MORE than 30 town and parish councils across Wiltshire today appealed for help from Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire’s five MPs to protect the future of Neighbourhood Planning in Wiltshire.

Wiltshire’s town and parish councils are suffering because of significant loopholes in planning legislation.

These mean that carefully drafted Neighbourhood Plans can be over-ruled unless Wiltshire Council is able consistently to maintain five years’ worth of available housing land.

Currently, Wiltshire does not have that critical five–year supply, which means that "aggressive developers" are challenging Neighbourhood Plans as soon as they are two years old.

The town and parish councils say what was the point of communities working hard to produce Neighbourhood Plans only to find that after two short years the locally agreed policies can be over-turned.

For this reason, Wiltshire Council last year approved developments contrary to Neighbourhood Plans in Calne, Malmesbury and Melksham. Further developments in Calne, Devizes, Downton, Malmesbury, Melksham and Pewsey have not yet been decided.

Speaking on behalf of the Wiltshire Area Localism and Planning Group, Mayor of Malmesbury Campbell Ritchie said: “There is agreement between ourselves, the leadership of Wiltshire Council, and most of our local MPs that urgent changes are needed to protect Neighbourhood Plans in Wiltshire.

“Wiltshire Council’s planning policies are being smashed by developers seeking to take advantage of this unfortunate situation.

"The huge effort going into creating the next stage of the Wiltshire Local Plan for housing and development is also being undermined.

“We are calling now for a joint effort to achieve the changes we all want. We have requested an urgent meeting with the leaders of Wiltshire Council and our MPs to develop a shared and public plan to protect Neighbourhood Planning in Wiltshire. We are looking forward to being able to report a positive outcome."

He told Wiltshire Council in his letter: “We believe you can do so much more to facilitate a shared action plan to tackle the issues preventing Wiltshire having a five-year land supply for housing.

“The statement by the Leader of Wiltshire Council in August 2020 that 'I think we’ve got a problem with developers not building out the planning permissions they’ve got' must be followed up.

“In particular, we would like the opportunity to propose a number of practical steps that will enable us together to more quickly achieve the aim that ‘The views of the local community, particularly those of town and parish councils will be important in considering potential benefits and impacts of proposals when planning applications are determined’.

“We would reiterate that there appears to be a broad consensus between the parish and town councils, Wiltshire Council officers, the leadership of Wiltshire Council and our Wiltshire MPs on the results we want to see to protect the Future of Neighbourhood Planning. But we have to take steps together to deliver these results.”

Cllr Ritchie is inviting Wiltshire MPs and Wiltshire councillors to join a virtual Zoom meeting on the morning of Friday, February 26 – perhaps for convenience to coincide with the regular MPs meeting with the leadership of Wiltshire Council - where they can discuss and agree a common approach that can best protect the future of Neighbourhood Planning in Wiltshire.

The Town and Parish Councils who have supported the letter include: Ashton Keynes, Bradford on Avon, Bremhill, Brokenborough, Calne, Calne Without Parish, Chippenham, Chirton & Conock, Corsham, Cricklade, Crudwell, Devizes, Downton, Great Somerford, Hilperton/Staverton, Holt, Idmiston, Malmesbury, North Bradley, Oaksey, Pewsey, Potterne, Purton, Sherston, Southwick Parish Council, St Paul, Malmesbury Without, Sutton Benger, Tisbury, Trowbridge, Westbury, Warminster, Wootton Rivers and Melksham Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group.