Westbury bypass inquiry: campaigners win more time

26 February 2008

The White Horse Alliance has persuaded government lawyers to delay the start of a planning inquiry into the controversial Westbury eastern bypass.

Solicitors acting for the Alliance wrote to the Secretary of State for Communities, Hazel Blears, on 15 February, complaining that the Planning Inspectorate had acted unreasonably in setting a starting date in April without consulting objectors.

'We had already written to the Planning Inspectorate in January saying that our expert witnesses would not be available at such short notice for an inquiry starting in April,' said Alliance secretary Patrick Kinnersly.

'The Inspectorate went ahead and set the date without explaining their decision. We took the first step towards a legal challenge in the High Court but the government's lawyers have accepted our case for delaying the inquiry.'

The Treasury Solicitor wrote to the Alliance's solicitors on Friday last week (22 February) to say that 'the inquiry will not now commence on 29 April 2008.'

The White Horse Alliance brings together national, regional and local campaign groups and parish councils to represent an estimated 5,000 people opposed to the eastern bypass. Member groups include the Campaign to Protect Rural England [3], the Woodland Trust, the Westbury Bypass Alliance and the parish councils of Southwick, West Ashton and Steeple Ashton.

A new starting date for the inquiry is expected to be decided at a 'pre-inquiry meeting' on Monday (3 March). The White Horse Alliance has offered a compromise date in June but will argue that all parties, including Wiltshire County Council, the South West Regional Assembly and the Government itself, need longer to consider a highly critical report into regional transport planning in the South West.

The panel of inspectors that examined the draft 'regional spatial strategy' (RSS) called for key policies and projects to be reviewed. This 'Panel Report' listed more than 80 transport schemes the inspectors wanted to see progressed. The A350 Westbury eastern bypass was not among them.

The county council has not obtained funding for the £35 million project. A bid is expected to be submitted to the Department for Transport next month.