James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
James at The Springfields Academy
We all need houses. We all need jobs and so places to work in. We all need roads and public transport to get there; we need leisure facilities; we need shops – including supermarkets. Most of us in this area live in a house built in the last 50 years; we drive to our recently built schools and business parks, stopping off at the supermarket on the way home. All that is for sure. Harder to predict is how many houses we need (are they for local people or for incomers; and if the latter, is there any limit to how many we would build in a lovely area such as this?); how we can accommodate our need for supermarkets with our desire to see thriving high streets in our market towns; and whether or not ‘out-commuting’ to Swindon, Bath, Bristol or London is necessarily a ‘bad thing’ necessitating loads of local business parks to try to combat it. These and a thousand more are the kind of questions which our planning system is supposed to be designed to assess. But does it?
My own view has always been that we have extremely low unemployment locally, which indicates a broad balance between jobs available, and people to do them. And if that means that they commute to nearby towns and cities, then so what? Good luck to them. So I broadly oppose all new building of housing on greenfield sites (only if you apply a 100% ban will you force profit-led developers to look again at brownfield sites, which are far more expensive and difficult for them than a nice clean bit of pasture), and strongly oppose all out of town shopping centres. Both Waitrose (with regard to Malmesbury) and Tesco (with regard to Calne) have been in touch with me this week to try to secure my support for their high-street-wrecking superstores on the by-pass. Great for their profits, no doubt, but very damaging to our high streets. I gave them both a flea in their ear and will oppose all applications for edge of town supermarkets now and in the future.
After all, we all live here because it’s a nice place to live – small-ish market towns and villages surrounded by some of the loveliest countryside anywhere. Call me a NIMBY if you will – I’ve never been afraid to speak up for the interests of the people I represent here in North Wiltshire.
I was very impressed by Malmesbury’s Neighbourhood Planning process, which laid on a first class exhibition in the Town Hall on Saturday. They are in the lead nationally in trying to put together a plan for the whole town and surrounding areas through to 2026, which will then be put to a referendum. Well done to those who are organising it, although trying to find a consensus on these matters will not be easy! And they must beware of one human instinct – the moment you have a survey, a discussion, a study, it is almost 100% inevitable that you will come up with a proposal for change. It may well be that it will be because “we may not like X, but at least it’s better that Y.”
There should at the very least be a ‘none of the above’ option. I for one like Malmesbury and the surrounding area AS IT IS. I do not want it to change. I would like it to be as it is now in fifty years’ time. Call me an old dinosaur if you will (as a Chippenham developer recently did), but of one thing I am sure: once you have put concrete on a green field, it will be there for all time. Leave the green field alone, and you will always have the option of building on it in the future.
What we’ve got in this area is pretty good overall. Let’s all do our best to keep it that way.
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