AN action group in Devizes is demanding to know why Wiltshire Council allowed plans for houses next to an ancient bridleway despite the secretary of state telling it not to approve any similar scheme for the land until the result of an inquiry was known.

The Trust for Devizes is furious that Wiltshire Council announced it had given permission for 65 houses on land next to Quakers Walk on the first day of the inquiry into a proposal to build 123 homes on the same plot of land.

Philippa Morgan from the trust said: "How can Wiltshire Council say this plan was not of the same kind as the other one. When you look at the plan the one for the smaller number is identical to the top half of the original scheme."

Now the trust has written to secretary of state Sajid Javid to point out the issue. In the letter it says: "We wish to draw your attention to what appears to be an unlawful act by Wiltshire Council leading to a serious breach of proper process in relation to this called-in planning application."

Mr Javid called in the plan for 123 homes in December last year after Wiltshire Council gave permission for it to go-ahead. He said at the time that he wanted to be informed about anything that might conflict with the Devizes Area Neighbourhood Plan.

The Trust has pointed out that in giving the second smaller plan permission the council was in serious breach of Mr Javid's instructions.

In the letter it says: "It appears to be a deliberate attempt to influence the inspector improperly and timed to blind side other participants."

Wiltshire Council did not speak to object to the scheme by the Merchant Venturers for up to 123 homes at Quakers Road and area development manager Mike Wilmott is on record as saying the scheme should be approved.

Wiltshire Council said this week: "The letter from the Secretary of State prevents the council from granting permission for development which is ‘of the same kind’. This is to ensure a developer doesn’t put in a duplicate, or very similar, application and try to get permission on that from the local planning authority – thereby circumventing the reason the Secretary of State called in the original application.

"In this case, the development called in by the Secretary of State was for 123 dwellings, while the application approved by the council was for just over half that number and was in line with the policies of the Devizes Area Neighbourhood Plan, which permits developments of up to 65 houses within the town limits, which this site is.”

The result of the planning inquiry is not yet known.