Destruction of community amenity land
Wiltshire Council seems determined to sell off community amenity land in Marlborough to facilitate the development of new houses and to make a profit to the detriment of the local community.
Why do we say this?
You have reported the ill-fated deal involving the Council and Manton Estate at Rabley Wood View. Here the Council attempted to sell land owned by them and currently used as a play area – in exchange for adjacent water meadow land and in doing so permit the existing community play area to become the site of a new housing development. That deal was stopped, although whether it is dead remains to be seen.
We know that Wiltshire Council has now set its sights on an even bigger prize - selling off 4.5 acres of community amenity land space owned by the Council in Barton Park/College Fields to provide a new access road to a potential housing development on 20 acres of farmland behind it which is owned by Marlborough College. The College land has no obvious access route to it unless the amenity land is destroyed to facilitate the building of a major link road from College Fields/Morris Road to the proposed new houses. Not only would this move deprive local residents of a much-valued community asset but it would inevitably create traffic and pollution problems at the same time.
Once that access road is built what is to stop even more houses being built either side of that road on what is left of the community land?
Fearing the loss of this important community asset, the Keep Marlborough Downs Special (KMDS) action group has applied to Wiltshire Council to have the community amenity land registered as a Town Green which would preserve it for residents to use and which would protect it from any future roads and development.
The application was advertised by Wiltshire Council in the summer and a hugely impressive 102 residents wrote to the Council in support – such is the desire to turn this land in to a Town Green.
Only two objections were lodged; one from Wiltshire Council, effectively and bizarrely objecting to itself, and the other from Marlborough College. The Action Group has been asked for its views on these objections and will now consider and respond to them in the coming weeks.
The Action Group has clear, irrefutable evidence of these two major public institutions collaborating on a matter of great public importance – and collaborating because of what we know will be significant and mutual financial gain. So keen is the College to stop the Town Green application that they have engaged one of the most expensive and most respected London law practices to present their objections to the Council on their behalf.
It is interesting and disturbing that Wiltshire Council and Marlborough College have corresponded with each other on this matter. The College is a neighbouring land owner (i.e. the adjacent field is theirs), so it could be argued – albeit tenuously – that their view on the Town Green application is important. However, we know and have evidence that all the other private householders whose homes abut the potential Town Green (and who have an interest in the status of that land) have heard nothing at all directly from Wiltshire Council, so, unlike the College, their views appear to be unimportant. How can that be? If one neighbouring land owner has its opinions actively solicited what about everyone else? Perhaps this is a case of one rule for the College and another for the rest of us?
So why would two institutions like the College and the Council object to 4.5 acres of community land being designated as a Town Green for the benefit of the whole community?
The facts are these: Marlborough College wants to sell 20 acres of farmland behind Barton Park and College Fields to a house builder for millions of pounds. The only possible access to the building land is through the community amenity land. Wiltshire Council own that land and will receive one third of the value of the College development site by providing access to it thanks to a well-established valuation formula. Both the College and the Council are fully aware of this.
How much will Wiltshire Council gain by granting access? Much depends on the value of the College building land but think in multiple millions. If that land was designated as a Town Green then the College and the Council will both miss out on multi-million pounds cheques. Paying the London lawyers’ fees would be small change compared to the massive financial gains to be had if the Town Green application is refused and the building development goes ahead.
KMDS see this as a misuse of both the College’s position in the local community and also of the Council’s powers in what could be perceived as an attempt to manipulate the planning system and deprive existing residents of a community asset. Surely this cannot be allowed to happen?
Keep checking the web site too for up to date information on the campaign. We will share with you what we know about the College and the Council’s plans. If you know any facts that would help the cause, please share them with us – in confidence if necessary.
Peter May - for Keep Marlborough Downs Special