Planning

October 21st  Parish Council oral input to the planning hearing

Semington Parish Council, together with a considerable number of individuals and families from the village, has consistently opposed housing development in the field to the north of St George’s Road since the first application was made in 2016.  As we know that you have details of all the objections made by us to Wiltshire Council and to the Planning Inspectorate, we don’t intend to re-state them today.  In any case, the Parish Council is confident that any objections we should have made today will be presented by Wiltshire Council.  
 
We will say, however, that our objections can be summed up by saying that this is the wrong place for housing development.  The field is beyond the recently reviewed and agreed edge of the boundary of the Semington settlement and we know that any permission for development, no matter how small, will result in the entire field being built upon in short order.   It is this needless extension of the Semington settlement into the countryside that we wish to prevent, and the green light it would give for further expansion to the west.  The field is also adjacent to the important village heritage asset of St George’s Court and contributes to the landscape setting and rural feel of the nationally important Kennet & Avon canal, just a short distance away.
 
The one point I wish to emphasise strongly is that the Parish Council and village is not against appropriate development.  In fact the opposite is the case.  The Parish Council has a track record of constructively collaborating with Wiltshire Council to facilitate appropriate development.   By which we mean the right amount of appropriate housing in the right place – including both affordable and market-based housing.  As evidence of this, I’d refer you to the re-development of the site of the St George’s hospital, the affordable housing development at the Semington Turnpike in 2007,  and the most recent full planning permission granted for the building of 24 dwellings (including affordable homes) along St George’s Road by Hannick Homes.   Construction is expected to begin here in 2021.
 
The Hannick Homes development is worthy of additional comment as discussions between the developer, the Parish Council and villagers was informed by a housing needs survey which we asked Wiltshire Council to carry out in 2014.  We were told by our local Wiltshire councillor that Semington’s collaboration with Hannick Homes was exemplary in that we were able to work together to meet an identified need for additional housing.   We make this point as this is how the Parish Council seeks to operate.  It is, however, in complete contrast to how recent developers have gone about things.
 
The Parish Council’s vision for the next 10 years is to help the village further benefit from the reduction in traffic made possible by the A350 bypass, and to build on the actively rural character that residents and visitors know and love. 

The overall goal of the Council is to promote the best interests of the entire community within the guidelines of this vision.  We set out to support, safeguard and strengthen the community, to enable social and economic developments that meet the existing and emerging needs of the people who live, work and go to school in the village, to encourage and enable a sense of belonging and inclusion, and to enable individuals, families and organisations in Semington to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from living in this actively rural community.  Our priority remains that of appropriate and sustainable development to meet the needs of the village community whilst providing support for the local economy.  We are not convinced that permitting this development will allow us do this, which is why we oppose it.

October 17th  Melksham by-pass news

Wiltshire Council’s cabinet has approved plans for a non-statutory engagement exercise into a proposed A350 bypass around Melksham and will be seeking the views of residents, businesses, town and parish councils, and other stakeholders on the progress made so far, and the proposed route options.  The council will present the progress of the project so far at the Melksham Area Board public meeting on Wednesday 4 November (7pm).   Cllr Bridget Wayman, Cabinet Member for Highways, said: “This marks the next step towards a bypass for Melksham that would create a more reliable, less congested transport network; support economic and planned development growth at key locations; reduce air pollutants and emissions from transport; and also improve safety for all road users.  … it is important to note that at this stage, all route options are indicative and do not show the exact route that any road may take.  The specifics of any preferred route will be subject to full consultation in 2021.”  There is more detail here.

What is not indicated in the Wiltshire Council statement is that it has been exploring a 4th option for the route.  This would be a dual carriageway from Beanacre running round Bowerhill to the Littleton roundabout (where the current Semington by-pass crosses the A361).  This 4-lane road would be a by-pass of the current by-pass and would once again split the parish.   It would involve crossing both the Kennet and Avon and Semington Brook and crossing land prone to flooding.

October 15th  A new cycle route proposed

A new cycle route through the village to link Melksham with Trowbridge has been proposed by Wiltshire Council, and funding is now being sought.  It will use existing byways and bridleways.  The Melksham News has the story and a map.  The Parish Council was not consulted about this.  It seems that we shall all be consulted if the scheme is completed.  A problematic part of the route could be the byway [ SEMI 9A/10 ] running west from St George’s Road as the surface of this track is subject to severe water erosion and the route already has a mix of users.

October 15th  Melksham Link update

The latest edition of the Melksham Independent News [MIN] has a feature on the development of the Melksham Link which shows the proposed route of the Wilts and Berks canal from Semington to the Avon at Challymead.  This shows details of the canal infrastructure (locks, bridges, moorings, aqueducts, culverts, winding holes and side ponds), but it has no details of any housing, hotel, camping or business development) along the way.  Significantly for Semington, the previously proposed marina near the junction with the K&A is not included.

The MIN reports that a resolution to the Environment Agency’s objections to the plans is in sight.  Project manager for the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, Paul Lenaerts, told Melksham News, “The Environment Agency are currently still maintaining their objection to the planning application, but we have reached agreement on all but two of their concerns, and we are hopeful that these can be resolved over the next few months.”

The objections relate to [i] the likely effects of discharging locks into the river, in low-flow river conditions, and on flows and levels particularly downstream of the proposed weir; and [ii] to the extent of the mitigation required to offset the negative environmental impact of the proposed weir (which has a maximum fall of around 30cm).”

October 7th  Public Inquiry details

The public inquiry into whether planning permission should be granted for the building of houses on the land north of St George’s Road is being held (by Microsoft Teams) on Wednesday October 21st.  It starts at 1000.

Two applications are being considered:

– PROPOSAL A: Residential development of up to 26 dwellings (of which 50% would be affordable) with associated car parking, access, internal roads, public open space (including retention of the existing WWII Pill Box), landscaping, drainage and other associated infrastructure.

– PROPOSAL B: residential development of up to 20 entry level affordable dwellings with associated car parking, access, internal roads, public open space, landscaping, drainage and other associated infrastructure.

The Inspector says that he is not proposing to hear detailed evidence on housing land supply and his preliminary views about the main issues in this appeals are:

[i] for Appeal A, whether the proposed development would be in an appropriate location, having regard to the development plan and national policies relating to housing; and

[ii] for both appeals, the effect of the proposals on the character and appearance of the surrounding area, with particular regard to size and relationship with the settlement of Semington.

The Parish Council has registered to make a submission at the inquiry.  This will reiterate its opposition to developing this field for housing.

…………………………………………………………..

The Planning Inspectorate references are:

APPEAL A    APP/Y3940/W/19/3236860

APPEAL B    APP/Y3940/W/20/3253180

October 5th  Planning White paper comment

This is the text of the submission by the parish council to the government’s proposals for planning reform that were set out in a recent White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ Government White Paper Consultation.  It has been copied to our MP, to Wiltshire Council and to local parish councils:

These comments on the Planning for the Future white paper come from Semington Parish Council which represents around one thousand people in the West Wiltshire village of Semington, and the nearby small settlements of Little Marsh and Littleton.  Wiltshire is a county of old villages like ours, each of which is connected to other villages by ancient tracks, by-ways, green lanes and drove roads, most of which are now rights-of-way.  Typically, they are also now connected to larger settlements by the road network as well as by these routes.

Semington is linked in these ways to the towns of Melksham to the north, and Trowbridge to the south.  They are between three and four  miles away.  These towns are important to Semington as centres of employment, commerce, transport, secondary schooling, further education, health and leisure.  We are well connected to these towns but we are separate, and culturally distinct, from them.  Significantly for us, there is another distinct village settlement between Semington and each of the towns.

Semington Parish Council and the community we represent understand the need for additional housing, including affordable housing, and our policy is to promote appropriate housing development within the community.  Looking back over the period since the Second World War, there are numerous examples of such development in the village.  All have been relatively small additions to the village housing stock and this has allowed the village to grow whist retaining its integrity as a settlement and as a community.  We have been assisted in this by the policies of the various planning authorities within Wiltshire over the years.  Currently, the Wiltshire Council policy is to promote sustainable housing development.  This means favouring the building of housing in urban settings where there are employment, commerce, transport, education, health and leisure facilities, and restricting development in villages like Semington where there are not.

Over the last twenty years there have been a number of examples of Semington Parish Council and the Wiltshire planning authority co-operating so that new housing is developed in the village.  Currently, for example, we are waiting for the building of 24 new homes (including affordable homes).  This project was a collaboration between a small local developer and the village, where there was extensive collaboration and discussions with the Parish Council and local people.  This development met with village approval because it was seen to meet our housing needs and was appropriate in scale and design.  We have been told by our local Wiltshire councillor that this collaboration was exemplary.  Our good record of working with Wiltshire Council is one of the reasons that the Parish Council decided against developing its own neighbourhood plan.

Over the same period (2015 to the present), however, there have been two attempts by national property developers to obtain planning permission for large housing developments outside the Semington village settlement boundary.  Had these been approved, they would, together, have increased the village housing stock by over 25%.  Each was aggressive in approach, and characterised by a disdain for discussions with local people.  It was something being done to us, not with us.  In fact, the Parish Council was told by each developer that there was no point in opposing their plans as they were bound to succeed.  That they did not, was due to the combined efforts of villagers, who protested in huge numbers to Wiltshire Council planners (and subsequently to the Planning Inspectorate), our local councillor, and Wiltshire Council, which was robust in defending its policies and communities, including at appeal.

We have provided this background to Semington and its record on housing development because it is necessary for an understanding of our disquiet at what the government is proposing in the White Paper.  To put it bluntly, we are very concerned about the position that villages such as Semington will find themselves in should these plans go forward into legislation.  Our fears are grounded in the fact that the only substantive mention of villages in the White Paper is this:

Renewal areas “suitable for development” – this would cover existing built areas where smaller scale development is appropriate. It could include the gentle densification and infill of residential areas, development in town centres, and development in rural areas that is not annotated as Growth or Protected areas, such as small sites within or on the edge of villages. There would be a statutory presumption in favour of development being granted for the uses specified as being suitable in each area. Local authorities could continue to consider the case for resisting inappropriate development of residential gardens. 

It seems clear from this that the intention is that villages that are not specifically protected on the narrow ground available will not be protected at all from the sort of approaches that we have experienced over the past five years.  This will remove the ability of communities like Semington to protect themselves from the whims of builders and housing developers.  Indeed, it will remove our ability to have our say about the future of our community.  This seems profoundly anti-democratic.

It also seems significant that neither of the consultation documents mention settlement boundaries or rural exception sites.  Because of this we can only conclude that these are to disappear thereby removing the protection from uncontrolled extensions of housing into the countryside.  The only realistic outcome of this can be the filling in of the green space between villages so that they become absorbed into each other and then into nearby towns.  We cannot really believe that this is what is intended, but it would seem to be an inevitable consequence of the current proposals.

To summarise, Semington village has a history of pro-actively supporting appropriate sustainable housing development in its community.  Is it really too much to ask that we will be able to continue to do this?

July 2nd

The developer that is applying to build ~20 “entry-level affordable dwellings” on the land north of St George’s Road has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate and asked that this appeal be considered together with an appeal they are making over a similar application in Broad Town. This is because they are basing their arguments in both cases on a new piece of legislation. No date has been set.

This means that the developer has two appeals in the system in relation to the “land north of St George’s Road. See the March 26th entry.

June 17th

Wiltshire Council’s Western Area Planning Committee considered a report about the application to register land known as Great Lees Field, Semington as a Town or Village Green, at its meeting. The Committee made the following resolution:

“That Wiltshire Council, as the Registration Authority, accepts the Inspector’s recommendation and that the application by ‘The Friends of Great Lees Field’, under Sections 15(1) and (3) of the Commons Act 2006, to register land off Pound Lane, Semington, known as ‘Great Lees Field’, be rejected for the reasons set out in the Inspector’s report dated 7 February 2020 (Appendix D).”

A copy of the draft minutes have now been made available on the Wiltshire Council website and may be viewed using the following link: cms.wiltshire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=13022&x=1

June 15th

Wiltshire Council has confirmed that it no longer has a 5 year supply of housing. This will make planning applications outwith settlement boundaries harder to turn down.

May 13th

The public inquiry that was due to be held on May 13th / 14th into the applicaton to build houses on the land north of St George’s Road has been postponed. No future date has been set for it.

May 15th

Wiltshire Council has rejected the application to build ~20 “entry-level affordable dwellings” on the land north of St George’s Road. The principal reason is:
1. The proposal, by reason of its size and detachment, protruding onto open agricultural land, would have a harmful impact on the character and appearance of Semington and the surrounding rural landscape, creating an urbanised expansion beyond the existing built-up area of the village. This would conflict with Core Policy 51, which seeks to protect the landscape from harmful impacts, and Core Policy 57, which seeks to create developments that create a strong sense of place and are complementary to the locality. Furthermore, it would conflict with paragraph 170 of the National Planning Policy Framework which seeks to ensure that new development enhances the natural and local environment by recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside.

The decision letter is here https://unidoc.wiltshire.gov.uk/UniDoc/Document/File/MjAvMDEzMDYvT1VULDEzOTE3MzI=.

This is the same land and the same developer as before. It is certain that the developer will appeal, and it is likely that both appeals will be heard at the same time – whenever that it. The parish council has strongly opposed both these applications, as have a significant number of villagers.

March 15th

The Inspector appointed by Wiltshire Council to conduct the inquiry into whether Great Lees Field should be granted village green status has recommended to the Council that the application should be refused. The Inspector’s report is here: tinyurl.com/vuj8nzt and the full set of papers for the Western Area Planning Committee meeting on March 18th is here: tinyurl.com/vuj8nzt The planning committee is open to the public.

March 12th

A new planning proposal has been submitted to Wiltshire Council for the land north of St George’s Road. It is Application 20/01306/OUT and can be viewed here: tinyurl.com/t36byzq

This is for an Entry Level Exception Site. This legislation says:

Local planning authorities should support the development of entry-level exception sites, suitable for first time buyers (or those looking to rent their first home), unless the need for such homes is already being met within the authority’s area. These sites should be on land which is not already allocated for housing and should (a) comprise of entry-level homes that offer one or more types of affordable housing, and (b) be adjacent to existing settlements, proportionate in size to them, not compromise the protection given to areas or assets of particular importance in this Framework , and comply with any local design policies and standards.
The purpose of this is to allow housing in areas where it would not normally be permitted for the purpose of supplying housing for first time buyers or renters. This is the same land that relates to the planning appeal (See February 26th note) in May.

March 2nd

The outcome of the village green application will be decided at the Wiltshire Council Western Area Planning Committee on March 18th at County hall [a 1500 start]. The Inspector’s recommendations have been received by Wiltshire Council and will be available before the meeting. This is a public event and any villager is welcome to attend.

February 26th

The planning appeal in relation to development of the land north of St George’s Road will take place on May 13th and 14th in the St John’s Conference Centre in Trowbridge. This will only take two days as there are no lawyers involved. The developer and the Council will each make their case directly to the Inspector. The parish council will be represented at the hearing and will be making its objections to this development known to the Inspector.

There will be an update when more detail is available.

January 31st 2020

Wiltshire Council has received the Inspector’s Report on its Housing Site Allocations Plan. This sets targets for the number of dwellings to be built in particular areas. The report will be considered by the Cabinet on February 4th and if endorsed (as seems likely) the full Council will be asked to adopt the Plan at its meeting on February 25th.
The plan includes revisions to settlement boundaries. The Semington boundary has been slightly extended to include all existing properties that were not in before, for example, Turnpike Close and St George’s Court. The forthcoming Hannick Homes development will be included at some point after its completion.

January 24th 2020

Wiltshire Council has now approved Hannick Homes’ final plans for the building of 24 houses and bungalows along St George’s Road. Approval is subject to a number of conditions which can be seen here.

January 10th 2020

The final plans for the building of 24 houses and bungalows along St George’s Road by Hannick Homes are now on the Wiltshire Council planning website. Details shown include appearance, landscaping, layout and floor plans. A final decision on approval is due to be made before January 21st and the latest information the parish council has is that building is scheduled to begin late in 2020.