On Christmas Eve the go ahead for a new medical centre at Lace Hill in Buckingham was finally approved, almost 19 months on from the original application, and not without controversy.
Planning approval ultimately had to be granted by the planning inspectorate appointed by the Secretary of State, after developers Montpelier Estates appealed their application due to non-determination.
James McGarry, a director at Montpelier Estates said:
“It's extraordinary that we had to go to appeal but we just couldn't get a decision.”
Making planning decisions in this manner means that they are not a product of planning committees made up of elected councillors – in other words, the people who have the local knowledge and understanding of the community most affected by major developments.
Further investigation by this paper has revealed that three of the 13 major planning applications (23%) submitted for Buckingham over the past two years have been decided after a non-determination appeal.
Councillor Robin Stuchbury said:
“We could end up with a situation where a significant portion of Buckingham is being developed through non-determination.”
In a statement provided in response to these concerns, Councillor Peter Strachan, Cabinet member for planning and enforcement at Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) said:
“In the last two years, AVDC has processed around 6,000 planning applications, and just 25 of these applications were decided by the Planning Inspectorate following an appeal for non-determination. Seven of these 25 were allowed on appeal, including the Health Centre at Lace Hill.
“When looking exclusively at major planning applications in the Buckingham area, there have been 13 such applications of which 3 have appealed for non-determination.
"Planning applications for Aylesbury Vale are being processed normally, and in the vast majority of cases, we make a decision and only a very small proportion are dealt with through appeal for non-determination. The geographical location of these appeals varies considerably every year.”
Government guidelines state that major development applications should be processed within 13 weeks, however the original application for the Lace Hill health centre was submitted on 1 June 2017 and not approved until 24 December 2018 – a total of 81 weeks.
Councillor Howard Mordue, AVDC Cabinet member for finance and resources, told this paper that AVDC are short of senior planning officers who handle major applications, and suggested that one of the main reasons for this is the uncertainty surrounding such roles with respect to the imminent move to a Unitary Council.
Striking a more positive tone, Councillor Mordue added with regards to the Lace Hill decision:
“Although it has been a long haul, it is good for the town and will provide a state of the art medical centre and also bring new medical services to Buckingham and surrounding villages.”
Montpelier Estates were unable to confirm precisely when building will start but said their intention is “as soon as possible.”