Wiltshire Council reveal the deal behind proposed housing on public amenity land off Rabley Wood View
Wiltshire Council have finally revealed details of their own involvement in the long and much disputed planning applications - there have so far been three versions - concerning the proposals for a housing development to be built on public amenity land off Rabley Wood View/Rogers Meadow in Marlborough.
It is, Wiltshire Council now admit, all about money and not about new homes - "...everybody matters", but, it is now clear, in this instance the council's budget matters more.
Writing on the Marlborough Community Matters website and tacked onto the notification to residents of forthcoming "field evaluation works" in relation to archaeology, the Council have put their side of the disputed development.
"Wiltshire Council has a duty to make best use of its assets. This often involves seeking to add value and to then realise that value so that the money can be reinvested into other council services." In case anyone wondered it goes on: "This work is led by the Council's Strategic Assets and Facilities Management team of the People and Business department."
We should be aware that they are talking here of 'money value' not the value to the community of amenity land. They make no mention of the various objections that have been raised along the way by, among others, many local residents, Sport England and Action for the River Kennet.
The case put by Wiltshire Council is partial in the sense that it is incomplete, and it is also partial in the sense that it is one-sided. We can only conclude that it is purposefully incomplete.
The Council does not mention that the land on which the new homes would be built was to be held as amenity land 'in perpetuity'. This would have been of comfort to residents when the Rabley Wood View and neighbouring homes were built. But that Latin legal tag has proved to have little connection to any actual meaning of words. Lawyers can whittle 'in perpetuity' down to any number of years they feel appropriate.
Wiltshire Council now state that they "...entered into a legal agreement ('the Promotion Agreement') with the neighbouring landowner [i.e. the Manton Estate] to promote and to apply for planning permission for the concept and then to sell it."
The oddity that underlies this planning application is that it is in the name of the Manton Estate, but the land on which the houses would be built does not belong to the Manton Estate, but to Wiltshire Council. While the decision was in the hands of Wiltshire Council staff, there was an obvious conflict of interest in play.
Local residents who oppose the planning application have raised the matter of conflict of interest with the Council being landowner, planning authority and financial beneficiary. They have been told that the Council's planners work in an independent manner when evaluating developments.
This assertion is now undermined by the existence of the secret agreement between the Council and the Manton Estate. At the very least this saga now carries with it the perception of bias on the part of the unitary council.
Now that the appeal has gone to the Planning Inspectorate, Wiltshire Council has, with this extraordinary intervention, come out from behind its own skirts and is shouting loudly to influence readers of Marlborough Community matters. The Council has gone on the offensive.
For instance, they mention the fact that in January 2013 Marlborough Town Council 'considered the concept of the proposed residential development and country park' and 'unanimously accepted the proposals'. This vote was taken in secret session of the full Council and consequently was not reported by Marlborough News Online or other local media.
This vote was about the enticing prospect of Marlborough getting its own "Country Park". Once the 'Country Park' was ruled out as impractical and the more detailed plans were revealed, Marlborough Town Council voted twice to object to the proposals - this is not mentioned in Wiltshire Council's intervention.
It almost seems Wiltshire Council has gone through a charade with their planners backing the schemes and their councillors rejecting them. Now we have learned the 'Promotion Agreement' includes terms requiring, if planning consent was denied, a referral to the Planning Inspectorate. The safety net was always there.
To return to the 'Field Evaluation' - Wiltshire Council explain: "As part of the appeal process, the planning inspector will need to consider whether there is any archaeological impact if development is carried out and this is the reason the investigation and evaluation work is being permitted by the Council on its land."
"It is obliged, as a party to the Promotion Agreement, to assist the neighbouring landowner with survey work required as part of any planning application process to include any appeal applications."
"The trial pits will be dug in the locations shown [in the map on this document] and the areas subsequently reinstated. The archaeological survey work is anticipated to last two weeks."
And if anyone thinks they can smell a rat: "The carrying out of these works does not imply any obligation on the part of the Council, in its capacity as planning authority, nor that any decision regarding the granting of planning permission has already been taken."
Marlborough residents should be made aware of Wiltshire Council's eagerness to sweat the assets it owns on behalf of the community when it comes to the future of both the town's Sure Start centre in the George Lane car park and the town's Youth Centre beside the recreation ground.