The High Court has given permission for a residents' group's judicial review challenge which claims that Wiltshire Council "did not consult appropriately" before deciding to pursue a major infrastructure project.
The Campaign against Urban Sprawl to the South (of Chippenham) (CUSS), said on itsCrowdJustice page that the local authority "will have to answer to the court why it did not consult appropriately over its decision to proceed with its plan to build a HIF funded distributor road to the south of Chippenham, and why the public were excluded and had information withheld in relation to this decision".
The post continued: "Wiltshire Council may feel that it can ignore over 7,000 people who signed a petition to stop the urban sprawl and destruction of the Marden and Avon valley, over 80% of people who opposed any development on green fields during the Council's own consultation, and even Chippenham's own Town Council who unanimously opposed the Future Chippenham proposals, but the Council will not be able to ignore a Judge."
The development will see up to 4,200 houses built in the Wiltshire countryside.
Nearly 80% of respondents at the consultation stage objected to the proposals, according to CUSS, and "virtually all respondents expressed grave concerns about the impact such excessive development would have on the natural environment".
The group claims Wiltshire's Cabinet then agreed, without notice to the public, a new plan for a re-routed distributor road to be built.
In a post on Wiltshire's website detailing the plans, the council said responses received from members of the public and key stakeholders following the public consultation in January - March 2021 on the scheme's road route options "have been reviewed, along with a review of updated information relating to land viability, updated environmental surveys and ongoing discussions with statutory stakeholders".
As a result of this review, the Cabinet commenced discussions with Homes England on a revised scheme to deliver the Southern section from the A4 to the A350.
"This revised approach seeks to address the concerns raised regarding the scale of the site, while continuing to deliver to a multitude of benefits for Chippenham," the council said.
However, CUSS claims that the revised approach constitutes a "completely new plan" that has been approved without notice to the public.
"Wiltshire Council is now re-negotiating with Homes England a grant to fund the Council's completely new proposal, conjured out of thin air in July 2021," the crowdfunding post reads.
It added that the council may end up applying as landowner, developer, and planning authority for planning permission with "limited if any further public scrutiny", due to the constraints of Homes England's funding conditions and the Local Plan timetable.
Save Chippenham has now updated its CrowdJustice funding target from £15,000 to £25,000. It has currently raised just over £14,000.
Responding to the development, Cllr Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council, said the matter is with Wiltshire's legal advisors, including leading counsel and confirmed that the council would be "robustly defending its position".
Cllr Clewer added: "As previously stated, the Future Chippenham programme does not determine where and if development takes place, that decision is subject to the Local Plan review. Development proposed by the Future Chippenham programme will be subject to the Local Plan review and the statutory planning process following the same rules that apply to any other land owner that wishes to propose development in Wiltshire."