Chesham – Green Before Brown
Planning for building new houses in Chesham has made no progress since 2014. Planning Inspectors are aware of the lack of five-year supply. Buckinghamshire Council has not released any brownfield sites. Building on the Green Belt is inevitable.
The needs of the Chesham community have been discussed at length – Green Belt protection, more affordable housing, new infrastructure, more footfall in the High Street and retaining local employment. We must restore pride in the appearance of Chesham. Compare it to Berkhamsted, Tring, Amersham, St Albans. Compare it to small towns in France or Belgium. Our community deserves to be better.
Councils are stuck in planning mode – whether it be Unitary or Town Neighbourhood Plans. That should be the easy part – but they are mired in meetings, consultants and reports, The hard part is Building and Delivery of houses and infrastructure -only developers, architects and engineers can do this with private finance.
Developers are taking over as decision makers, controlling housing supply and driven by profit Planning policy is powerless. Buckinghamshire Council can determine what happens to land that it owns but it seems not to have the will to develop Chesham. It has effectively no control over other land including Green Belt. Government Planning Inspectors are aware of the lack of supply of new housing and will automatically approve applications on the Green Belt that go to appeal.
The alternative is building on extensive brownfield sites; with most in Chesham owned by Councils. This is what the Local Plan is meant to deliver. We must have access to these sites now, not in another five or ten years, a prospect that cannot be discounted.
It is disappointing that the Chesham Masterplan produced by Chesham Renaissance Community Interest Company (CRCIC) in 2018 has been ignored. It was subject to a rigorous public consultation with the residents of Chesham and approved by a substantial majority.
The Council could have adopted it, updating only where necessary. CRCIC is not a statutory authority, but its sole interest is the betterment of Chesham. The directors do not benefit financially and all intellectual property this company owns will be passed on to the residents. Do not waste this valuable property.
Councillors chose to start the Local Plan again using consultants from all over the country. After almost ten years’ delay and immense cost we have seen few innovative ideas and no positive output. The Town and surrounding Green Belt are left at the mercy of speculative developers.
It is time to act now and get on with the job of regeneration before it is too late. There are two important underlying principles. Firstly, remember Localism. The residents of Chesham know best what the town requires, better than those who live elsewhere in the country, even Aylesbury. Secondly, the Local Plan will run for twenty years so consult with the younger generation who will still be around to benefit from all the work.
Lye Green – Brown not Green
Recently an important Public Inquiry took place in the isolated Flaunden Village Hall. This received little press coverage but it could radically affect development on Green Belt on the Chesham Town Boundary.
Brown Not Green (BNG) has recently been seeking to have the fields at Lye Green northeast of Chesham registered as a Village Green. Village green status is not planning policy that can be easily modified, it is unlawful to develop a village green. Accordingly, this would have protected this area of Green Belt from speculative development and the loss of good quality agricultural land.
BNG presented a compelling argument at a recent Public Inquiry into their application which was supported by numerous photographs and statements from over 260 people claiming that they have used these fields as of right for lawful sports and pastimes for at least 20 years, this being the test for a Village Green. It was a commendable and costly effort by a community not for profit group like BNG.
Their efforts generated considerable opposition from a national housebuilder (Countryside Properties Plc) who funded a formidable legal team at the Public Inquiry which lasted for over six full days. The Inspectors Report and decision is anticipated to be published in a couple of months’ time.
BNG were very disappointed that no Councillors responded to any of BNG’s requests to clarify one of several technical legal arguments put forward by the developer’s legal team relating to the status of a large part of the land that the Council had proposed for removal from Green Belt in the last draft Local Plan.
Such lack of response illustrates the lack of resolve of Councillors to protect local Green Belt.
With contributions from Phillip Plato