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LOCAL councillors have expressed their ‘disappointment’ and ‘shock’ at Wiltshire Council’s decision to grant planning permission for 50 houses on land west of Semington Road, after an appeal by the developers.
The application had been refused by Wiltshire Council last year, with its own planning officers explaining that the proposed development, in open countryside, was outside the limits of development defined for Melksham in Wiltshire Council’s core strategy.
Both of Melksham’s councils had also objected to the plans, raising concerns about the erosion of the rural buffer between Berryfield and Melksham, the poor pedestrian access to the town and over the A350 road, the lack of school facilities to support the development, and its impact on the proposed Melksham canal link between Semington and the River Avon.
However, a change in the developer’s plans to increase the amount of affordable housing from 30% to 100%, appears to have won Wiltshire Council over, despite Melksham having met its current housing target, and the ‘protection’ of the Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan, which in theory protects the community area from ‘unsustainable’ development.
Local councillors have speculated that Wiltshire Council’s ‘shortfall’ in affordable housing across the county is behind the decision; and that the U-turn could set a precedent and open the door to more ‘speculative’ applications.
Melksham Without Parish councillor, Richard Wood, who is also the outgoing chair for the Neighbourhood Plan steering group said, “We are all very disappointed to hear the news that this appeal has been upheld. In his report, the planning inspector clearly identifies that the Melksham Neighbourhood Plan meets all the eligibility criteria for protection against speculative development under the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework). He also cites where the application conflicts with several policies in Wiltshire Council’s Core Strategy and the Melksham Neighbourhood Plan.
“But on this occasion has upheld the appeal as the 50 proposed dwellings will be 100% affordable housing, rather than the 30% statutory requirement in this area; this is to meet a shortfall in Wiltshire.
“As the outgoing chair of the Neighbourhood Plan steering group, I was shocked that this appeal was allowed. We must hope that this does not offer an open door to more speculative applications. I am sure that all areas with made neighbourhood plans will be wondering whether it will be them next.
“What will be most interesting, is how Wiltshire Council will consider future applications in the light of this decision, we will be watching closely and be discussing with them in the near future.”