Over the past few years, a lot of interest from all parties has been shown in the preparation of the South Bucks and Chiltern Local Plan which will guide development in the area up until 2036. Major Green Belt releases were proposed in the Submission Draft Plan (Summer 2019) in Iver, Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield. These responded to the strong need for further housing and employment floorspace in this area.
Whilst the proposed Green Belt releases drew much of the fire from local residents’ groups the Local Plan process seems unlikely to progress as far as assessing the merits of these sites release from the Green Belt. On the 7th of May 2020, the Planning Inspectorate fired a warning shot following their assessment of the first matter they have examined – whether the Councils had complied with their obligations to co-operate with neighbouring Authorities in formulating the local plan. For South Bucks, this is primarily related to the need to accommodate Slough’s unmet housing needs. In a damning statement, the Inspectors stated.
“We therefore have very serious concerns that the Councils have not engaged actively, constructively and on an ongoing basis in relation to a strategic matter in the Plan’s preparation as required by Section 33A of the Act”
The Plan, therefore, seems likely to fail at the first hurdle. Following an administrative reorganisation, Buckinghamshire Council has now become the Unitary Authority for the area and are seeking a rematch with the two Local Plan Inspectors. They have issued a pugnacious response contending that the Inspectors assessment contains significant weaknesses and inadequate reasoning. They suggest that the Inspectors have asked themselves the wrong question, ignored key material considerations and followed a materially inaccurate approach. Strong words indeed.
The Inspectors have agreed to a Hearing Session to enable the Council to amplify their concerns – if the Council insist on a physical, rather than a virtual hearing, this could be some months away.
Are we going to see;
- The Inspectors change their mind enabling the current Local Plan to progress?
- The current plan being withdrawn – and a replacement plan covering the same area being progressed (responding to a comprehensive assessment of whether the area can accommodate unmet need from Slough)? or
- An alternative local plan being progressed which relates to the Buckinghamshire Unitary area (a process which is due to commence in the near future in any event)?
Furthermore, will Slough come under pressure to both progress their own local plan and demonstrate that they are optimising the development potential of sites in their area to enable a full assessment of their residual unmet housing needs.
Regardless of the route is taken, which we all eagerly await news of, this will clearly generate uncertainty about both the timescale and potential for development sites to come forward – particularly those in Green Belt locations.
The demand for housing and other land uses is unlikely to reduce and major questions can be asked as to the implications for the area.
- Will the Council continue with their current strategy having already identified a number of sites or development?
- Will Council-wide development options come to the fore? i.e. could we see further development being proposed in towns such as Aylesbury and Princes Risborough – matters which have only recently been addressed through the Vale of Aylesbury and Wycombe Local Plan processes?
- To accommodate the required growth will we see a major release of land for development to the north of Slough?
- To accommodate the level of growth could we see proposals put forward for Garden Villages?
- With housing delivery in both South Bucks and Chiltern likely to be increasingly stymied by the absence of an up to date Local Plan will we see an Appeal led planning system for the area given the Governments firm commitment to maintaining housing land supply?
- Will there be further opportunities to promote schemes on sites located in the Green Belt?
During this period of uncertainty, it provides the opportunity for developers, such as Jansons Property, to acquire interests in suitable sites and rigorously promote them for development. This will be for not only residential but also commercial development for which exists a major demand for in the area. This is in particular to meet the needs of our technology and film-based industries who play important roles in the local economy.
We now await the next chapter in the life of the South Bucks and Chiltern Local Plan and let us hope that in such a period of uncertainty that we are provided with a clear way forward.
Huw Williams & Daniel Lampard