Swindon Councillors have expressed “grave concern” at Taylor Wimpey’s proposals to build 48 new homes in the shadow of Lydiard House. The plans have also provoked criticism from MPs Robert Buckland, James Gray and local community groups. Online, Taylor Wimpey’s application has provoked hundreds of objections.
Lydiard Millicent Parish Council have formally written to Wiltshire Council telling them why the development should not go ahead, citing conflict with a number of its Core Policies. Planning policies which restrain further development on the west of Swindon, and protect the distinct character and identity of the surrounding villages, are also quoted by the Lydiard Park Heritage Action Trust in their objection.
But not every one is against the application, not quite.
Lydiard Tregoz Parish Council has given its formal reponse as one of support.
At its September meeting, Lydiard Tregoz Parish Council unanimously agreed to note Taylor Wimpey’s application. A spokesperson for Tregoz subsequently explained this meant the application did not give them any cause for concern, being some distance from St Mary’s Church.
If the proposed development goes ahead it would be over three miles by road from Hook, where most of Lydiard Tregoz’s population resides.
Geographically, the development would be much closer to Swindon and Lydiard Millicent than Hook. Indeed, two major criticisms of the proposals are the additional strain the new houses would put on the local infrastructure, and the erosion of the rural buffer between West Swindon and Lydiard Millicent.
Taylor Wimpey have sought to counter the argument that the development would encroach upon the rural buffer. This includes an offer to gift the remainder of its land holding at Lydiard Park to “an appropriate local community body” to protect it from future development. This, they say, “will preserve the surrounding areas, rather than ‘open the door’ to the rest of the fields being developed.”
Not everyone is convinced. Kevin Fisher of the Lydiard Heritage Action Group questions the genuiness of the gift proposal. Rather than make the gift of land conditional on the success of their planning application, he thinks Taylor Wimpey should “simply draw up a contract and gift the land… with no strings attached.”
“By linking the so called ‘gift’ to a Parish Council being required to support their planning application and only then being rewarded with a discussion as part of Section 106 agreement, suggests they are being disingenuous at best,” he says.
A Section 106 Agreement is a term used to describe planning obligations which a developer may enter into with the local authority, linked to a planning permission. Usually its purpose is to mitigate the impact of a development proposal. It is intended to make a development, which otherwise would be unacceptable, acceptable by offsetting the impact on a particular location. A common example is requiring a substitute provision for the loss of open space, or a contribution to the cost of the infrastructure serving the development (for example, through the provision of highway improvements or a new classroom at a school in the new estate’s catchment area).
Critics say Taylor Wimpey is not really giving anything away, that there is no compensation in the gifted land for the potential loss of amenity. Much of the land is within the Historic England listed boundary of Lydiard Park, some is flood plain. Lydiard Park Heritage Action say that “no one would ever get planning permission for that land” and that the pastures are “a liability and not an asset to anyone that is or becomes their caretaker.”
In addition, there is the issue of to whom the land should be gifted, on what terms, and for what purpose.
Earlier in the consultation exercise, there were calls for a three-way lock to prevent future development. In the event of the planning permission being granted, this would have seen the developer entering into covenants with Swindon Council, Lydiard Millicent and Lydiard Tregoz Parish Councils.
However, it appears Lydiard Tregoz will now be the sole beneficiary of any “gift.”
A spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey said, “Our intention is to gift the remaining part of the land to Lydiard Tregoze Parish Council, on the condition that the land must be safeguarded from inappropriate development in perpetuity.”
“Once the legal process has been completed, Lydiard Tregoze Parish will undertake management of the land.”
The land in question is within the parish of Lydiard Tregoz, so too is the application site.
Taylor Wimpey state, in their Planning and Sustainability Statement, dated July 2016, that the “site is a draft allocation in the emerging Lydiard Tregoz Neighbourhood Plan,” which “therefore, represents a significant material consideration in favour of granting planning permission for the development proposed.”
However, Lydiard Tregoz Parish Council voted in May 2016 to leave the New V Neighbourhood Planning Group. To date, no order has been made designating Lydiard Tregoz a discrete neighbourhood planning area, nor has any draft plan been the subject of any public consultation or publicity. So any draft neighbourhood plan appears, at best, amorphous.
No doubt Wiltshire Council will form their own view on what amounts to a “significant material consideration in favour of granting planning permission,” particularly given the potential conflict with its own Core Policies.
Wiltshire Council has a target date of 2 November 2016 for determining Taylor Wimpey’s application. However, there is always the possibility that this timeframe may be extended. And, if unsuccesful, Taylor Wimpey may choose to appeal.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is for certain. The future of Lydiard Park, and the rural buffer, will be hotly debated in the months to come.