Battle has been done in front of a planning inspector in Chippenham between opponents to 700 houses proposed for Ridgeway Farm, north of West Swindon in Wiltshire, and developers Taylor Wimpey.
Taylor Wimpey believe that Swindon needs more houses, even though they would be built in Wiltshire, and claim the site has been identified in planning documents for many years.
Objections were lodged by Wiltshire Council and Swindon Borough Council, MPs and councillors from both authorities, and residents’ organisations from both sides of the border, as well as over 1,000 petitioners. They all believe building on green fields will further close the gap between the town and Purton and will cause a great deal of extra traffic and pressure on Swindon’s infrastructure.
At the heart of the planning inspector’s consideration is the government’s new National Planning Framework which emphasises the need for more development to satisfy growing housing demand whilst recognising the value of ‘ordinary’ green land. Against this is the government’s localism legislation which says the views of communities affected by development proposals should be held in high regard.
Whilst barristers for Wiltshire and Taylor Wimpey argued technicalities of planning law and the environmental implications of building at Ridgeway Farm, community representatives presented the enquiry with the real impact of imposing another 700 houses on Swindon.
Shaw councillor Nick Martin told the enquiry that Taylor Wimpey’s proposal would make major demands on Swindon’s infrastructure with minimal financial input. He also paid tribute to the effort by resident Kevin Fisher. “He gave a very assured and well researched presentation that, I think, surprised the developer’s legal team.”
Kevin made an appeal in the April and May Links for residents to write to him expressing support if he were to speak at the enquiry. He said: “Receiving over 660 messages in just 6 weeks showed that people are really concerned about the significant deterioration in the quality of life if a development twice the size of Sparcells was to go ahead with no facilities, other than a primary school.
“I pointed out to the enquiry that Ridgeway Farm cannot be seen in isolation. Within Swindon’s boundaries, mainly in the North, there are agreed plans or proposals for over 2,600 houses which will impact West Swindon.
“The developer’s barrister was unprepared to respond to my questions on traffic data which are based on computer models rather than what is happening on the ground. For example they argue that there are only 80 cars per hour at peak times on Swinley Drive. I surveyed the road on 11 May and counted 250 cars an hour – going one way.
Right, Kevin, counting cars
“The decision on Ridgeway Farm is a major test of the government’s view that local voices must be heard on planning matters. Apart from Taylor Wimpey’s desire for a speculative development, nobody wants it to go ahead.”
South Swindon MP Robert Buckland also addressed the enquiry. He said: “I believe that development would further worsen traffic congestion on Mead Way and Swinley Drive, which is a residential road. This will have a knock-on effect throughout the area.
“If this appeal is allowed, further green space which is an essential part of the rural surroundings of West Swindon will be lost.”
Planning inspector Katie Peerless will announce her ruling on the development later in the summer, or possibly in September.
After the last day of summing up, Kevin said: "I have written a report for the Shaw Residents’ Association web site which will give you a feel as to how the appeal went from the perspective of our contributions. I will not offer an opinion; I will leave it for you to decide once you have read it.
"But I can say that both Swindon and Wiltshire Council officers guided by their QC (Queens Council) worked exceptionally well producing their case and in cross examining the appellant (developer). I have complete admiration for how they represented our interests and I am personally very pleased with their work.
"The focus of their case was on policy matters, that is: Ridgeway Farm is not required in order to meet the councils’ strategically planned housing numbers) and is our best argument in order for the Inspector to advise against the appellants appeal.
"Before he gave his summing up, Mr Crean QC (the council’s representative) gave an unprecedented speech when he spoke about the Shaw Residents’ Association contribution.
"He stated that in all the years he has been involved in such appeals he has never come across a community submission as well researched and professionally presented as ours.
"So, may I thank you all for sending emails of support and for the encouraging words that many of you have sent along the way. I would also like to thank the many residents that worked directly on the campaign providing much needed support in making the community aware of the issue and in contributions to the papers I presented at the appeal.
"It has been a tiring experience trying to balance my normal life with the effort I chose to put into this appeal, but without such a huge community response, our case would have been less compelling.
"I am afraid we have a long wait before we get the result – possibly until September even. If you want to receive a written copy of the decision you will need to write to the address below. In any event I will publish the result to the SRA web site as soon as I know it, so please bookmark the site.
"I am not going to speculate on which way the decision will go but whatever the outcome, we can be sure that we as a community together with our council’s did our absolute best."
Read Kevin’s summary of the planning enquiry at: www.shawresidents.org.uk
To receive a written of the decision write to:
The Planning Inspectorate
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
BRISTOL BS1 6PN
Making reference to the Ridgeway Farm planning appeal, planning inspectorate reference APP/Y3940/A/11/2166277/NWF