Plans for 175 new homes in Marlborough gets the go-ahead
Plans to build 175 houses and a 60-bed hotel on the outskirts of Marlborough have been given the go-ahead – but the decision to grant outline planning permission was far from a rubber-stamping exercise.
Wiltshire councillors debated the matter for almost an hour and a half today (Wednesday) with many – even those who supported the scheme – expressing reservations on the grounds of traffic congestion and pollution at the Salisbury Road roundabout on the south side of the town.
And the six-three vote in favour of the Crown Estate proposals came despite a last-minute bid by conservationists to reduce the visual impact of the housing estate.
The granting of outline planning permission by the Strategic Planning Committee means the scheme – which includes 70 affordable houses, a £700,000 investment in St John’s Academy, £80,000 towards a local GP surgery, highway enhancements including pedestrian crossings, cycle paths and footpaths to the town – can progress.
The nitty-gritty of design and layout will come back before committee members at a later date.
Councillors were reminded that the Crown Estates proposal had been rumbling on for six years, and that in 2014 the applicants reduced the number of houses they proposed to build from 220 to 175 and added a budget hotel at the behest of Marlborough Town Council.
The town council had originally supported plans for 220 houses, but had later performed an about-face, complaining that their concerns about extra traffic and the building of a link road between the A346 and the A345 to Pewsey – which would give residents access to the west side of town without having to join the queue of drivers on the A346 – were being ignored.
Wiltshire’s Core Strategy – a blueprint for development across the county – has already earmarked the site for housing, and it was the fine print of that strategy that came under the microscope following a last-minute appeal from the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The AONB’s planning expert, Rebecca Davies, described the plans as “fundamentally flawed.” A letter sent to members of the planning committee last night (Tuesday) urged them to vote down the application on the grounds that the development went too far up the incline at Postern Hill, and that the new houses would be seen from the north of the town, including The Common.
“It is not that we are against the development,” she said. “We support that villages and settlements have to grow, but it is really about balance of landscape impact to AONB and in the case we fall on the other side of the council.
“There are considerable areas of Marlborough where the development will be visible.”
The AONB suggested that rather than allowing rooflines up to the contour running 160m above sea level, the ‘ridge height’ be brought down to 150m.
But Wiltshire Council’s visibly-exasperated head of planning, Mike Wilmot, warned councillors that while 10 metres up the hill didn’t sound like a lot, the impact would be considerable.
“You would end up with a very small site,” he said. “That would put pressure to release the hotel site, and it would still leave us with a massive shortfall in housing in Marlborough. Ten metres on this scale of things would have a massive impact.”
He added: “We need housing in Marlborough or our strategy will be flummoxed.”
Town and county councillor Stewart Dobson suggested that the new homes furthest up the hill should be bungalows, in a bid to reduce the visual impact of the houses from other parts of town. “Marlborough suffers from a lack of bungalows,” he noted.
He was assured that the finer points of the development could be discussed when they came back before the planning committee.
Most objections, though, were about the impact that a further 175 houses would have on an already-congested Salisbury Road.
Town resident and retired civil engineer Peter Ridal said that report from the county’s highways department – which found that the impact on traffic congestion would be ‘negligible’ – was “deceiving.”
His comments received a round of applause from protestors, who were urged by committee chairman Andrew Davis to refrain from clapping.
Town councillor Mervyn Hall said the estimated seventy cars trying to join the Salisbury Road roundabout would extend the morning rush hour by eight minutes for every driver.
“The development will be a giant cul de sac,” he said. “The A346 suffers from junction overload. Queues often reach as far back as Cadley. There is nowhere else for this traffic to go.”
“This needs to be looked at again,” he said.
However, fellow town councillor Alexander Kirk-Wilson said: “I believe these views are exaggerated and congestion will get worse, but probably not by very much.
“Marlborough needs these houses in the town now and they cannot wait until a relief road is built.”
And in supporting the application, town and county councillor Nick Fogg quoted the 18th century philosopher Voltaire: “It represents the best of all possible worlds, rather than the best of all impossible worlds,” he said.
“You probably will not find anything better than The Crown Estate. Their schemes are exemplary.”
After the meeting The Crown Estate’s strategic land manager, Steve Melligan, said: "We are delighted our plans have been approved. The site has been extremely well designed and has benefited considerably from our consultation with local groups.
“We look forward to finalising the details and bringing the site to market so that the construction of these much needed new homes can begin.”