CURRENT ISSUES – UPDATED – 8th October 2016 The Downton Society tries to monitor and investigate all planning applications within the Parish. However we may indeed miss some or not be aware of detailed issues. If you have concerns please let us know.
NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN The Downton Neighbourhood Plan was approved by an Independent Examiner in August , and following his recommendations for minor amendments, Wiltshire Council have finally issued a Decision Statement which supports the Plan . This means that it can now go to local referendum which will take place on 24th November 2016. If endorsed by the community, this representational document will become an essential part of the planning process. Downton Society members were actively involved in producing the plan, which included over two years of engagement with residents and stakeholders. We believe a locally endorsed strategy is essential to prevent piecemeal development and the Plan gives us the best chance to guide and manage change at a time when there are increasing pressures on local authorities to provide new housing. Importantly it will say very clearly to all that the community want no more than the 190 houses agreed in the Core Strategy. It is critical that you cast your vote on the 24th November and support the Neighbourhood Plan.
NEW HOUSING Site development has begun at the Charles Church site. This means that Wiltshire Council has agreed final plans for 99 dwellings which the planning approval document stated would be designed “in the interests of visual amenity and the character and appeartance of the area.” There will be 79 houses and 20 flats In the Wiltshire Core Strategy, Downton, a designated “service hub”, was allocated a total of 190 new houses to be built between 2015-2026. There is already pressure on that number: in addition to the new site, 50 houses have been built in Wick Lane and 14 at Charlotte Close; 4 others are under construction in the village, and at the end of February outline planning approval was given for 17 houses on the site of Scott’s House (Total 184). An application for a further 36 houses on the land opposite the secondary school has been re-submitted, but rejected by the Parish Council as it will exceed the numbers already agreed endorsed in the Neighbourhood Plan - a decision the Downton Society fully supports. It is not clear yet what the Wiltshire Council view will be. This is why your endorsement of the Neighbourhood Plan on 24th November is so important. In the face of government policies, which favour housing development , the Society’s focus on planning is not ‘Nimby-ism’ ; it is to ensure that proper process is followed, that development is sustainable and proportionate, and legitimate concerns of residents are taken into account. As a Society, we feel that the planning process can be opaque so it is important that we continue to monitor planning applications as well as the amount, and nature of, those “community benefits” that are supposed to accrue from developers.
TRAFFIC Traffic flow and parking in Downton is problematic and extra housing is likely to exacerbate it. We address this issue whenever a planning application is made for new development. There is a Parish Council working group, in which Society members are involved, looking at parking and related issues in Downton. You will have seen it mentioned in InDownton magazine with a link to the parish web-site. If you have views please let the group know. Some of the problems are caused by parents picking up and dropping off children and we are pleased that representatives of the school are developing their transport policy and seeking to address the problems with the Parish Council. The “lorry ban” is often ignored. We have discussed more effective enforcement with the police, and have approached some of the companies based in Downton Business Centre, but the critical key is signage as HGV drivers, many guided by sat nav, are often in the village before they realise there is a weight limit. To be effective, we believe signage must start on the major trunk roads and motorways but as this involves the Highways Agency, Wiltshire and Hampshire County Councils, the National Park Authority as well as neighbouring Parish Councils, getting agreed action on this issue is proving extremely difficult (an understatement). We understand the Parish council are again looking into the issue of HGV’s.
THE SCHOOL Planning approval has been give for the two storey extension to the school and, the school hope to go to tender before the end of the year subject, of course, to final agreements about the lease, design detail and flood defences. The Downton Society believes that children of Downton parish should be given priority for places at local schools. Having submitted a Freedom of Information Act request last year, we discovered that of the 207 children at the school in 2015, only 140 lived within the parish of Downton and Charlton-All Saints – the remaining 67 came from outside the parish, including villages in Hampshire. The School Admissions Policy for 2016-2017, which can be viewed on the Primary School website, confirms (under over-subscription criteria) that children living within the School’s designated area should have priority over those living outside the parish. We have always endorsed the principle of extending the school in order to provide the necessary places for local children. Our disappointment has been focused on Wiltshire Council and the School Governors ‘ continuing reluctance to address the legitimate concerns of local residents about building design, noise and parking issues – during the planning process. In our opinion, many of the issues could have been amicably resolved through better engagement with the Parish Council and the local community. The school’s justification for a double storey classroom block is based on the need to provide for the number of children coming from new housing developments in Downton, cost efficiency and minimising disruption going forward. Despite the fact that original consultation with the public was for a single storey, Wiltshire Council strategic planning committee approved a two storey building. There has been continuing discussion over detail. However the most recent, amended proposal from the school still falls short of sympathetic design standards in the view of the Society and many local residents. The Parish Council are leasing community land to the school but, yet again, the school governors have chosen to devise plans behind closed doors and then present their plans for approval rather than trying to engage in partnership. The extension is large and will dominate the conservation area in the middle of the village. Rather than assisting the structure to blend in, the new proposal simply highlights it - with a combination of white rendered walls, windows and coloured vents , that are more suitable to an urban setting. It is perfectly possible to design a contemporary building in a way that adds to the built environment of an historic village, but we believe that this proposal (and indeed the former one to use Redeco panels) degrades it. We have written to the Conservation Officer on this issue: she understands our views , but unfortunately can do very little in respect of plans that have already been approved by WC planners.. The Downton Society feel that unless an appropriate design can be approved, the Parish Council should withhold the lease. This may seem drastic but more sympathetic design could be achieved, for instance, by use of brick or subtle detailing to break up the blank wall, and/or more appropriate window detail . This is not much to ask. The frustration arises because all of this could have been discussed and agreed months (if not a year) ago had there been any form of engagement by the school governors. The Downton Society will continue to monitor proposals for the play area, including bridging and fencing of the bunny, and other conservation issues to ensure that the land could be returned, at some future stage, to its natural state. We will also support any covenants that restrict the type of games to be played, hours of use, and viability of flood defences . A draft lease (which the Parish Council has submitted to Wiltshire Council and the Diocescan Board) is believed to address most of these issues. The Parish Council is extremely dissatisfied with Wiltshire Council’s overall attitude, conduct and response in respect of the school planning process and is expected to make a formal complaint. The Downton Society would wholeheartedly support them in this. The perception is of a county council which, despite signing up to Localism policies, is making decisions which ignore options based on evidence and legitimate community concerns.
The ’Reptile Shop’ The Society considers the current signage unacceptable and completely out of place in a conservation area. The signage was put up without Listed Building Consent and is contrary to planning advice. We have sought to rectify this and have written to bodies concerned.
The White Horse A planning application (16/06838/ADV) has been lodged which seeks to alter the number of sign boards, paint signage on the walls and portray the horse as black on a white background. The building is one of the most important in Downton dating back to the fourteenth century with a very fine frontage. Painting on brick will potentially cause damage to the structure while changing the portrayal of the very traditional and symbolic horse is considered inappropriate. The Society welcomes the desire to upgrade and improve the White Horse but opposes aspects of the signage application on conservation grounds - as does the Parish Council.
Bridges. In co-operation with the Parish Council we had a very successful clean up of the bridges on Sunday 5th June. The Society is keen to co-operate with the PC on other similar community projects , and discussions to this effect with their Amenities committee has already resulted in the footpath initiative (see below) . We feel there are other areas where the community, working together, can significantly improve our village environment, so if you have suggestions, let us know . It has taken many, many months to obtain action from Wiltshire Council over the damage to the Iron Bridge (a listed structure) However we understand that repair is to be carried out on (or around) the 10th October. Watch this space.
Footpaths At the Parish Council Amenities meeting of the 26/9/2016, it was agreed unanimously to delegate the promotion of use and any footpath maintenance issues to the Downton Society Footpath Group. The Footpath group will report back any issues, raise working parties and work in partnership with the Parish Council Amenities committee. The Footpath Group has walked the Parish paths and beyond for over 10 years; members have worked together with the Parish Council to obtain grants for kissing gates, and to help Wiltshire Council install them over the Southern Wiltshire area. If you would like to raise any issues about the state of stiles or any parish path issues, please contact Susan Barnhurst-Davies 01725 512963 email@example.com Proposed bridge You may be aware of the proposals to link the southern area of the village (Moot Lane) with The Borough by a footpath and bridge. We understand that the owner, Longford Estates, has given approval in principle but subject to more detailed proposals. There is also the not insignificant issue of funding. The Downton Society supports the idea of the footpath and bridge but, again, subject to more detail and consultation. Wiltshire Council.
Over the past year, we have found council officers (e.g. in planning and conservation) to be increasingly inaccessible. All too often, even on a direct line to the person in question , there has been an ‘out of order’ response (this does not mean ‘out of order’ simply that the person is not at their desk – and you can’t always leave a message) We feel lack of responsiveness is unacceptable from our local authority and have started to follow this up more robustly. The Salisbury Civic Society have provided some useful advice in this regard. Reporting issues. Members might like to know that the old “Clarence” system of reporting pothole and maintenance issues to Wiltshire Council has been replaced by “My Wiltshire” online reporting . Go to www.wiltshire.gov.uk/report and register your concern (anonymously, if preferred) “My Wiltshire” covers a range of issues including dog mess, street litter, graffiti and litter bins, potholes , verges, traffic lights and trees (a full list is provided on the site). Another site to try is “Fix My Street” (www.fixmystreet.com) particularly useful for reporting potholes and flytipping which can be identified using map co-ordinates.