Local campaigners in Wiltshire are celebrating after a Planning Inspector told Wiltshire Council to remove a damaging bypass from its development plans.
The Planning Inspectorate intervened last week after an attempt to re-instate the Westbury Bypass into the local plan for Wiltshire, only three years after it was firmly rejected following a major planning inquiry.
When Wiltshire Council's £33 million eastern bypass for Westbury was refused planning permission by the Secretary of State in 2009, campaigners – including Campaign for Better Transport and the White Horse Alliance - thought that would be the end of the matter.
The Inspector's report said that there was no real economic case for the road, that it would substantially damage beautiful countryside near the Westbury White Horse, and that what benefits there might be to the small town of Westbury, were outweighed by the environmental harm that the road would cause. He also said that a smaller road on the industrial side of the town would better serve the whole area, were any roads needed at all. Wiltshire Council was disappointed but did not challenge this decision.
Jenny Raggett from South West Campaign for Better Transport was therefore amazed to find in the spring of 2012 that the local authority had slipped in the very same route of the bypass into its Core Strategy by including it as a 'saved policy T1A' from the previous 2004 West Wiltshire Local Plan.
The new policy reintroducing the road had been added to an appendix of the main document without any council debate on the matter. And the public had no idea, because the maps presented for consultation in the Wiltshire Core Strategy submission document, and the main document's description of plans for Westbury, said nothing about a bypass either.
Jenny and other local campaigners therefore flagged up the 'saved policy' at the Wiltshire Core Strategy Examination in Public, which has been taking place at hearings in Trowbridge, led by the Planning Inspectorate, since May 2013. Jenny has also been blogging her notes from the examination here.
The campaigners told the Inspector that hiding such a major development in an appendix of the document was wrong, particularly as the road had already been turned down after a detailed public inquiry and conflicted with a resolution by the Westbury Area Board, representing Westbury people, to progress the very area that the bypass would decimate, as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The good news now is that the Planning Inspectorate has now recommended Wiltshire Council should delete the policy from the Core Strategy appendix.
Inspector Seaman wrote on April 7th to Wiltshire Council to recommend that policy T1A is removed from the text and that the policy from the main document (CP66 which covers strategic road, rail and bus and which does not specifically mention any Westbury Bypass) is to be used instead – see page 8 of his letter and recommendations.
We're delighted at the success of this campaign, and that the Westbury White Horse will remain unblighted by a huge new road carving through the hills beneath it. Removing roads from local plans - before they become concrete proposals with detailed designs and planning applications, and long before any diggers arrive on the ground - is a very effective way to prevent damaging new roads from tearing up the countryside.
"It seemed to us absolutely incredible that the local authority tried to safe-guard the route of a bypass that had been rejected so recently by the Secretary of State, and this without local public debate. We are fortunate that Core Strategies are still scrutinised by an external body in the form of the Planning Inspectorate who have recommended that the safe-guarding policy in this case, to be deleted."
A consultation on the changes recommended by the Inspector will run until 27th May. If you live in or around Wiltshire, please register and give your comments welcoming the removal of policy T1A from Appendix D, in order to help make sure the Council complies with the Inspector's recommendations!