Wiltshire Publications

Wiltshire Council leader grilled at local event

THE leader of Wiltshire Council, Richard Clewer, faced some hard questions from Westbury residents recently as he came to the town for the latest ‘Ask the Leader of the Council’ event organised by the council.

It was an opportunity for residents to ask questions of the leader about local issues, and they grilled cllr Clewer over the controversial Westbury incinerator decision, the on-going battle for a Westbury bypass, and about improvements to Westbury Library.

Cllr Clewer said, “Thank you to everyone who came along to the Westbury ‘Ask the Leader of the Council’ event. It was really valuable to hear about key local issues and discuss possible solutions. I have taken actions away from these discussions and I will update on our progress in due course. These events are a great way to ensure our priorities reflect those of local communities.”

Incinerator and waste collection

One resident, who was referring to the highly controversial decision made by the Planning Inspectorate to approve the Westbury incinerator, asked what the local community can do to prevent unsustainable development in the town.

Cllr Clewer said, “In terms of the incinerator, I find it questionable that the best way to deal with waste moving forward is to incinerate it, particularly in light of the uncertainty that comes with the Environment Act and the changes that are coming from this. We are going to be required by law to collect food waste from every household from Wiltshire on a weekly basis at some point which I find completely mad – we will have to send diesel lorries around the county to collect food waste which will make a change in how waste disposal will work across the country.

“There is so much change coming that I find it difficult to say what is the right way for disposal. Instinctively I think that incineration is backwards thinking. Our officers had put forward that they think the incinerator application should have been approved on several occasions, and the reason they did that is because planning is based on some very narrow grounds.

“Fundamentally, only certain things can be considered. I’ve read all the reports on the current application, and I understand why officers recommended it for approval as they couldn’t find a planning argument to say no, and I can assure you of that. The committee first approved it, then following another look at the evidence, refused it, and it then went to the Planning Inspectorate who decided to overturn the refusal. It would be fair to say that the Planning Inspectorate is quite isolated and some of the decisions they make can seem pretty perverse at times.

“In terms of appeal, the only way forward now is through a Judicial Review which has to be based on process and the evidence and advice I have seen is that the process was followed correctly. Even if you won a Judicial Review, the process would be re-run and there is nothing that can be identified to say that the process was wrong. I have asked to see if there is any other way we can find to combat the decision, but I have been told that from a council perspective there is nothing we can do. If you are aware of something, please do get in touch.”

Another resident asked whether Wiltshire Council would continue to provide Hills Waste Solutions with waste management contracts in the future, and in response cllr Clewer said that Wiltshire Council must follow legal processes when it comes to tendering contracts and that a decision will be made based on the bids that come in as well as other factors.

Air quality management plan

Questions were also raised over whether Wiltshire Council had any plans to draw up an air quality management plan following Westbury being declared an air quality management area 20 years ago.

Cllr Clewer said, “Wiltshire Council has an air management plan for the county as a whole, but it is up to the Westbury Area Board to drive this forward in each individual town. This is a real problem in Westbury, and the only way forward to drastically improve air quality would be through a bypass.”

Bypass update

When asked for an update about the Westbury bypass, cllr Clewer said, “Government have a draft of the North South infrastructure study and they are finalising a report which is due out imminently and we are expecting to see it to identify the A338 up to the A36 up to the A350 as the preferred route. To do that you need to do something with Salisbury, which has an even bigger issue traffic wise, and something with Westbury which means some form of a bypass – goodness knows what the route is going to be.

“It’s going to take the next ten years and vast amounts of money to deal with this, I do not know if it will happen, but it’s the only way we fix these traffic issues. The moral of the story is if you are ever offered a bypass, take it even if you don’t like the route, as otherwise you end up with over 800 lorries a day going through Westbury. Westbury said no to a bypass previously, so we are trying to fix that problem now.”

Westbury Library

Cllr Clewer was also asked about when the Westbury Library would get some much-needed maintenance work completed as residents raised issues about damage being caused to the stone steps outside the building as well as a window being broken inside. There were also concerns raised about incidents of anti-social behaviour in the area.

In response, cllr Clewer said, “I’d have to check whether Wiltshire Council owns the building as we are mostly responsible for maintenance for libraries across the country but some of the libraries we lease. I can make sure that someone will look into the state of works that are needed there.

“With regards to reports of anti-social behaviour, this is something that should be brought up with the Westbury Area Board of Wiltshire Council, as it is made up of local Wiltshire councillors who engage with local bodies such as the police. Anti-social behaviour is not something that is easy to deal with.”

Full questions and answers from the session can be viewed by visiting: https://bit.ly/44Jq1t8


Pictured: Cllr Richard Clewer at the ‘ask the leader of the council’ event.