Spending an afternoon at Wiltshire Council's eastern area planning committee is as good a way as any to gain insight into sustainable development in the county. I popped along last week to find 8 councillors (all men of a certain age), a clutch of planning officers and a couple of lawyers in attendance. There was a good turn out by the public, all of whom, apart from me, had a direct interest in the agenda.
The first item, concerned a farmer who wanted to eke out his EU subsidies (while they last) with a bit of income from motor cross. He was accompanied by a be-leathered motorbike devotee who tried to argue that the sport was a good way of getting youth off their screens and out into the fresh (sic) air. Opposed to all this healthy living was an alliance of horse riders, ramblers and the peace 'n' quiet crowd, all of whom were affronted by noise, petrol fumes and the assorted winnebagoes that blocked their byways: "It's a wonder no one's been killed ..." was the theme. There was also a well bred chap from a local parish council who, in opposing the motor bikes, said that his membership was diverse. That, of course, is not diverse in the Tottenham sense. To cut a long story short, the motor cross got the bums' rush and the horses breathed again.
Then there was a smart–looking, in-commer couple who were objecting to local folk wandering over their land. These 'trespassers' had had the nerve to try to claim a right of way over said land because of what they claimed to be 20 years of uninterrupted use. The smart pair demurred saying that it was all nonsense. But they'd only owned the land for a couple of years and so were relying on what they'd been told. Meanwhile, Pewsey Walkers and Oare Ramblers (or some such groups) had gathered a zillion witness statements saying they'd walked it for ages (probably since the Conqueror's time). Although the Chair wasn't all that hot on summing up, I think there's going to be an inquiry into who, on the balance of probabilities, is more right than not. My money's on the ramblers.
The final item was about a piece of land on the edge of Marlborough where local people were trying to argue that it ought to be designated as a village green and so prevent future development on it. They had been an Inquiry, and it was accepted by all concerned that it had been used openly for 20+ years. But, the question was, had Wiltshire Council allowed it to be used? If so, then there could not be village green protection [I've missed quite a few steps out in this logic trail]. Happily, there was a report from a learned Inspector who recommended that there should not be a village green. There was outrage along the cheap seats but (as the lawyer had carefully explained to all present – especially the chair of the committee) you have to have very sound legal reasons to overturn an Inspector's recommendation. And, despite the best efforts of the two Marlborough councillors on the committee to invent some, none were forthcoming. The upshot is that the Marlborough residents can still use the land as they have been doing, but there is no guarantee that this will continue in the longer-term.
In the end, all my predictions proved correct – but I've been to Wiltshire Council planning committees before ...