because of the site chosen, many people feel this is the best site, but because the decision has been made before the NP process is completed.”
Former mayor Andrew Woodcock said the decision had driven a coach and horses through the government’s much vaunted promise that communities would be able to determine what was in their own best interests.
“I believe that there is a lot more hanging on the Malmesbury case study than meets the eye,” one resident wrote. “It could trigger a breakdown of the willingness to participate by the very people that will help to generate the drive for self-help in a community. They will simply say: ‘Why bother?’”
Another asked: “How can an admin error be allowed to cripple all the hard work that has gone into the Neighbourhood Plan?
“As a passionate member of my community I feel helpless against company lawyers that can keep appealing over and over again until they get their way; and now it would appear, also over the Government who is supposedly promoting the idea of localism.”
The application was refused by Wiltshire Council and went to a planning appeal. But because of a communication error the Government’s email to the Planning Inspectorate advising that it wanted to make the decision itself was not received in time to prevent the inspector issuing his ruling granting permission.
The case was taken to the High Court where a judge backed the Government, but last week that ruling was overturned by the Appeal Court.