The event was reasonably well attended, mainly by those involved with either the council or various local community groups, with a few independent local residents too.
We diligently noted down everything we heard, to the extent that we're fairly confident those that attended will agree we were at the very least at the same meeting!
There were certainly some very interesting points made and we urge you to read on and digest...
Presentation by James Gray on The Localism Bill
at Malmesbury Town Hall on 25th February 2011.
Patrick Goldstone – Mayor
James Gray – Conservative MP for North Wiltshire (JG)
Our Notes (Ruth and Justin Jeffrey - Malmesbury.com)
JG (James Gray) stated the Localism Bill is being discussed in Parliament NOW and that it should be law by summer. Wiltshire Council core strategy is currently being worked on to assess how many houses, factories, traveller sites etc. will be required between now and 2026. ONLY THEN can plans be made for numbers of houses etc.
Background: most people want no, or very little change, by and large. Referred to NIMBYism and ‘BANANA’, i.e. Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anywhere! House values have surged, leading to lack of affordability. It will be the duty of citizens to consider this in future.
Moving forwards it will be a ‘bottom up’ planning process. As a side note, there are currently over 840k houses currently empty in the UK.
It will be up to people, communities and councils to decide what they want.
James Gray’s PERSONAL view is that North Wilts is, broadly speaking, in balance. SOME more development is needed but North Wilts is now as it should be in future. Building large numbers of houses to west of Swindon and north of Chippenham would be wrong.
Government is changing – people must say what they want. The Localism Bill is a very broad Bill and there is a small section only on Planning.
Neighbourhoold Plans (NPs) – plan produced by a neighbourhood, a community. This could be all sorts of Community Groups coming together. It CAN say that nothing is wanted or that lots is wanted. For example, one councillor in Chippenham wants to grow Chippenham to become a commercial hub. In drawing up the NP the duty to the environment has to be considered. This will be the building block for the county Structural Plan through to 2026. However, Wiltshire Council has a duty to say when housing is needed.
For the first time, PEOPLE have the opportunity to say what they do and don’t want.
Specific to Malmesbury… , e.g. Park Road and Filands.
Park Road – WC have decided Park Road is outside framework so unlikely to go ahead.
An organic approach is needed for Malmesbury. Strongly expressed views of the town are to be taken into account in the Structural Plan. PEOPLE POWER NOW WORKS. County are listening and this is the very first opportunity JG can remember for the people to make a difference.
Question and Answer Session – Chaired by Patrick Goldstone
Ted Palmer: If here is a neighbourhood, then Wiltshire Council is next level up, how much higher does the hierarchy go?
JG: Wiltshire Council will be at the top. They can decide what they like, although pressure might not let them get away with it. £350 per house will be paid to the council for each house built. This will replace 106 agreements. However, it might encourage cash strapped councils to build unnecessarily. (Ruth’s note: Patrick Goldstone strongly nodding to: is a 106 agreement bribery? This was a question raised by JG himself).
John Thompson (Deputy Leader of Wiltshire Council and Malmesbury Councillor): Neighbourhood Plans can combine together, e.g. Malmesbury and St. Paul’s Without are likely to be produced as one plan. However, Wiltshire Council can disapprove inappropriate submissions / groups. Government indicates economically beneficial developments (commercial development) will provide 6 years’ of business rates to local councils as an incentive.
Roger Budgen (Residents’ Association): Are councils working away behind the scenes and can groups get involved at an early stage?
JG: Talked about ‘Colour Homes???’ as an example, where developer has tried to squeeze planning through before Localism Bill comes into force. Local Government officers don’t like not knowing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re referring back to the RSS, although they’re now being pulled back by other councillors stating they’re not now obliged to build.
John Thompson: Officers are probably suffering from shock! On the 22nd or 24th March, Planning Officers will be coming to Malmesbury to explain to us how they’re going to take things forwards. Area Boards will be hosting this. To explain to community what they (we) need to do. Decisions will be evidence based, whether for or against. Evidence such as how many homeless, how many jobs, school places etc. will be important. Neighbourhood Plans must be developed by community, NOT pressure groups.
Simon Killane (Wiltshire Unitary Councillor for Malmesbury): How does Core Policy fit in?
John Thompson: Planning policies are there to protect against opportunism and will be used to make planning decisions.
Miles Widnall (Resident): Questioned numbers of houses already in the system and was concerned about the use of the term ‘organic’ regarding future development.
John Thompson: Neighbourhood Plans will REPLACE those housing figures. Community can say NO. By the time the NP is finished, this will provide the starting point.
JG: It will be the community’s responsibility to decide, e.g. do we want (our) children to move away, are we happy with dormitory town status etc? The idea is that the community will take into account the wider aspects to keep Malmesbury a desirable and accessible place to live.
Resident (Chris Bale?) How will local decisions be made? Wasn’t happy with certain aspects, e.g. roads, footpaths, employment. How will WE get to take part and HOW will it take place? Who has authority?
JG: WC will take control. The NP will almost be a ‘bible’. It’s harder to get a positive movement going; much easier to get the ‘anti’ movement going but balance has to be achieved and the method has yet to evolve.
Bill Sykes (Residents’ Association): Concerned about (enabling of) community in developing their Neighbourhood Plan and what is meant by ‘pressure groups’.
JG: Pressure groups do make up part of the community. All of the community should come together and the people with the loudest voices may not necessarily be correct! All voices need to be heard. Went on to say that the 106 agreements will be much less used, not abolished. Money is expected to be easier to enforce than a new school, for example.
Simon Killane: Community will need to go through him, as the Unitary Councillor for Malmesbury. Talked about Blue Sky and his input into stopping the Park Road development.
JG: Developers will not be able to act in the same way, run roughshod over the community under the new system. We shouldn’t knock developers but under the new system they have to take the community into account.
Ed Dias (Resident): How and where can the community make their views heard?
JG: You already have the ear of councillors, specifically your Unitary Councillor – it’s Simon’s (Killane) job. The might of developers tramping all over everyone will be stopped by the new system. Some villages are asking for housing, to support pub, shop etc. and that’s up to them.
Ed Dias: So it will be up to our councillors?
JG: Yes, Someone has to make decision.
John Thompson: Our hands are currently tied (by the old system). In future, we will not be able to go against the Neighbourhood Plan. If we did, the public could then vote against councillors so it’s not in their interest to go against it. The Community Plan (Neighbourhood Plan) must have the WHOLE community support. The Area Board are applying for / has(?) funding for enabling this.
Kim Power (Resident): How are NPs going to be put together? How will info be provided to the community?
JG: Stated handout was to follow. A referendum needing more than 50% will be required for it to pass.
John Thompson: Research teams are bringing all info together. Info will be available at community area. WC are to provide this info and support the community in the process of producing their NP. All info will be held on one web site and be interactive.
Marc Brown (Resident also representing residents on MDF): Malmesbury has already had huge development. Will the community have the last say?
JG: There’s no guarantee that it will be possible. What if it comes to stale mate? We do NEED certain things.
Patrick Goldstone brought the QA session to an end and reminded attendees of the event the following evening at St. Mary’s Hall in memory of the late Councillor Paul Dove.
Question was raised about the date of the Annual Town Meeting but date could not be confirmed off hand.