ALERT: New consultation on Wiltshire Core Strategy

The consultation began on 20 September 2012 and ends on 1 November at 5.00pm 2012. Your response MUST be submitted before this deadline.

This is the disastrous scheme that a senior planning inspector condemned and the government rejected in 2009, but Wiltshire Council cannot let go of any of the dream roads it has wanted to build for the last 30 years. The dud ones have cost council taxpayers £8m to develop, so far. If you like the council’s vision for an unsustainable future based on short-term economic growth at the expense of the local and global environment, all you have to do is sit back and do nothing. Wiltshire Council will get on with letting developers build everything they want – most of which won’t bear much resemblance to the things we really need as we head into the converging crises of the 21st century.

The White Horse Alliance and its member organisations are convinced that this kind of planning cannot deliver the things we do need – affordable homes in thriving towns and villages, and a working countryside that supports farming and jobs in local food production while conserving wildlife and water resources. A sprawl of green-field commuter estates and out-of-town superstores can only accelerate the decay of our town centres.

Wiltshire Council set out its tawdry vision of the future in the ‘Core strategy’ which it has been evolving over the last few years. If you responded to earlier versions of the document you probably share the anger and frustration of parish councils and other civic bodies and voluntary organisations whose detailed objections and proposals were simply ignored.

The council did not want to rethink its plans; nothing was to delay the mad rush to get this incoherent collection of documents off to the Planning Inspectorate. The council hoped that the plan would then sail through an ‘Examination in Public’ this autumn [2012], becoming the formal development plan for Wiltshire in the New Year [2013].

Fortunately it hasn’t worked out like that. After closing its last public consultation in April the council made nearly 200 changes to the strategy. Some of these were minor adjustments; some were required as a result of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Planning policy for traveller sites coming into force after the plan was consulted on; the Sustainability Appraisal had to be updated to reduce the risk that it would fall foul of European laws safeguarding protected wildlife and their habitats from damaging development; others were major changes inspired more by politics than sound planning, such as specifying separation distances between houses and wind turbines; and allowing the council to safeguard the route of almost any major road scheme it might fancy building at some time in the future - See ‘Safeguarding routes for major roads’, below.

The new consultation

The inspector appointed to examine the plan instructed the council to consult the public again to see if we approved of these changes. So we have been given another opportunity to criticise a plan that is now even more incoherent than when we last commented on it.

BUT the rules are strict. This is not an opportunity to repeat all the objections we made last time. The only people who can comment on every policy in the pre-submission draft are those who were misled by the instructions that appeared on the last consultation document and thought that comments were invited only on changes since the previous consultation! (This last group should respond using Form A - See the link below for the PDF detailing ‘How to respond to the consultation’, below).

The rest of us are restricted to commenting on:

The late addition of the Westbury eastern bypass to the ‘proposals map’ has not been recognised as a ‘change’ (even though the map was not even created at the time the plan went off to the Inspectorate and only a few officers and councillors knew about it when we exposed its late addition to the ‘proposals’ map in September). But you can still object to its inclusion in the CS (Core Strategy) because of it links to proposed policy changes on transport (See ‘Safeguarding routes for major roads’, below).

We will also be pointing out that the revised Sustainability appraisal does not assess the impacts of a Westbury bypass on landscape, wildlife, water resources, air pollution, climate change or any of the other ‘sustainability criteria’ used in the report. This could put the council in breach of the European directive on ‘strategic environmental assessment’ (SEA). The council says it does not have to reassess the project now because it is a policy inherited from the old District Plan and therefore not part of the Core Strategy. We think this argument is devious and wrong: the road is listed as a proposal in the Core Strategy and we know that the council is actively seeking ways to pay for it. At today’s prices it would cost about £40m.

The inspector appointed to examine the plan instructed the council to consult the public again to see if we approved of these changes. So we have been given another opportunity to criticise a plan that has just become even more incoherent than when we last commented on it. If any proposed change does not appear to be ‘sound’ and ‘legally compliant’ (lawful) you can ask for it to be deleted or reworded.

How to respond to the consultation

For more information on submitting a response and guidance on controversial policy changes, see‘Guidance on responding to the Wiltshire Core Strategy’[PDF]

What happens next?

The extra consultation has delayed the process of examining the Core Strategy and setting up the formal ‘Examination in Public’ (EiP). An Inspector and Programme Officer were appointed in August to begin the examination of the amended submission draft. When the six-week consultation ends on 1 November, the council will have to summarise the responses. This could take two weeks or more, depending on the volume and diversity of the responses. The Inspector will then need to study the responses and identify key matters to be discussed at the EiP.

A ‘Pre-hearing meeting’ will be convened in order to agree a programme for examining the main issues. Hearings could be spread over several weeks.The EiP is not now likely to be held until next year [2013]. More information on the timetable will be published on the Council’s website at the address below. The most numerous and active participants are likely to be property developers and their advisers.

Who’s who?

The Programme Officer: Ian Kemp. An independent PO who managed the EiP into the South Wilts Core Strategy, he has been unfailingly efficient and helpful in responding to phone calls and emails

The Inspector: Andrew Seaman, a member of the Planning Inspectorate based in Bristol. Mr Seaman has already demonstrated a firm hand in dealing with Wiltshire Council. (You can see his letters to the council and their replies on the Wiltshire Core Strategy website.)

The White Horse Alliance has retained lawyer Charlie Hopkins, who led our successful attack on the Westbury bypass at the planning inquiry in 2008. Our lawyer will present expert evidence to show that the council’s proposals would be in breach of European laws designed to protect endangered species and their habitats. We hope that transport, environmental and landscape groups will also retain an expert planning consultant to argue against WC’s attempts to resuscitate the discredited Westbury bypass scheme as a ‘saved policy’.