Comment and analysis on the College's proposed housing development north of Barton Park and College Fields
I read Peter May's excellent letter on the above and his letter to our town councillor and Mayor. I agree with all he says and would like to add the following comments.
I live at Barton Park and am a Fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute and take an interest in local planning issues. I will set out what I believe are the facts about this issue which has been massively mishandled by the College and Wiltshire Council.
1. All Planning Authorities must prepare a Core Strategy which is a lengthy document setting out the requirements for new houses, employment land, environmental improvements etc covering a 20 year period. This is subject to extensive consultation and scrutiny. Objections are heard at a Public inquiry before an independent Inspector before being amended and finally adopted by the council as a blueprint for 20 years. Wiltshire Council has done all this and adopted the Core Strategy in January 2015.
2. The adopted Core Strategy requires 680 houses to be built in Marlborough between 2006 and 2026. Documents produced by the council show that of this number 344 have been built - e.g. at St John's School and elsewhere - 253 more are committed - i.e. have planning permission or are allocated e.g. at Salisbury Road - leaving 83 new houses to be identified in the next 10 years.
3. The Core Strategy adopted a few weeks ago also defined the settlement boundary for Marlborough within which new development would be located.
4. Most councils in my experience would be content that 83 houses would be granted permission on small brownfield sites in the settlement.
5. However the Council is now proposing to produce a Site Allocations Document for the whole of Wiltshire and want to identify sites for the 83 houses. They have produced a plan which shows four brownfield sites with a capacity for well over 83 houses.
6. There are planning applications already lodged for 90 houses : 35 on the Citroen Garage site, 45 at Rabley Fields, and 10 flats in a house on the Green. I make no comment on these and realise there is controversy about Rabley Fields, but it demonstrates that within weeks of the Core Strategy being adopted there are sites for 90 houses. Maybe not all will be approved but there are still the four sites identified by the council.
7. Therefore there is NO need for another large strategic site up to 2026.
LAND AT BARTON PARK
8. Land behind Barton Park is owned by Marlborough College, and the headmaster is on record as saying he has great ambitions for the future. These clearly include selling land for maximum gain for the sole benefit of the College.
Land behind Barton Park is in a sensitive part of the Marlborough Downs, is a designated Nature Improvement Area and forms the setting for the town and is home to owls, badgers, dormice and is a downland habitat.
9. Previous custodians of the College and previous planning committees have respected this and great care was taken in siting the existing Barton Park houses to prevent them being on the skyline and from being visible from important viewpoints in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Houses were sited below the skyline and land excavated to ensure this.
10. The College appear to have offered a site for a new primary School in conjunction with (or provided they get permission for) 100 houses. The figure of 100 houses seems to have been arrived at by a financial calculation rather than as a result of detailed analysis of the impact of development on the AONB, Nature Conservation, or impact on local residential amenities.
The land behind Baton Park is considerably elevated compared to existing development and will be on the skyline and will dominate existing houses.
11. The appeal to the Council of a free school site, which will also free up the existing school site which would then be available for more potential housing in Manton, is a double whammy for the council.
12. The land behind Barton Park is outside the settlement boundary where development is unacceptable. However it seems the Council are now proposing to amend the settlement boundary to include this land.
13. The College seem so confident that the Council will support their financial plan that they have instructed consultants to do the necessary analysis.
14. I have been reliably informed that the College is now preparing a planning application - presumably on the basis that they are confident or have been told that the settlement boundary will be amended.
15. We have a plan led system whereby a rational plan is prepared and applications judged against it. However in Marlborough we now have a system whereby the plan is altered to meet the requirements of Marlborough College under the current management.
16. There is a rational plan, land behind Barton Park is countryside and outside the settlement boundary and is a designated Nature Improvement Area. There is no need for another large strategic site, there is a six year supply of housing land and so no urgency at least until 2026.
17. There is no need to amend the Core Strategy to accommodate the aspirations of a landowner.
18. Finally, there are strict regulations about what a developer or landowner can offer a planning authority in terms of financial or equivalent benefits in kind and what a planning authority can demand from a landowner in order to avoid the impression that permissions can be bought and sold.
19. The governors of Preshute school as far as I can see have no remit supporting large housing developments and the enthusiasm of the headteacher and possibly governors is unseemly and a long way out of their statutory remit.
20. This proposal by the College is so far out of step with planning principles, that it must surely be a candidate for review if the council do their bidding.