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MPs and Wiltshire Council react to planning alliance letter

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LOCALcouncils, including Westbury Town Council, who have joined together to fight the risk to their neighbourhood plans from national planning policy changes, have received a response from local MPs. 

In the last issue of White Horse News, we reported that Westbury Town Council is one of 32 town and parish councils backing the campaign which was started by Malmesbury Town Council.

The campaign says the recent changes to the  National Planning Policy Framework and the loss of its  5-year land supply for housing by Wiltshire Council is “directly threatening” the future of neighbourhood planning in Wiltshire.

A press release from the 30 councils stated, “Until Wiltshire Council can show it has restored its 5-year land supply for building, all made Neighbourhood Plans in Wiltshire that are more than two years old are not taken into account in the planning process. This means, as has already happened in Malmesbury, that developments will be approved that completely go against democratically agreed Neighbourhood Plans. This is deeply concerning to town and parish councils and Neighbourhood Plan groups across the county.“

The group of councils, Wiltshire Area Localism and Planning Alliance (WALPA), wrote to all five Wiltshire MPs to request their support to ensure government immediately reviews the framework, and to encourage Wiltshire Council to take all necessary steps to reverse the land supply situation immediately, but not at the expense of prospective and current Neighbourhood Plans.

Local democracy reporter, Matthew McLaughlin, explains that the group has received replies from two MPs and the issue has been addressed at a Wiltshire Council cabinet meeting.

Responding to the call to action, North Wiltshire MP, James Gray said he agreed with the group’s points and would write to the secretary of state, Robert Jenrick ‘within the next few days’ to raise his two main concerns. First, the rule that if a Neighbourhood Plan is more than two-years-old, then it can be trumped by a shortfall in the five-year housing land supply.

“That effectively negates the value in the Neighbourhood Planning system.

“What’s the point in going to all the trouble and expense of creating a Neighbourhood Plan if it is overruled two years later?”

“And secondly,” he said. “There is a fundamental flaw in the method of calculating the five-year housing land supply figures.”

“Land on which planning permission has been granted, but on which developers have not yet started building does not count.

“Developers are thereby incentivised to delay the start of building until the very last minute since by doing so, they stand a better chance of getting permission on land which would otherwise not be available to them. That drives a coach and horses through the Neighbourhood Planning process.”

“Chippenham MP, Michelle Donelan said that while it would not be right to comment on a development outside her constituency, that local involvement should be ‘at the heart of the process’.

“My general view on planning is that local people need to be at the heart of the process which is why I welcomed the recent launch of the Planning for the Future white paper which seeks to accelerate the planning process whilst getting rid of all the bureaucracy so that the process is easier for local people to engage with.”

The WALPA also want Wiltshire Council to take the ‘necessary steps’ to address the land supply shortfall ‘but not at the expense of prospective and current Neighbourhood Plans’.

Currently, NPPF rules mean that is a Neighbourhood Plan was ‘made’ more than two-years-ago, then it does not hold much weight in light of land supply shortfalls. While the council is yet to reply, the issue was addressed at this week’s cabinet meeting.

Wiltshire Council leader, cllr Philip Whitehead said the local authority intended to respond to the letter.

Cllr Toby Sturgis, cabinet member for planning said,“I fully support the mayor of Malmesbury’s view on the time limits of Neighbourhood Plans and I have discussed this at every opportunity when I am talking to the MPs, giving examples of what effect it has in Wiltshire.”

Cllr Whitehead added, “I don’t think we’ve got as big a problem with the planning process. I think we’ve got a problem with developers not building out the planning permissions they’ve got.

“So, we get the houses on the ground for people to live in. I’d much rather see legislation to improve our powers to make sure developers build when we’ve given them planning permission and come to section 106 agreements and work forward on this.”

Wiltshire Council first became aware of their land supply shortfall during the Purton Road appeal, which took place in February this year and was confirmed in the inspector’s decision, received on 6 April 2020.

Cllr Sturgis says the council is working towards restoring the county’s five-year land supply.

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