Parish Council – Chairman’s Report – 2018/19

This time last year I reported that the major topic for consideration had been Draft Wiltshire Housing Site Allocations Plan. One year later and it might have been thought that due process had moved on to at least remove the epithet ‘Draft’ from the document. It went through full council and was submitted to the Inspector who promptly declared that the consultation period be extended for arcane reasons.

Nevertheless much of our work has indeed been to consider the plans that Persimmon had for developing approximately 30 dwellings on the ‘Land East of Farrells Field’ as it has become known.

We had previously indicated that we did not have any objection to the site being included in the Allocation Plan and we suggested to Persimmon that we were very willing to discuss with them any proposals and to host a public consultation event. That event took place on 5 September when Persimmon outlined in fairly vague terms, their proposal to build a range of 2, 3 and 4 bedroom houses. Equally we understood that in compliance with Core Policy, 40% would need to be, by definition, affordable houses. We had no objection to this but based on anecdotal feedback, considered that the balance should skewed towards families eligible for the help to buy schemes, rather than affordable rented properties.

It was therefore very disappointing but I fear entirely predictable that when Persimmon submitted their full application it was for 38 dwellings comprising 1, 2 3 and ostensibly one 4 bedroom property. The only positive outcome was that they committed to providing a separate access from the B4039.

This plan has been roundly criticised, not least by Wiltshire Councils own experts and of course local residents and not just those most affected. Persimmon came to the March PC meeting and were left in no doubt the scheme as submitted was not acceptable and that we were planning a further open meeting that month which they were invited to attend but that they would be well advised to go away and rethink their strategy. This they did and presented a revised layout with two fewer 1 bedroom units and a reduction from 38 to 35. At the next, rather tetchy, open meeting this revised plan was also very badly received. There has been no further communication with Persimmon since. We wait their next move with interest. Overall, we are cautious in our dealings with Persimmon For example we spotted that they deliberately tried to reduce the number of parking spaces provided by describing 4 bedroom houses as being 3, the 4th room being a study and at the same time being stupid enough to show the room as a bedroom on the plans submitted and even promoting design of house on another development as being a four bedroom house complete with a pretty video on their website of this design presented as a show house no doubt complete with undersize furniture to make the room look bigger. They also included a number of houses that fell well below the national minimum recommended standard. In short their ‘Lego’ school of architecture proposal is entirely unsatisfactory. They seem to believe that they can acquire a plot of land with 1 hectare of useable space and cram up to 38 properties on it when the recommended density should be no more than 30 for this site and before surface drainage is fully taken into account. Their revised plan was for 35 houses and I have reason to believe that this may change again. In short, we will work constructively with a developer who works sensibly and constructively with us and we will always seek to get a solution that is the best interests of the village and in keeping with our rural environment.

On a related matter and knowing that we needed better more current information to help inform decision making, we commissioned a Rural Housing Survey, undertaken by Wiltshire Council. The result of this is imminent and I hope it will be available for our meeting in June.

At the other end of the village, a significantly revised plan for the redevelopment of Phillips Garage has now been submitted. In quantitative terms it seeks to increase the number of properties from 4 to 9. I will refrain from commenting on both the qualitative and quantitative aspects the plan as this will be raised in the PC meeting that follows immediately after this AGM and you are all welcome to stay.

On more normal matters. Further work has been done by the Wiltshire Wardens to improve the footpath behind the Manor. You may recall that their original work was badly affected by severe rain and required repairing. We set aside money from the Solar Farm community fund to start repairing the Clarkes Lease play area and the first task to be undertaken was to repair and replace the fencing. We have also had the gates to the Burial Ground replaced; a long overdue improvement.

We continue to receive an excellent service from the Parish Steward with whom we have a great relationship who takes on more and more tasks for us. He even managed to find a replacement, albeit used, ‘No through road sign’ to replace the very shabby one at the entrance to Grove Lane. Had that gone through the usual channels it would have taken months to consider before they decided there was no money.

Potholes remain a source of aggravation new ones cropping up as soon the old ones are filled in. Some minor work has been done along the B4039 parts of which were as bald as a coot but quite what the criteria were for some parts being done and other long stretches being untouched remain a mystery. Suffice it to say that the bit outside my house was done and rightly so. However, I had no influence at all. Needless to say the potholes along Grange Court remain untouched and are now venerable enough to be granted listed status.

My thanks to Jane Scott who we accept is now extremely committed to her duties in the House of Lords but who is still readily available for consultation and advice. I believe she is currently much involved in the soul destroying task of ploughing through endless Statutory Instruments in preparation for BREXIT. A very big vote of thanks to Ian our excellent clerk who not only keeps us on the straight and narrow; keeps the books in fine order but also actually reads so much of the turgid stuff the comes out of Wiltshire Council and summarizes it for us.

Let me conclude by thanking everybody who sits on the Council for their commitment to the task and their good humour in undertaking it. You can guarantee that whatever we do you can please some of the people some of the time but never all of the people all of the time. We had a pretty higher than normal change of faces this year but I genuinely feel that we have a group who work well together, put their point of view across but then accept the majority view with good grace. We have a great range of talent and experience on which to draw ranging from a lay minister to a consultant surgeon. It reminds me of the amateur days of rugby when the Irish team nearly always had a doctor and a priest in the team. In case of an injury the doctor was always available to patch things up and if that didn’t work, the priest could always deliver the last rites. Mercifully we have not had to call on the services of either.

Alistair Parker
Chairman 13 May 2019