(Note: for issues about the rejected A350 Westbury Bypass, please see section at end of page)
Wiltshire County Council is the strategic planning authority for Wiltshire including the area in the west of the county around Westbury. The Council's Core Strategy sets out the planning framework for development of settlements and other infrastructure, including transport, in the county.
Note: You can respond to the new consultation on the Wiltshire Core Strategy. The consultation is from 20 September 2012 to 1 November 2012 (ends at 5.00pm). Further details and link below.
In the years since July 2009 when the government rejected the old county council’s plan for a Westbury bypass, the planet has continued to heat up, carbon emissions have increased, oil has become dearer, threats to wildlife have increased, and water and food have become scarcer. But councillors and officers still want to enlarge the A350 into a strategic highway linking the towns of West Wiltshire to the motorway system in the north and the A36 trunk road (and ‘the Channel ports’) in the south. This old obsession lies at the heart of the council’s plans for the future of Wiltshire over the years to 2026 and beyond - see development map (PDF). It has led the council to propose large new settlements on green-field sites that are remote from town centres but conveniently located within this ‘A350 economic growth corridor’. If these new settlements can be made large enough, the property companies that own the land will pay for a network of access and distributor roads that increase the capacity of the A350.
To counter the argument that this strategy would simply encourage tens of thousands of new residents from these car-dependent estates to clog up the ‘improved’ A350 by commuting to jobs in Bath, Bristol, Swindon or Salisbury, the council has allocated further swathes of open countryside for new trading estates. The council hopes that this balancing of homes and jobs will somehow prevent ‘out-commuting’!
This outdated obsession with roads as the engines of growth has inevitably distorted the council’s priorities, laying down a template for unsustainable development to be provided by the property companies that own the large green-field sites needed for ‘extra-urban extensions’, tin-shed business parks and, of course, new roads. That’s why its transport planners could not resist another attempt at reviving the worst of its dud road schemes, the Westbury eastern bypass.
The White Horse Alliance and its member groups have opposed the council’s core strategy at every stage from the first draft in 2009 to the ‘pre-submission draft’ sent to the Planning Inspectorate in July this year. None of our objections or the criticisms and proposals from parish councils, civic bodies or amenity groups has made much difference (see August 2011 open letter). The council has remained stubbornly wedded to a strategy for economic growth based on sprawling new developments in the open countryside at the expense of declining town centres.
Modern planners know that this kind of development cannot provide the things we really need – affordable homes in thriving towns and villages; a working countryside that supports farming and jobs in local food production; conservation of wildlife and water resources; transport systems that meet our needs for mobility and health while slashing carbon emissions. It is perverse to choose instead to build green-field commuter estates and out-of-town superstores in a slavish reproduction of development patterns that enlightened planners defined as unsustainable long before the end of the 20th Century.
Wiltshire Council set out its tawdry visions for the future in the ‘Core strategy’ which it has been evolving over the last few years. Objections have been largely ignored. The council did not want to make any significant changes; it just wanted to rush its incoherent collection of documents off to the planning inspectorate in the hope that an Examination in Public could be held before the end of the year.
Fortunately it didn’t work out as Wiltshire Council hoped. 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 coming into force after the plan was consulted on; others were major changes inspired by politics more 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.
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.
Rather than reproduce these outdated policies in the blueprint for the next 15 years, we ask the council to think again and give us: