What’s the plan with the Plans?

17th December 2020

Five became one

To say it has been a year of change for Buckinghamshire would be an understatement, with the former Local Authority areas of Aylesbury Vale District Council, Buckinghamshire County Council, Chiltern District Council, South Bucks District Council and Wycombe District Council becoming a Unitary Council on 1st April 2020. Consolidating them all into a single Council was always going to be challenging, but this year’s unique set of circumstances dealt them a particularly turbulent start.

The purpose of the merger was to create a coherent approach across the county, including for the delivery of housing and development management. Achieving this objective is partially dependent on the swift preparation of one, up to date Local Plan to cover the extent of the whole area. Unfortunately, that is not quite how it has panned out so far…

Chiltern and South Bucks

For the time being, planning decisions continue to be assessed against the existing individual Development Plans relevant to which former district the site was within.

Work has continued on some of the emerging plans – including the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan. However, the Chiltern and South Bucks Local Plan has fallen by the wayside. The examining Inspectors for that Plan published their initial conclusions on the duty to cooperate in May, raising significant concerns that in preparing the Plan, the Councils did not engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis, particularly in regard to neighbouring Slough’s request for help in meeting its unmet housing needs.

Ultimately, the Buckinghamshire unitary authority voted to withdraw the Chiltern and South Bucks Local Plan from the Examination process. This means that the contents of the draft Plan have no weight and the adopted ones are considerably out of date, creating a policy vacuum in that part of Buckinghamshire. Find out more about the process in our article, ‘The Councils’ Withdrawal’.

The Council continues to downplay the seriousness of the issue at hand; that without a Plan there will not be any allocated development sites coming forward to meet the increasing housing demands of this part of Buckinghamshire. The Green Belt and Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) does provide a level of security, but the Council has a responsibility to address its high housing needs – not doing so will undoubtedly  give rise to speculative planning applications. Given the Green Belt and AONB constraints,  we would need to assess the opportunities to progress this type of application on a case by case basis.

The Buckinghamshire Local Plan

Looking forward, work on a new Buckinghamshire Local Plan has begun and, when finished, should solve this particular problem and perhaps bring with it a consistent policy approach across Buckinghamshire. However, the Council has no intention of progressing this work quickly. A  Cabinet Meeting on 15th December 2020 confirmed that  the Council intends to wait and see how the Government responds to feedback on the recent Planning White Paper, ‘Planning for the Future’, before it seeks to progress the new Local Plan.

So we will find out next year what changes may come about as a result of the White Paper as well as how it will impact Local Plans generally. In the meantime, development opportunities could of course arise in Buckinghamshire that take advantage of the policy void, particularly in the Chiltern and South Bucks area. For more information and advice if you have sites in the areas, please get in touch.

Jonathan Jarman, Senior Principal Planner

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