Residents hold their breath as 170-homes development plan for Maids Moreton is 'called in'
All three unitary councillors for the ward have asked for the application to be called in, while action group complains of 'flawed decision-making process'
A controversial planning application for 170 new homes in Maids Moreton has been 'called in' by all three of the Buckingham East councillors.
Warren Whyte, Howard Mordue and Ade Osibogun have called in the planning application, as they say: "The progression of the required legal agreement is not satisfactory and we strongly believe that the committee needs to scrutinise the draft 'Section 106' and to challenge the agreement to include the elements that were required by them in their previous decision."
The application for the proposed development, on land off Walnut Drive And Foscote Road, was approved by Buckinghamshire Council's planning committee, despite vigorous opposition from local campaigners. But the decision was delegated for approval subject to a satisfactory legal agreement, aimed at mitigating some of the impact of the new development.
The councillors are now waiting for Bucks Council to respond to their call in request.
Meanwhile, the Maids Moreton & Foscote Action Group says Bucks Council's ecology officer was found in breach of his Chartered Institute's (CIEEM) code of conduct in relation to this planning application but "nothing appeared to have happened as a result".
In a letter to deputy council leader Gareth Williams, Jeremy Bloss said: "The overriding concern is the conduct of planning officers and the apparent lack of governance around them and the planning process. Of course councillors need to vote on contentious issues but if their main source of information is an officer's report, that doesn't contain all the relevant evidence, then it's a flawed decision-making process."
He added: "There are also significant problems with the great crested newt licensing report that I had raised which were also being ignored."
The action group's independent ecologist, Prof Shreeve, highlighted serious issues with the biodiversity net gain reports within the planning application.
Mr Bloss said: "You have a developer claiming that children's play areas will enhance the biodiversity compared to the existing pasture and this isn't challenged by anyone at the council - not the ecologist and not the planning officer - then you have a credibility issue. The fact that items like this are not captured in officers' reports makes them unfit for purpose."
Deputy leader of Bucks Council, Gareth Williams, said was aware a council ecology officer was found to have breached the CIEEM’s Code of Professional Conduct.
He said: "The ecology officer was proactively engaging with the developers’ appointed consultant in the spirit set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and it is regrettable that this has resulted in that officer being reprimanded by the CIEEM. However, it should be noted that the officer remains a member of the institute."
And he added: "The ecology officer, who responded to the Maids Moreton application, has a wealth of knowledge and experience in dealing with ecology issues relation to planning applications.
Mr Williams said the ecology team leader has undertaken a review of the advice provided in relation to the Maids Moreton planning application, and "has found no fundamental issues with the advice that was given at the time".
With regard to great crested newts, he said "further surveys have been undertaken during the most recent survey season and these are currently with NatureSpace (our district licencing partners) to consider whether they have any implications".
With regard to Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), Mr Williams said: "The application is an ‘outline application’ with all matters reserved, except access, for up to 170 dwellings and for public open space and associated infrastructure. This outline application essentially seeks to establish the principle of the development of the site. With regards to ecology it means that council needs to be satisfied that it is possible to accommodate BNG alongside all the other infrastructure which is required. It is not necessary or indeed possible at this stage to be certain on all of the finer details of how and where net gain will be achieved. Once it has been resolved that BNG can be achieved, the finer details can and will be clarified through reserved matters applications. He said the council had "come to the conclusion that Biodiversity Net Gain will be possible".
He added that planning committees are made up of elected members, who decide the planning applications, taking into account the committee report and comments received along with any members of the public speaking at the committee meeting.
He said: "In this case, members supported the recommendation subject to the completion of a S106 and securing a district licence to address protected species and subject to conditions as considered appropriate by officers."
In conclusion, Mr Williams added: "We now have a Planning Improvement Board in place and are actively and successfully recruiting talented planning officers to the new authority. Having just adopted the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan this week, our attention is turning to the Buckinghamshire Local Plan and I am determined to ensure we have the highest calibre officer support for residents and councillors to make it the best possible plan for future development in the county."