A PLEA for a new policy to protect infant neighbourhood plans like the one being drafted in Malmesbury has been made by the town’s Wiltshire Councillor after the government stepped in and halted controversial plans for a supermarket.

Cllr Simon Killane, who chairs the Malmesbury Neighbourhood Steering Group accused MP James Gray of making a mockery of localism by asking Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles to call in the Waitrose application for a store on land behind the Avon Silk Mills.

The instruction from Mr Pickles’ department to Wiltshire Council not to make a decision was sent on Thursday, the day after the Northern Area Planning Committee decided unanimously to allow the proposal.

It triggered a war of words between Mr Gray and Cllr Killane, who responded this week by telling Mr Pickles: “Particularly offensive claims are that he accuses me of trying to rush the Waitrose planning application through and playing politics.”

Her explained both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, who had a rival application turned down for a site further out of the town, had waited long past the deadline for decisions.

“I have always wanted a referendum on the plan before any supermarket planning application was decided and have tirelessly worked to try and achieve this. The reality is that neither I nor Wiltshire Council have the power to delay any applicant indefinitely,” he said.

The situation was not helped by a planning inspector’s ruling earlier this year in favour of a 180-home development by Gleeson Strategic Land at Filands, which was called in for review by the government, he said.

“We have been lumbered with a confused and impossible situation where we have really no idea what to do to protect our neighbourhood planning process, while our plan is being built,” he said.“There are no transitional policies that clearly inform applicants about what they can do in a neighbourhood planning area. Wiltshire Council cannot confidently say no to the demands of applicants, simply because government has not empowered them to do so.

He continued: “Mr Gray has seized on one element of our plan to make a personal judgement about our proposed choice of supermarket site, regardless of local opinion to the contrary which MNSG have gathered through official survey and consultations, partnered and overseen by Wiltshire Council, which he discounts as “spurious” polls. “He has proposed alternative sites that could never be delivered and would be laughed at in any neighbourhood planning examination or appeal hearing.”

Cllr Killane added: “There are now over 500 emerging plans that are anxiously watching Malmesbury who would breathe a sigh of relief if they too could get clear guidance about this critical issue.”