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Hames response to planning proposals

September 2, 2011 12:41 PM

Chippenham constituency MP Duncan Hames has set out his views on the Wiltshire Core Strategy in a letter to the WC planning chief Mark Boden. Here's what he said:

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Dear Mark,

I write to respond to Wiltshire Council's consultation on the Draft Core Strategy for Wiltshire, hereafter the Core Strategy. This written response is further to the meeting we had at the Council's Monkton Park Offices, and the representations I made in person in the earlier Core Strategy consultation round.

I welcome certain proposals, such as the preference for development in Bradford on Avon being on land north of the town bridge, and not the site occupied by the town golf course south of the river. I was particularly pleased the see the introduction in this latest draft of time phasing of development, which, if taken further to be applied through three five-year phases to 2026, could help make development conform to a more steady pace which would better address local needs.

However, I do object to the overall scale of development envisaged in the strategy, which I consider to be too great - especially in and around Chippenham in my constituency and the neighbouring parishes. In my view, the key organising principle of a local development plan such as this should be sustainability. This should encompass the impact of policies permitting development on carbon emissions, travel to work journeys, the conservation of wildlife and preservation of our countryside. I do not accept the premise that large numbers of homes need to be built for people currently residing outside the county in order for new employers to be attracted. The high level of out-commuting by a skilled local workforce here stands as evidence to the contrary. I would therefore urge you to plan for a level of housing development throughout this plan period that is based entirely on the currently unmet needs of the local population, and their future needs arising from understood demographic changes.

I accept that some settlements in the county should grow faster than others, because of either the need to sustain minimum demand for existing services - for example, village schools - or the presence of suitable infrastructure, such as the railway. However, I object to the degree to which future housing development is focussed on just Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury, and I consider that a more equal rate of housing growth in other towns would be better suited to meeting local housing needs. I therefore believe we should still be looking for a substantially lower level of housing growth in the Chippenham area than suggested in the Core Strategy, and that it should not be so front-loaded: some development should be saved specifically for the final five years of the plan.

I am confident that Neighbourhood Plans, for which Members of Parliament are currently legislating in the Localism Bill, would quickly be seized by my constituents in Chippenham in order to secure additional protection for cherished open spaces such as Birds Marsh and the Avon river corridor, using a new Green Area designation. It would be an affront to the democratic processes that the Bill will establish if the Core Strategy was so specific as to prevent the possibility of alternative options to development in these areas being in "general conformity" with the Core Strategy. I refer you to my remarks in the House of Commons Adjournment debate of 19th July on this subject.

I do agree that we should seek to attract more employment into the County, and recognise that we need to identify suitable developable sites to support this. However, we also need to consider the impact on our town centres of derelict or vacant sites, which weaken the appeal of neighbouring sites to existing occupants. These sites are often difficult to develop, and I fear that making available green-field sites on the trunk road network will cause town centre sites to be left vacant for much longer. Land in Trowbridge (for example, the old Tesco and (Peter Black) sites) and much of Langley Park in Chippenham needs to be made attractive for retail, leisure and office development - to the benefit of neighbouring site users. We also have land which I understand is already identified for employment use (for example, further at Methuen Park and Hunter's Moon in Chippenham) which is currently undeveloped. I am firmly of the view that until this land (north of the railway line) is fully utilised, we should not even consider extending Chippenham further south with out-of-town retail units or warehousing. Indeed once the search for employment sites has extended south of Chippenham itself, I would argue that it would be as well to look to sites closer to Melksham than to the countryside setting of Lacock.

Concerns expressed by my constituents

I would also like you to consider the concerns my constituents have raised with me directly which all seem most pertinent to your consultation.

  1. Chippenham as a Market Town

Chippenham is a market town that has grown significantly in recent years. As one of my constituents has put it, "Chippenham has a special character as a market town", and there is a real risk that this character will be lost with the introduction of 4000 new houses, even if they are phased in over a staggered period. Many of my constituents have pointed out to me that a large number of people living in Chippenham commute to Bath, Bristol and Swindon: by building new dwellings, the Council will only attract more commuters, who will contribute to the economies of other towns and cities while simultaneously impacting negatively upon the local transport infrastructure. As another of my constituents has mentioned in her letter, "I can also remember when Chippenham was self sustaining and most people lived and worked in the town; now there are far too many people for the town to support, and far too little employment. More houses would put an even bigger drain on resources." The volume of development in the Chippenham area should meet the changing needs of local people, rather than attracting new home owners in the hope that they will then work in the area.

  1. Infrastructure

The scale of development that has been proposed in the Core Strategy will have a considerable effect on the local transport infrastructure. This is one of the major concerns raised by my constituents, particularly since many feel that existing transport links such as those to London and Bristol are already overcrowded, while traffic congestion in Chippenham itself is an ongoing problem. The development of 4000 houses in the area will introduce thousands of extra vehicles to Chippenham which will not only contribute to congestion, but also increase levels of pollution in the town.

Many of my constituents agree that local facilities require improvement in order to serve the local community better - which by extension will encourage residents to shop within the town, rather than travelling to Bristol, Bath and Swindon. My constituents are also concerned that already oversubscribed local services, including schools and health centres, will be unable to cope with such an influx of new residents - while others believe that anti-social behaviour and crime will rise in built-up areas.

  1. Green spaces

By far the greatest concern raised by my constituents is the effect that a development of 4000 houses will have on the green spaces in and around Chippenham. Every constituent has emphasised the importance of preserving the countryside around the edge of the town. As one resident put it, "Chippenham has some wonderful green spaces which I and my family can take time out to enjoy, which enhances our quality of life and is a main reason for us leaving the larger towns/cities to put up with less amenities but a better quality of life - I want my children to have a positive and affirming experience of growing up in a safe community."

Concerns have been raised regarding plans to build along the river corridor, on land to the east and south of the town, and on Birds Marsh near the woods. Another of my constituents has made the point that she feels "very frustrated that the voice of ordinary residents does not seem to be heard and decisions are made by people for whom this is not their home and they don't have to live with the proposed concrete jungle."

  1. Existing industrial units

A number of my constituents have suggested that the development of business parks and industrial zones is unnecessary until the industrial units on Langley Park and Bumpers Farm are filled, and brownfield sites across the town are considered as sites for development. Employment sites like Langley Park and Hunter's Moon should not be overlooked in favour of greenfield development further south of the town.

  1. Allotments & Leisure Facilities

Many of the letters and emails I have received have indicated that existing leisure facilities for Chippenham residents are not fit for purpose. In particular, I have been contacted by members of the Chippenham Garden & Allotment Society, who are keen that allotments are considered as an important and essential feature of land use and leisure provision in the Chippenham area. However, it is important that the leisure uses of existing sites in the town are properly identified, and that options beyond section 106 agreements should continue to be explored to help allotment provision for Chippenham residents.

  1. Affordable Housing

New housing developments must reflect the needs of the local population. In my recent response to the Housing Strategy 2011-2016, I emphasised the fact that a large number of families currently waiting on the Council's housing list are seeking three or four-bed properties, with many suffering the pressures of living in overcrowded conditions. There is a clear demand for affordable family accommodation in the area, and an increase in social housing stock is therefore crucial. In addition, the mechanism to facilitate the transfer of existing social housing tenants within Wiltshire's social housing is important, and will improve access to employment, education, and take account of other considerations such as family support networks. To this end, the size thresholds for proposed developments below which no affordable housing provision is expected should be lowered, so that proposed developments - including four-bedroom properties - can be expected to offer a contribution to affordable housing in the area.

  1. Hilperton residents

I have been contacted by a number of my constituents in Hilperton to question the classification of the village within the Core Strategy. (They) have all pointed out that Hilperton is absorbed within Trowbridge in the document, with only North Bradley, Southwick and West Ashton being referred to as large villages. My constituents are concerned that it is factually incorrect to consider Hilperton Parish as part of Trowbridge, and that by persisting in referring to it as part of Trowbridge, the Council will weaken protections offered by existing planning policy and deny the community identity of the people who live in Hilperton.

My constituents are concerned that Hilperton must continue to receive the protection of the existing Village Policy Limit, and are worried that an increase in development in the area will only lead to more heavy goods vehicles passing through the village. This is already a problem for local residents: (a) constituent has explained to me that the speed and size of lorries travelling through the village north of Marsh Road is disruptive. More development should not be carried out where the transport infrastructure is so inadequate. Another resident ... has pointed out that the traffic through the village is fast and dangerous, particularly as the pavement for pedestrians is very narrow, and that the Council should address road safety in the village. Future development for Trowbridge should be located so as to support rather than to detract from the town centre economy, and not to place increased burdens on the transport infrastructure of neighbouring villages.

I recognise this consultation is only the latest stage in a necessarily lengthy process to decide the future planning policies for Wiltshire, but believe that the coming few months will prove critical. I would therefore appreciate a direct response to these concerns before councillors are asked to agree a further set of proposals.

Yours sincerely,

Duncan Hames MP

Liberal Democrat MP for the Chippenham Constituency