Local plans will be essential if the Government's White Paper goes forward. It proposes an algorithm to decide which developments should be approved. We all know what happened with the algorithm to decide exam results. There is an old saying "Rubbish In, Rubbish Out", and with lots of unproven assumptions added in between. By removing, the duty to cooperate and reducing the freedom to fight applications, developers will have the freedom to speed up the building process to their own advantage.
We need housing local people can afford and access to open spaces between our villages; High Streets that attract residents with local shops and entertainment; and local business to serve residents and provide employment.
So easy to say and so difficult to provide. How can we get there? We believe that local plans need to be produced after consultation with residents. This enables a wider representation of views and a balance of expectations.
There must be compromise between existing residents and essential workers who need to live locally, with businesses who support the community and provide employment, between developers' profits and local aspirations.
The Green Belt cannot be protected in all circumstances. 87% of South Bucks is Green Belt (excluding the main settlements). Some of it is degraded and could be released to meet demand. Some green belt has been taken up by golf courses and other leisure facilities, and is no longer available to the public or as a natural environment. However, developers have the money and legal expertise to overcome public opinion. At Hollands Farm in Bourne End, residents are fighting against 467 dwellings on Green Belt, when other land has already been released for 1112 houses in the area. Local plans and residents should be making these decisions.
Some areas need special care. Burnham Beeches Special Conservation Area has introduced a 500m boundary where NO net housing is allowed. Within 5.6km, there is a special levy of £2023.87 on any new houses. See here to take part in the consultation. Is a fixed levy fair, for mansions and studio flats? How are care houses counted?
The government's 'Build, Build, Build' policy means that builders automatically get outline planning permission if the designs broadly meet a pre-agreed local plan. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-build-build-build-spells-planning-armageddon-89fvjl3z2 .
But south Buckinghamshire has no Local Plan. The new Buckinghamshire-wide plan is not expected until 2025. Until then, the residents are protected only by the withdrawn South Bucks and Chiltern District (SBCD) Local Plan and any draft village/town Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs).
The SBCD local plan has been withdrawn after criticism that the 2 District councils had not cooperated with Slough Borough Council over housing allocation. The majority of area's target housing requirement had been shifted to Aylesbury (due to the lack of available land in the south). Slough Borough is constrained by the Thames flood plain, restrictions on building within sight of Windsor Castle, and its high density of existing building. It also plans for more office space and for the demand from the Elizabeth Line commuters. The councils are still blaming each other. In the meantime, there is no Local Plan to limit adhoc developments, which exploit the legal loop holes in the system against the advice of local planning officers..
With no planned developments in some areas, they get none of the £1.9M local infrastructure money from Buckinghamshire Council. There is in fill development, large extensions and offices converted to small housing units, but no improvements to schools, health facilities, roads, parking and all the other facilities required.
With no Local Plan, the Council cannot implement the Community Infrastructure Levy. When implemented, it is charged at a standard rate for the area on all developments and extensions based on size. With a NDP, the levy increases and the money goes to the Parish /Town council to spend on improvements.
Under the Conservative government's Permitted Development Scheme, developers need no planning permission to convert offices into housing units. The building standards are so low, that the homes don't even need windows to the outside. Units can be smaller than a domestic garage.
High Streets will have to change to meet future challenges. Even before Covid-19, changing shopping habits were leaving many High Street with empty shops and nowhere to sell local products, populated by charity shops and hairdressers. The High Street of previous centuries will not return, and innovative new ideas are required. As part of a Neighbourhood Development Plan, residents need to decide the type of shops and social facilities to enliven the village centres, making the area a destination for meeting friends and shopping for special items; not forgetting the need to pick up the small forgotten items and the daily newspaper.
Parish council planning committees review planning applications and make recommendations to the higher level Planning committee. In Buckinghamshire, there are 5 such planning committees to cover the whole county see here
The Government white paper on the planning process suggests identifying Growth, Renewal and Protected areas. The process will be a "radical, digital-first approach". For this, read an algorithm which takes a Government target of 300,000 houses and spreads it out over all the growth areas, without local considerations. Rubbish In, Rubbish Out with a bit of political adjustment. Consultation link.
The Duty to Cooperate will be abolished. It is envisaged that producing a Local Plan should take less than 30 months, which doesn't give much time for local consultation and consideration of local factors.
Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs) are essential to provide some protection from the developers who have the planning and legal expertise to build the most profitable houses that they can.
These plans enable councils to collect the Community Infrastructure Levy, which is spend on local improvements.
On Aug 10th 2020, the grant to support neighbourhood plans was increased.