Boreham Crossroads NDO ~ R.I.P. Thanks To Steve Dancey And Paul Macdonald

Thursday 13th June 2013:

The Town Development Committee of Warminster Town Council held a meeting at Warminster Civic Centre on the evening of Monday 10th June 2013. Sat around the table were 11 people, comprising councillors and Town Council staff including the Clerk Heather Abernethie. Present were Councillors Dancey, Davis, Fraser, R. Fryer, Jolley, Macdonald, Parks and Montagu. Councillor Nick Dombkowski sat in on the meeting. Councillor Steve Welling did not attend. 

There were an equal number of people, eleven, in the public seats. They included Nick Parker and other members of EBRAG (the East Boreham Residents Action Group), Caroline Ham who is campaigning against the Redrow Homes development proposed for Dorothy Walk, and a lady who was interested in the Core Strategy preferred development on the west side of Warminster. Mike Perry, Chair of Bishopstrow Parish Meeting was also present, as was Danny Howell of the website www.dannyhowell.net  Also among the public seats were former Town Councillor Tony Nicklin and his wife Kim. Three members of the press sat at a small table to one side. 

Danny Howell writes this report of what happened at the meeting with regard the Boreham Road NDO ~

After Committee apologies and substitutions, the approval of the minutes of the previous meeting of 25th March 2013, and Chairman's announcements, the Chairman of the meeting Councillor Rob Fryer invited public participation, any member of the public who had signed in with their name and address could speak for three minutes on any item listed on the agenda.

On the subject of the Boreham Crossroads Neighbourhood Development Order (Item 13 on the Agenda), Mike Perry, standing up from his seat in the front row of the public gallery, introduced himself as the Chair of Bishopstrow Parish Meeting and added that he is the only representative on the NDO Steering Group who is community based [he lives in Bishopstrow]. He said: "I have a mandate from the Bishopstrow Parish Meeting to oppose the NDO scheme at Boreham Crossroads. Bishopstrow does not agree with the Boreham Crossroads site being used for NDO or other building development." 

Mike then reminded the Town Development Committee of the recent press and television coverage of Prince Charles instigating the Coronation Meadows initiative to celebrate 60 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Mike also mentioned how DEFRA are highlighting the rapid decline and loss of water meadows which also leads to a significant loss of wildlife habitat. Mike said the land chosen at Boreham Crossroads was and is a water meadow and not a suitable site for housing. 

He also said "It is outside the Town Boundary. To build on there is to set a precedent for elsewhere. Bishopstrow is against this. It's an encroachment on the village." Mike drew attention to other building developments either started or threatening Boreham and Bishopstrow which neighbour each other. He said that work had started at Hillside at Boreham Road, how Beeline have got permission for residential development of their depot at Bishopstrow Road, and how there is the threat of a massive housing estate [320 houses] for the fields of Home Farm, Boreham. Mike said all these things need to be taken in consideration together.

Mike Perry's opinion was that development on the Boreham Crossroads site, if allowed, would join Warminster and Bishopstrow together. "Bishopstrow," he said, "Would not be a village any more but another part of Warminster." Mike said "Bishopstrow is an important and attractive gateway to Warminster. Development at Boreham Crossroads will make it less pleasant." Mike concluded by saying: "£300,000 was promised by the landowner for community use but this is no longer available. So this development offers no financial benefit whatsoever to the town."

After deliberating other business including the future use of the disused telephone kiosk at Highbury Park, the loss of the Day Care Centre when Woodmead moves to new premises at Gipsy Lane, Heritage Online for Warminster via the Warminster Civic Trust, future street naming in Warminster, and the suggestion that Warminster becomes a Transition Town, the meeting came to Item 13 on the Agenda:

"13. Boreham Neighbourhood Development Order
Please see the Attached Report for Decision (1). Members to consider the following proposals: a) Adopt the minutes of the Boreham NDO Steering Group held on 23rd April and 21st April 2013. b) Provide an additional member from the Town Development Committee to sit on the Boreham NDO Steering Group. c) To approve and publish the Consultation Report. d) To approve the work plan going forward to complete the NDO process.

Rob Fryer, Chairman of the Town Development Committee, immediately raised the matter that one additional member of the Committee was now needed to join the NDO Steering Group committee. There was total silence as he looked around the table. Rob Fryer then said: "The meetings of the NDO Steering Group are held at 8.30 in the morning. If I can get up that early to attend, I'm sure a younger person here can do the same." The silence continued for less than a minute, although it seemed like an eternity. It was obvious, that no-one else on the Town Development Committee was willing to put him or herself forward.

Steve Dancey, recently elected to Warminster Town Council as an Independent, representing East Ward, then started a discussion. His first words were: "I speak against this [NDO] proposal. If we allow it we as a Town Council will be widely seen as aiding and abetting wealthy people to get themselves good homes. That's what we will be doing." Councillor Dancey, without pausing, went on to say: "It [the NDO proposal] is distorting the housing market. It's unfair. It only benefits a few people." 

Steve Dancey went on to say he had some personal knowledge of self-build. He said his late father had built his own house only yards away from where councillors at tonight's meeting were now sat. Steve intimated that the Boreham Crossroads self-build was not about starter homes or social housing or a way for ordinary people to get an affordable start on the housing ladder. He said this was for people who could afford to pay £100,000 for a plot, then money to pay for someone to do the design work, and then even more money to get someone to build the house for you.

Councillor Dancey, referring to the site at Boreham Crossroads, noted: "The Wylye is a rural river. If you travel along the course of the River Wylye, from the Deverills to Warminster, from Warminster to Bishopstrow, and down the Wylye Valley to Wilton, where the Wylye joins the River Nadder, you will not see any housing estates or any large scale development adjacent the river. If the Boreham Crossroads site is built on, if we allow it, it will be the only stretch of the river to have a development of this scale on its bank. This is not good news. It will set a precedent for every other landowner with land next to the river to do the same. It is bad for the river. It's unfair and it will set precedents. There are far better sites for self-build schemes."

Councillor Dancey then reminded his fellow councillors of the power of the people. He said "There was a vote before [referring to the Parish Poll he and Paul Macdonald organised with regard the previous Town Council's decision to spend thousands of pounds on the Assembly Rooms] and over 90% of those who voted were against the Council's decision." [The previous Town Council ignored the Poll and still went ahead with the plan.] Steve Dancey continued by saying that in a year's time the NDO Steering Group will have to hold a public referendum and he intimated that the result would be a 100% "No" to the scheme. Steve Dancey concluded: "We should tell the developer to forget it. It's wasting time. I move that we do not approve carrying this scheme forward. I will propose we do not go on with this and I know Councillor Macdonald will second it."

Councillor Paul Macdonald then spoke. He too was recently elected as an Independent to the Town Council representing the East Ward. In measured terms, pausing occasionally between words, as if he was selecting his words very carefully or reading poetry, he said: "I am another East Ward councillor, recently elected. I fought the election with a manifesto, and one of the pledges in our manifesto was that the NDO would not go ahead. I came top of the poll. I had 716 votes. The electorate voted for me, they voted for what I was standing for."

Councillor Macdonald continued: "A watermeadow at Boreham should never be a site for building houses on. It's an ill-thought-out scheme. You can only see it as something devised on the back of a fag packet. It is outside the Town Boundary. People are already saying they see this as Wiltshire Council being bribed with money to ensure this scheme is got through. That perception will filter down  to us. This site is wrong for this project. An NDO scheme could have been incorporated in the houses to be built on the western side of Warminster, in the area preferred by the Core Strategy. I am adamant the public will not support the Boreham site when it comes to the public vote."

Councillor George Jolley (Conservative) disagreed. He was not in favour of abandoning the NDO scheme for the Boreham Crossroads site. Sat at the opposite end of the table to Dancey and Macdonald, he said: "We have been carrying out this process for nearly 12 months. We have heard good reports about it. It will be good for people to see it through. As far as I'm concerned the option is still there. I will stand in favour of it. I don't think it should be taken away. The people who will live there will pay rates and in that way they will contribute to something else."

Unitarian Councillor Andrew Davis, who seems to have got stuck with the nickname: 'Andrew With The Greatest Of Respect Davis,' (a nickname Boreham and Bishopstrow residents dubbed him with after hearing him speak at the Home Farm Development public protest meetings held at St. John's Church), lived up to his nickname, using the words "with the greatest of respect" three times  while speaking on the NDO subject at this evening's committee meeting. 

Unfortunately, Councillor Davis showed he perhaps had no grip of the depth of feeling being expressed by Bishopstrow residents who fear the worse if the Boreham Crossroads NDO development comes to fruition. He said: "Bishopstrow are in favour of the development." Heads shook from side to side in a combined "no" from the members of the public who had to sit in silence despite their disbelief at what Andrew 'With The Greatest Of Respect' Davis had just said. 

Less than an hour previously, Mike Perry, Chairman of Bishopstrow Meeting, in the three minutes an individual is allowed to address the Council, had stated: "As Chairman of the Bishopstrow Parish Meeting I have a mandate to oppose the NDO at Boreham Crossroads. There is no agreement with this development there." Fortunately, for the public (and the Committee), Town Clerk Heather Abernethie told Andrew that Bishopstrow did not support the NDO scheme at Boreham Crossroads. Andrew Davis accepted the correction.

Andrew Davis then changed tack. He asked the Town Clerk: "Is this project going to cost this Town Council anything?" Heather Abernethie explained that there were costs to the Council with regard organising the NDO Steering Group but those costs were met not by the Town Council but from elsewhere. She said there was up to £20,000 available for the year, of which £6,000 had already been spent which included the cost of presenting the first consultation. 

Heather went on to say that the cost to the Council was a lot of time, particularly her time. She said she was not paid for her input, and she said more and more of her time was going to have to be devoted to the project, bearing in mind the public will be able to have a say in what building materials are used. With what may or may not have been correctly perceived as the sound of a sigh in her voice, the Town Clerk said: "The burden on my time, concerning this project, is excessive."

Councillor Steve Dancey brought the matter to a speedy closure when he concluded: "There are far better sites for a NDO scheme, not next to the River Wylye. We are confident that we [presumably he meant the public] will defeat this idea at the referendum stage in a year's time. So why are we wasting our time doing this now?"

Steve Dancey then, without further ado, quickly proposed that the Town Council no longer continues to play a role in the steering group for the NDO scheme at Boreham Crossroads. [In other words ~ dump it!] Councillor Paul Macdonald immediately seconded the proposal. A vote was taken. Councillors Steve Dancey, Paul Macdonald, Sue Fraser and Andrew Davis voted that the Council withdraws its support. Councillors Rob Fryer and George Jolley abstained. Therefore the proposal that Warminster Town Council no longer supports the NDO Scheme at Boreham Crossroads was carried. 

Those of us in the public seats were certainly glad, although we were all slightly taken aback at the speed of which the NDO was, some would say, drowned in the waters of the beautiful River Wylye. There were smiling faces all round from the public. Had it not been for the sanctity of the Council Chamber, some of us might have punched our fists upwards, recognising a victory for common sense. Macdonald and Dancey showed no emotion, looking straight ahead, but I guess inside they were thinking "Thank God we've put paid to that stupidity, we have done one of the things the electorate wanted us to do!"

The next day, on the Vision For Warminster website, the same one which former Town Councillor Tony Nicklin (Conservative) had long ago dismissed as "a vanity website," but actually the website which Paul Macdonald and Steve Dancey had spent years wisely campaigning with the mass backing of local public opinion behind them, there was a message from Mike Perry, the Chairman of Bishopstrow Parish Meeting. Twenty-four hours and twenty-two minutes after the Town Development Committee meeting had been brought to an end by Rob Fryer banging down his gavel, Mike Perry wrote:

"Local democracy is still alive! Last night's decision by Warminster Town Council to withdraw from the Boreham Road NDO was brilliantly led by the new independent councillors Steve Dancey and Paul Macdonald. The result has been welcomed by the residents of Bishopstrow and shows the value of local protest and organisation. However, there may still be battles to win over this piece of land as:
1. The decision will probably need to be ratified by the full council;
2. HPH (the developer) could still put in a planning application even though the land is outside of Warminster's settlement area and thus outside of Wiltshire Council's Core Strategy;
3. HPH could challenge the Core Strategy and ask for land adjacent to the town's settlement area to be included."

Mike Perry ended his message with: "We still need to be vigilant and make sure that development takes place in the best places and has cast iron guarantees over infrastructure enhancements."

The Steering Committee of the NDO were due to meet on Tuesday morning, 11th June 2013, as planned prior to Monday evening's Town Development Committee meeting. Maybe Lindsay Holdoway (the landowner and HPH developer), Michael Mounde, Len Turner, Chris Wordsworth, and others turned up to it; maybe they held a wake instead?

The front page of today's Warminster Journal (Thursday 13th June 2013) features an article with the headline: Building Scheme Loses Council Backing. Lindsay Holdoway is quoted as saying:

"After the initial excitement of our involvement in this pioneering project which would have put Warminster on the map in terms of self-build living, we now find ourselves feeling deflated that Warminster Town Council has decided to withdraw from its involvement in this government backed process, particularly having voted twice before to support it." [It was the previous Town Council that had voted before. The new Town Council membership since May 2013 now features new blood: Independent Councillors including Steve Dancey, Nick Dombkowski, and Paul Macdonald, who all represent the East Ward. Their election manifesto included saying no to the Boreham Crossroads NDO.]

Lindsay Holdoway, the landowner, is also quoted as saying: "We now find ourselves in a position where we will need to review the future use of our site."

So, what happens next?

Those who wanted this three acres site by the River Wylye to be buried under bricks and mortar and tarmac, particularly Lindsay Holdoway, may like to hear the hope already being expressed by people in Boreham and Bishopstrow. It goes like this: "If you really saw your NDO scheme as a benefit to the community, and if you were really were sincere about donating £300,00o of your own money to the community for other public projects (although your financial offer was withdrawn), you can still do something to benefit the community you apparently were so keen to help - how about generously giving or leasing the site at Boreham Crossroads for a peppercorn rent in perpetuity to the community. 

There are many people now talking about the Smallbrook Meadows nature reserve being extended all the way from the Town Park and Calveswater to Boreham, particularly if the area behind the garage at Boreham and field adjacent Boreham Crossroads (the NDO proposed site) could be retained for wildlife only (with no general public access) but managed by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust as a habitat area, and still keeping it as the very important wildlife corridor it is. In that way the ancient community of grass snakes at Horsepools, the newts we know are there, the otter we have regularly seen in the Wylye between Boreham Mill and Smallbrook, the spotted woodpeckers and the nuthatches that nest in the trees down river of the Smallbrook mill pool, will all be protected. It's a wonderful idea and one that best suits ~ perhaps is the only practical option ~ for these former managed watermeadows. 

On the other hand, Lindsay Holdoway and his colleagues may not care a jot about wildlife. They may want to dismiss or ignore the wishes of local people. They may still prefer to think building houses on watermeadows is a good idea. But let's face reality ~ the meadows at Smallbrook all the way down to Boreham Mill are in effect a flood plain ~ alongside which the River Wylye carries all the water, both natural from springs and streams as far away as Cley Hill, and the run-off from all the housing development in Warminster, out of the town to the Wylye Valley and onward to the sea. If you choose to build houses on a flood plain, the owners and residents of those houses will live in constant peril of being flooded out. I know these meadows extremely well. Back in the late 1970s I used to keep cattle in the largest of these watermeadows ~ the one immediately west of the Boreham NDO proposed site ~ and I played as a child in the watermeadow of the NDO site before Holdoways dumped the rubble of building the second phase of Battlesbury Barracks in there ~ so I know what I'm talking about.