Developers’ field day continues after Aylesbury Vale local plan hits another hurdle

Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) has approved the budget for the next four years.
Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) has approved the budget for the next four years.

Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan ‘requires further work before it is sound’ says inspector

A report by the planning inspector has said that further work needs to be done on the current version of the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan before it can be approved.

Although the report says there is ‘much that is sound in the plan’ it also warns that ‘further work’ needs to be done before it can be adopted.

The plan was first rejected in 2014 and despite the council receiving Government support on the previous version, the inspector has urged the council to work with him again to fine-tune the latest version.

Without a local plan there is a question mark over the validity of neighbourhood plans - and many areas have been subjected to planning applications which some say would not have been allowed had the plan’s protection been in place.

The inspector’s interim findings were dated August 2018 but were not published until earlier this month.

Commenting on what can be improved, the inspector says: “I am severely troubled by an approach which envisages that the plan will need to be reviewed soon after adoption.”

He goes on to say that predictable events should be planned for and so contingencies should be included to cover the chosen route of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway.

He concludes: “It appears that the consequences of an impending government decision on the route of the Oxford-Cambridge expressway are expected to lead to a fundamental review of the plan’s development strategy.”

The inspector is also critical of the council’s population projection figures although he does not say the housing numbers proposed in it would be undeliverable.

His recommendation is that the housing requirement for the Vale should be uplifted from 27,400 to 31,500.

The inspector is also critical of the council’s spatial development strategy questioning ‘the disproportionate dominance of Aylesbury, the disproportionately small role of Milton Keynes and the disproportionately small role of villages.’

He concludes on the spatial strategy: “Without questioning the soundness of the council’s approach to identifying housing allocations or the general thrust of the spatial development strategy I do consider that further work needs to be done to ensure the vitality of the rural communities.”

The report does praise the council’s ‘positively prepared response to the Government’s announcement of the closure of RAF Halton.’

The overall conclusion in the report is that the ‘VALP is capable of being made sound’ but that further work is required.

The inspector has offered to work with councillors on the plan and although this invitation has been accepted orally, the inspector was still awaiting written confirmation at the time of this report’s publication.

In October 2017, then council leader Neil Blake said the plan seemed like ‘mission impossible’ as the first draft was put out to public consultation.

Earlier this year Mr Blake resigned from his role - shortly after a Herald investigation uncovered that his wife Janet, who sat on the planning committee, had voted in favour of applications she had a financial interest in.

Mrs Blake was the first to resign from her cabinet role - and Mr Blake followed suit saying that he would step down to enjoy his retirement.

Last year, the hope was that final approval on the plan could happen by the end of 2018 however whether this target is achieved remains to be seen.

Councillor Carole Paternoster, cabinet member for strategic planning and infrastructure, said: “The VALP public hearing sessions concluded on 27 July 2018, and we received the examining Inspector’s interim report on 29 August 2018. In the report, the Inspector concludes that the Plan (subject to some modifications) can be found sound.

“On 7 September 2018, we wrote to the Inspector raising several points related to his interim findings. The Inspector is currently considering our points, and we’re expecting a response from him very soon. I would like to stress that this is a normal part of the plan making process, and it was always known there would be a modification stage.

“With regards to the Oxford-Cambridge expressway, the preferred corridor was only announced on 12 September 2018, and as this is currently a broad corridor, it’s not yet possible for us to determine what impact the final route will have on the Plan. As for any effect from revisions to the VALP on Neighbourhood Plans, I wish to make it clear we’re aiming to avoid any impact on them.

“Finally, I’m pleased that after four years of hard work on our Plan, with some modifications, the Inspector has stated that it can be made sound. This is so important, as it means we’ll soon have an adopted Plan for Aylesbury Vale, which is much needed.”