Rabley Wood View land sale: Town Mayor's appreciation for Councillors' & Jayne Baker's addresses to Wiltshire CouncillorsAt Monday's meeting of the Full Council Town Council (March 5), the Town Mayor, Councillor Mervyn Hall, made a point of adding his own appreciation of Councillors Stewart Dobson and Guy Loosmore and Mrs Jayne Baker for their addresses to Wiltshire Council's Cabinet which was meeting to agree the appropriation and sale for housing of amenity land off Rabley Wood View.
He praised their efforts in urging "the Unitary Council not to sell the amenity land." The Cabinet voted the sale through without dissent. He added: "This Council certainly did not support it."
One of the most bizarre parts of that rather fractious Cabinet meeting arose from Councillor Stewart Dobson's earlier declaration that he owned property near the land to be sold. He only learnt when he stood up to speak that this was deemed a 'pecuniary interest' and Baroness Scott told him he had to speak as Mr Dobson and that is how he was referred to.
The irony that Wiltshire Council Cabinet itself had a pecuniary, moral and legal interest in the amenity land, appeared to be lost on Cabinet members and the Council leader.
The sale of this land to an offshore entity acting for the Manton Estate only became possible after a Planning Inspector ruled against Wiltshire Council's own planning committee's decision not to give permission for housing on the amenity land.
A Freedom of Information request to the Planning Inspectorate has revealed three documents with more details of how Wiltshire Council handled their plan to sell the amenity land and handled the opposition to that plan. Names were - as is usual - redacted.
1. A letter (23 May 2016) to the Planning Inspector from a Councillor (or former Councillor) who had served on Marlborough Town Council for sixteen years, made a "...heartfelt appeal to you to turn this application down" because of the damage it will do to the dwindling good name of local government.
She - or he - takes issue with Wiltshire Council's decision to overturn existing planning conditions guaranteeing that the land should remain as amenity land - or a public open space - 'in perpetuity': "People already have a very lowly opinion of both Planning Authorities and Councillors which is hard to combat."
The Councillor writes of the promise made to local residents: "It seems now that the English language is now open to different interpretations by an unscrupulous few. IN PERPETUITY SURELY MEANS FOR EVER."
2. There is a detailed and tightly argued three-and-half page letter (26 May 2016) from Marlborough Town Council which takes apart Manton Estate's rebuttal of the Wiltshire Council Planning Committee's earlier refusal to grant planning permission.
One of the letter's most cogent points concerns the land to be used as a playing field to replace the amenity land lost to housing.
The Town Clerk (we must assume) notes that the Appeal Statement on behalf of Manton Estate says "...the water meadow bears no characteristics or features of being a water meadow only a former water meadow." This directly contradicts ARK's evidence - and the area was even referred to as a 'water meadow' by the Wiltshire Councillor proposing the sale of the land at January's Cabinet meeting.
3. Finally there is an email from Wiltshire Council (2 June 2016) to the Planning Inspector, which shows how officers sought to disregard and dismiss the objectors' submissions:
"The objections from local residents simply reinforce the comment made in the Council's Statement that there is no evidence of local support, or lack of objection, to the proposed scheme."
But one objection had got under the Council's skin - namely the suggestion that there was a conflict of interest as the Agent for Manton Estate had previously worked at Kennet District Council "...under the line management of the current Wiltshire Area Development Manager" who was dealing with the sale of the land.
The Wiltshire Council email states that this is not unusual "...as many professional planners move from the public sector into the private sector. There are no interests involved."
The video record of the Cabinet meeting can still be seen here.
Mrs Jayne Baker addressing the Cabinet - on her right is her husband & on her left is Councillor Guy Loosmore