The idea of building around 100 houses on two fields north of Britford Lane, within the Salisbury conservation area, was raised by the landowners early in 2015 as part of an exercise to find more land for housing, carried out by Wiltshire Council.
The Civic Society discussed this proposal in April 2015, and sent the following statement to the planners:
“The Salisbury Civic Society wishes to express a strong objection to the idea of building on these fields. The Society believes that the landscape impact of development here, and the consequent damage to the city’s landscape setting, would be completely unacceptable, irrespective of whatever design was put forward. It believes that the fact that fairly intensive development has taken place over the years south of Britford Lane, with the land to its north left undeveloped, is an indication of a long-term perception that the character of the city benefits immeasurably from the green corridor which runs in almost up to the cathedral, and that there is no justification now for altering this situation. Other sites put forward to make up the perceived deficit in housing land will also have points against them, but it is unlikely that any of them present such a fundamental challenge to the character of the city.”
The exercise to find more land will result ultimately in a document known as the Housing Site Allocations Development Plan Document. This will cover all Wiltshire, and show how perceive deficits in housing site numbers are to be met. In the case of Salisbury and Wilton, the required number had originally already been met, but the planners were told that because developers were not building on land for which they had planning permission, an additional 625 sites had to be found.
The Housing Site Allocations document will need to go to a public enquiry before it is adopted, and the timetable for the various stages it has to go through has slipped more than once. Originally envisaged as being ready for adoption in the summer of 2016, it is now anticipated that it will not be put together before September or October 2016, ready for a consultation phase between then and the end of the year. The public enquiry is expected around June 2017, with adoption possibly by the end of 2017.
More land than was needed was submitted as part of the initial stage of the Housing Site Allocations exercise, and those areas considered less suitable will be omitted from the final list. When the document to be put out for consultation is published, it become known whether the Britford Lane fields have been taken up by the planners as one of their preferred sites.
Once the public enquiry stage is reached, the decision of its inspector will be key to the future of the Britford Lane fields. If the enquiry results in them being among the approved sites to meet the 625 house deficit, it would be extremely difficult for the Council to resist a planning application, on any other grounds than those of detailed layout and design. Conversely, if the fields are not among the approved sites, any application to build on them should have little chance of success.
The owners of the fields were quoted as saying they intended to submit an application before the end of 2015, and although that did not happen, one could still appear at any time. Tactically, an application might be seen as a way of focusing opponents’ attention on the need to resist it, when in fact the outcome of the public enquiry is likely to be the key factor in the determination of the fields’ future. In October, the Society was approached by a PR firm, which had been engaged to prepare the way for a planning application. The Society’s response to the offer of a meeting was that its opposition to the idea of housing at Britford Lane is a total one, not in any way dependent on detailed design, and that it saw no point in such a meeting.
The Civic Society will be examining the consultation document as soon as it becomes available, and will strongly oppose the idea of building on the fields if they are included. If they are not, it will argue against the attempts that will inevitably be made to have them added, at the expense of other preferred sites. The Society examined the other major sites submitted during the initial stages of the exercise, and concluded that there were enough acceptable ones to make it quite unnecessary to build at Britford Lane. None of the sites were deemed to be perfect, but none were as clearly unacceptable as Britford Lane.
If a planning application is submitted, that too will be opposed, but the Civic Society is well aware of the critical importance of the Housing Site Allocations document, and the public enquiry towards which it is headed.