Another (local plan) bites the dust

By Kasia BanaśAccount Director 

Chiltern and South Bucks (CSB) Local Plan is the latest victim of a failure in the duty to cooperate process and the latest hotly anticipated reform of the planning system. Bruised by some damming comments from the Planning Inspectors and the impact of COVID-19, the Buckinghamshire Council decided to withdraw the CSB Local Plan from examination.

Buckinghamshire Council inherited the draft CSB Local Plan earlier this year, when the unitary authority was created by the merger of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe District Councils, and Buckinghamshire County Council.

Early signs of trouble could be seen back in May, when the Inspectors suggested that the Council withdraw the plan. In their view, the CBS Councils had not cooperated sufficiently with Slough Borough Council. This is not entirely surprising as CSB Local Plan is not the only one for which the duty to cooperate requirement has recently proved troublesome. Planning Inspectors for Sevenoaks and St Albans Local Plans have found both wanting in their duty to cooperate with adjoining authorities. Sevenoaks was in the High Court last month with a judicial review of its inspector’s decision and St Albans awaits the outcome of that case in order to decide its next steps.

Buckinghamshire Council does not agree with Inspectors’ findings but found another reason to withdraw the Plan. It believes that, given the administrative reorganisation, it should now focus on completing a new local plan for the whole of Buckinghamshire. This new plan would also reflect the impact of COVID-19 as well as the planning reforms set out in the ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper. In the meantime, the fact that 87.5% of the CSB Plan area is within the Green Belt and 43% in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty would offer significant protection against speculative development.

The Council’s decision to withdraw the CSB Local Plan goes directly against the advice from the new chief planner Joanna Averley. Just a few weeks ago, she warned that councils “shouldn’t take their foot off the gas” in preparing the plans as the government’s proposed changes to the planning system mean authorities without a plan face “a bigger risk than now”. She added that implementing the planning reforms “will take some time and it is therefore important that local areas have a plan in place.”

Nothing is ever simple when it comes to local plans and given the significant opposition that the original proposals are facing, we imagine that this process will be even more complex and contentious as the new authority seeks to make it’s mark on a new plan.