Slough in green belt land grab

Slough Council has announced an audacious bid to meet its housing numbers by proposing a new settlement of 10,000 homes in South Bucks District Council. Needless to say, South Bucks has opposed the plan.

Like a number of other urban unitary authorities with tightly drawn boundaries (think Stevenage, Luton etc) Slough has struggled to meet its housing need within its own borders. This was not a particular problem when Regional Spatial Strategies existed but since their removal these urban authorities have struggled.

In this case Slough has felt forced to publish a “high level spatial plan” showing a 10,000 home “garden suburb” in South Bucks, an authority which has struggled to find space to meet its own need and which will undoubtedly fiercely resist this new incursion.

The added complication in this particular case is that South Bucks has been preparing its Local Plan in conjunction with neighbouring Chiltern District Council, so there the knock-on effects of Slough’s land grab will ripple outwards. As it is a significant proportion of South Bucks and Chiltern’s combined housing need is currently being taken by Aylesbury.

However, in a further twist, if the proposed new method of housing need assessment currently out for consultation is used in its current form South Bucks/Chiltern would see their housing requirement soar by 35% (1,400 homes). With Aylesbury’s own target being increased under the new system by several hundred new homes a year from its current target of almost 1,000 it seems it unlikely Aylesbury will be willing or able to cater for unmet need from South Bucks or anywhere else.

This is a complicated mess and one that will be difficult to resolve – and we may see something similar play out in other areas of the country. The Duty to Co-operate is just that – it is not, as one inspector notes “a duty to agree”. Labour, under Miliband, suggested these authorities would have a right to expand. With no such commitment from this government the arbiter is likely to be an unfortunate planning inspector.

Back to regional spatial strategies anyone?