AN APPEAL over controversial plans for a block of retirement flats in the centre of Calne has opened, with the inspector hearing from both sides in the controversy.

Wiltshire Council has twice refused planning permission to Churchill Retirement Living for the scheme, leading to the appeal.

Planning inspector John Wilde opened the hearing on Tuesday (February 9) first making note of Wiltshire’s lack of a five-year land supply. He pointed out this causes a ‘tilted balance’, meaning that decisions would ultimately weigh in favour of residential proposals unless there was substantive evidence against the development.

For Wiltshire Council, planning consultant Simon Chambers said the ambition for the town was for the centre to be strengthened and regenerated for the future.

Mr Chambers pointed out the plan for housing in the town centre was for it to be a mix of flats and family housing to create “a vibrant centre which supports an active community”. He added that as the proposal would only provide accommodation for the elderly, it did not comply with those ambitions.

Neil Cameron QC, speaking for the developer, said the plans comply with the town’s Neighbourhood Plan due to the mix of residential and four retail units.

Mr Cameron said that many of the policies in the Neighbourhood Plan were permissive and were supportive in principle of the retail elements of the scheme.

Cllr Glenis Ansell, chairman of the town council’s planning committee, said the bid was not supported by the community with 138 letters of objection being filed against the second of Churchill’s applications.

“Parking provision is inadequate and traffic will increase conflicting with the parking policy. It is by no means a regeneration scheme, merely infill,” she said.

“There is poor integration with cherished buildings. The Zion Chapel will be overwhelmed and the view across to St Mary’s church will be completely obliterated.”

Cllr Ansell added the development only appealed to “affluent pensioners” and did not meet the affordable housing requirement.

“There is no evidence of housing growth or job creation, and there’s certainly no evidence of town centre improvement.

Cllr John Boaler said the town’s skyline for much of the 20th century was dominated by industrial buildings.

“In the late 80s we got back our skyline and we got back our sky, and we should like to keep these,” he said.

No date for a decision on the two appeals has been given.