All Change for Buckinghamshire

26th February 2019

A new unitary authority for Buckinghamshire has been confirmed by the Government as the preferred approach to local government reorganisation in the county (excluding the unitary authority of Milton Keynes). This means that the existing councils of Buckinghamshire County plus Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Buck and Wycombe districts will merge to become a single unitary authority.

A Government parliamentary process will make the changes official. The new Council is then expected to ‘go live’ on 1 April 2020, with elections for councillors following shortly afterwards, in May 2020. Obvious general benefits should be overall savings and efficiencies in service delivery.

In terms of planning issues, it has been confirmed that work on the current local plans that are being progressed should continue and that they will then adopted by the new Council in the interim period. A single Location Plan covering the whole authority is then likely to be prepared, but this has not been formally confirmed.

There are significant infrastructure projects in the pipeline which will affect the Buckinghamshire area including HS2, Heathrow and east/West Rail. We can see advantages to terms of a more coordinated approach to planning across the area which should assist with planning holistically for the growth agenda, including infrastructure delivery, but also housing.

There have been ongoing debated at local plan examinations in Aylesbury Vale and Wycombe districts about housing numbers and housing distribution, with Aylesbury, in particular, accommodating very high rates of housing growth and being asked by the other districts to take some of their own housing needs. Meanwhile, Chiltern and South Bucks districts are working together to deliver a new joint local plan for the two areas, but progress has been slow, with the Councils seeking to divert housing numbers to Aylesbury Vale to reduce Green Belt released in their own areas.

The new unitary authority should help achieve a more coherent approach to housing growth across the County, resulting in more sustainable development and cutting down the debate at the local plan examinations about where the houses should go. However, to ensure this, a new local plan for the whole area must be prepared swiftly. This would also ensure one set of up to date planning policies for the unitary authority, set out in a single Local Plan, saving time for applicants and enabling a more consistent approach to development management.

The proposal isn’t universally popular however, and we understand that Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe Councils have joined forces to take legal proceedings – preferring an alternative two-unitary council structure.

Bell Cornwell planners work regularly in the Buckinghamshire area and are up to speed with the planning issues. For more information please get in touch.

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