Renaissance or stagnation – is this plan fit for purpose?

It’s been a long time since Chiltern District Council’s draft local plan was thrown out by the government inspector.  So, the much delayed publication in May by Chiltern and South Bucks district councils of the new draft was met with many expectations.

It started well.  In the foreword to the plan it states that to deliver the required number of new homes “we are focussing development on our built-up areas and previously developed land but will need to supplement this with Green Belt” and then that the plan “will put in place necessary infrastructure to support development”.  Sadly, the plan fails to meet either of those promises.

The plan makes it clear that we will be building 15,000 homes in the area covered by the two district councils.  Almost 7,000 sites have already been identified for new homes.  Of these 1,700 are on brownfield sites, 5,200 on Green Belt – hardly a supplement.  Where will the remaining 8,000 homes be built?

Once again our town planners are resorting to building isolated settlements on the outskirts of a town while ignoring the heart of those towns.  Those 8,000 homes will not be predominantly on brownfield sites.

As for infrastructure, there’s a wish list of unfunded projects and that’s it!

Make no mistake, this is not a plan for a better place to live and work.  It’s nothing more than a plan to build houses on the Green Belt.  There’s nothing about employment, environment, infrastructure, transport or the local economy.  The National Planning Policy Framework states that these plans should provide a positive vision for the future of each area.  This plan fails in every respect to do this.  A huge opportunity missed at a cost to all of us living here.

The plan also fails to mention anything about deprivation despite the high levels in at least two of our wards.  Another own goal!

In an isolated mention of Chesham, Star Yard, Darvell’s bakery and the station car park are mentioned for possible retail development but no alternative parking sites are identified!  If any of our councillors and their officers would care to take a walk down Chesham High Street they will find empty and failing shops.  It’s not more shops we need in the town centre it’s more people – living close to public transport and those currently empty shops.

The Plan also fails to identify the nature of the dwellings to be built.  There is reference to 40% of them being affordable but where is the recognition of the need to the build homes needed by young people as they depart the parental home?  And where is the recognition of the need for homes suitable for older people who which to downsize – freeing up many 3 and 4 bedroom homes.

Those of us who want to develop in town centres have to be realists.  We cannot build all the homes we need on brownfield sites.  Some Green Belt will be sacrificed where that Green Belt might not now fulfil its purpose and where development can be shown to be sustainable.  But our local authority has started with the presumption that Green Belt is easier to develop.  The 5,200 homes that have already been identified to be built within the Green Belt can in no way be regarded as a ‘supplement’. 

We have waited a long time for this draft plan.  Our wait has been in vain and our councillors should understand that many will regard this as a failure on their part.  In the meantime, the directors of Chesham Renaissance, which commissioned the Chesham Masterplan, are determined to go ahead and win the argument that we need much, much more.  It is disappointing that the words of encouragement we have received from Chiltern District councillors have come to nought.  We will be seeking to meet them now to see how this position can be reversed.  Anything else is a totally missed opportunity.