As was feared, recent official publications by the Council confirm that the Local Authority is still proposing changes to the Green Belt boundary to the North East of Chesham.
BNG now feel it will be necessary to hire a specialist barrister to represent BNG in the final official consultation and at the subsequent Examination in Public (Local Plan Inquiry). This was expressed at the Public Meeting organised by BNG in October where a fundraising initiative was launched.
In light of the Council’s publications BNG now urgently renews their call for donations from all residents & businesses in Chesham as the Council’s proposals will have a significant effect upon the wider town if left unopposed. We already have over 50% of the funds needed to retain a specialist planning barrister.
In the face of the recent Council publications outlined below, BNG now urges the Chesham Community to contribute towards funding professional opposition to these unsubstantiated and damaging proposals for Chesham.
PLEASE CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION
BNG asserts that the notion of outward expansion of the town into Green Belt is in stark contrast to the more thoughtful Chesham Master Plan being created by the Chesham Renaissance Community Interest Company, under which more homes can be accommodated in the town centre avoiding increased traffic and air pollution but also whilst regenerating the High Street and avoiding loss of any Green Belt. We fear that if the Council earmark a housing site for over 900 homes that is 2.5km from the town centre it will undermine the excellent work being done by Chesham Renaissance CIC.
The Council’s position on Green Belt Options was summarised on Tuesday 7 November 2017 at the Joint Committee of South Bucks & Chiltern District Councils where Members reviewed the Post Preferred Green Belt Options report that had been published by the planning officers a couple of days before the Council meeting.
This has been the first official indication of the Council’s reaction to the numerous objections made by the community to the Green Belt Options Consultation that the Council had concluded nearly a year ago.
To read the document, please click HERE.
In respect of the Green Belt land to the North East of Chesham at Lye Green, despite concerns in the recent report alluding to the sustainability of the location and in spite of the main landowner’s reluctance to release additional land on the site, the planning officer’s recommendation was that the whole 60 hectare site should be removed from Green Belt designation and safeguarded for future development after the end of the new Local Plan in 2036.
Many BNG supporters, who had picked up on this announcement, emailed their Councillors or members of the Joint Committee before the meeting. A number of local residents also attended the Joint Committee Council Meeting near Denham and subsequently expressed their frustration to BNG at the minimal amount of time given to debate this important matter.
Furthermore many attendees complained that more time was spent debating and approving a £5,000 loyalty bonus to planning officers than the Post Preferred Green Belt Option report.
The Chesham location was one of four of the 15 Green Belt Preferred Options listed in the report with a recommendation that the whole site should be removed from Green Belt designation and safeguarded for future development after the end of the new Local Plan in 2036 or at any early Local Plan Review (normally every 5 years).
All the remaining 11 Green Belt Option sites, bar one, are also recommended for removal from the Green Belt designation but specifically for development within the forthcoming Local Plan period.
The Chief Planning Officer, Graham Winwright responded to the only question raised by one of the Councillors at the Joint Committee on the proposal to “safeguard” land, saying that “no final decision” has yet been made but that this report “merely gave an indication of the direction of travel” in the ongoing Local Plan process.
The Chairman of BNG, Phillip Plato, spoke to Mr Winwright after the meeting and asked him to confirm that it would be inappropriate for any unsustainable location to be safeguarded in the Local Plan. Phillip also highlighted the risks of removing 60ha from Green Belt protection when only about 26ha are regarded by the Council as “developable” or necessary for the perceived housing need. Within hours of asserting unsustainable locations should indeed not be removed from Green Belt and earmarked for development, Mr Winwright sought to modify his response given after the Council Meeting and stated in an email to Mr Plato that “I do not think an ‘unsustainable location’ should be the determining factor in whether land should be safeguarded from the Green Belt but rather whether any resultant development is capable of being sustainable”
[Editor’s note: For the avoidance of doubt, the Planning definition of the word safeguarding used by Mr Winwright here means protecting for development rather than protecting against the development. Therefore safeguarded land would be built on.]
BNG have asserted that the site NE of Chesham at Lye Green is unsustainable, undeliverable, unviable, undesirable and that to date the Council have failed to demonstrate the existence of any demonstrable exceptional circumstances being justified for this site’s removal from Green Belt designation.
National Planning Guidance (NPPF) is clear and states that Green Belt boundaries should only be changed in “exceptional circumstances”. Case law has indicated that housing needs alone are not “exceptional circumstances”. BNG now feel they MUST fund a specialist Barrister to argue the case against this site being removed from Green Belt as development at that location would harm the wider town too.
BNG appreciate there may well be a case for a mix of Brownfield and Green Belt development in the administrative area of Chiltern & South Bucks although given the topography of Chesham and the many concerns relating to Lye Green specifically and Chesham generally, they feel any Green Belt proposals need to be somewhere else and that the mix should strive to be mostly brownfield.
In terms of Green Belt, BNG feel that the starting point must be what National Guidance says. Specifically, whether there are “exceptional circumstances” for an area being removed from Green Belt designation in the first place. Case law indicates that neither the process of preparing a Local Plan nor housing need alone constitutes “exceptional circumstances”. Only after identification of such “exceptional circumstances” should questions be asked of whether the land should be safeguarded or whether it is sustainable for proposed development.
In terms of the Lye Green area the latest report (Post Preferred Green Belt Options – Nov 2017) states that “exceptional circumstances could exist” (our italics) subject to further evidence base work, testing etc. BNG submit that this is not enough and that only after exceptional circumstances are demonstrated, should any site be considered for removal from Green Belt designation. Therefore, it seems premature to be recommending this site for removal from Green Belt as well as “safeguarding” it. Even more so where there are concerns on sustainability, deliverability, viability and the methodology being used by the Council to quantify housing need.
A specialist planning Barrister is now to be retained to make the formal submissions to the final draft Local Plan in June 2018 AND to then appear at the subsequent Examination in Public (Local Plan Inquiry) to highlight these issues before an independent Planning Inspector. Please pledge or donate to the BNG fundraising campaign. (CLICK HERE)
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Post Script: On a separate but connected note, BNG Supporters will be interested to read a letter addressed to to the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government from a handful of Parliamentary Members including the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP. It is self-explanatory and can be read by clicking here. This news was echoed in the recent Budget where Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer announced "the government will continue their strong protection of our Green Belt.” Read the comprehensive CPRE reaction to the Budget by clicking here.
Many thanks for all those that took part in yesterday's email campaign to the Head of Chiltern District Council and her fellow Councillors. If you haven't yet, it is not too late to take part. See yesterday's News post further below.
Today we are looking for a show in numbers at this evening's Joint Planning Committee Meeting.
Members of the BNG team will be in attendance at the Chiltern and South Bucks Joint Committee Meeting, tonight, Tuesday 7th November at 6.30pm at Room 6, South Bucks District Council, Capswood, Oxford Road, Denham, UB9 4LH.
We are pushing for Phillip Plato of the BNG team to be allowed to present to the Planning Committee. We will also use this opportunity to lobby individual Councillors on the Planning Committee and challenge the Green Belt Development Options Appraisal Document which currently recommends the land to the North-East of Chesham be removed from the Greenbelt.
It will strengthen our message if we have a strong show of numbers. Banners will be provided.
Fill your cars with friends, family and neighbours. Arrive early and dress warm (we may not all squeeze into Room 6!)
We are not there to disrupt the meeting but we do wish to show the strength of local feeling against these proposals.
We hope you can join us there.
We need your URGENT assistance as we need people to quickly email the Head of Chiltern Council:
Isobel Darby - firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS NEEDS TO SENT BEFORE THE COUNCIL MEETS ON TUESDAY EVENING, 7th NOVEMBER
As predicted at our BNG Open Meeting with Cheryl Gillan MP just three weeks ago, Chiltern & South Bucks Joint Council Planning Committee, is due to meet to consider the Green Belt options recommendations from the planning officer this coming Tuesday at 6.30 pm.
In respect of our site in Lye Green, to the North-East of Chesham, the recommendation by the Chiltern Planning Officers for Lye Green is that the whole site is removed from Green Belt designation & “safeguarded” for future development!
This is an appalling suggestion given only 26ha (43%) of the whole 60ha site is regarded as develop-able. Continued Green Belt designation will safeguard it perfectly well as it has done for many decades.
Most importantly, the site is at an unsustainable location being too far from public transport and places to shop/work and is inappropriate for "safeguarding".
The recommendation flies in the face of the site's scoring within the Council's own Evidence Base and their Green Belt assessment and therefore the recommendation is contrary to guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework and the recent Housing White Paper.
It will also expose the hypocrisy of the Council’s boasts to always strive for “sustainable development” in the area and it will probably undermine the excellent work currently being done by Chesham CIC Renaissance too.
Given the fact that the main landowner does not want to sell the whole site either, the whole site is clearly not deliverable and the officer's recommendation makes no sense and offers a dreadful option of uncertainty in planning terms over the next 20 years.
Please send an immediate email to Isobel Darby copying in all other other Chiltern Councillors (click here for the full mailing list) reciting the above and any other issues you wish to raise in the hope we can get the elected Councillors to reject this lamentable recommendation being made by an unelected planning officer!
The BNG team
Today, I was privileged to sit among some of the brightest minds Chesham has to offer to hear a presentation of the second stage of the Chesham Masterplan and Launch of the Public Consultation which begins tomorrow, November 4th.
We at Brown Not Green (BNG) have been campaigning against building on Greenbelt proposing that brownfield should be used first. Although we agree the need for more housing, we at BNG are not really coming up with any detailed solutions to the housing need problem in Chesham. The good folk of Chesham Renaissance, the Community Interest Company (CIC) set up for Chesham, have gone much further by coming up with a developed plan to not only protect the Greenbelt around Chesham but to build sustainable homes and promote carefully located employment land all within and around the environs of Chesham. Their joined-up thinking regarding infrastructure, transport, parking, pollution, quality of life, quality of employment and variability & affordability of different housing types shows far more imagination and innovation than the lazy planning option of just plonking 900 homes on the Greenbelt at the top of a very steep hill, a mile and half from the station.
So impressed was the attending Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP with the ground breaking work that the Chesham Renaissance CIC are doing with their bottom-up approach to building homes and re-invigorating Chesham that she would like to use them as a shining example to be shared with her colleagues, including the PM, in Parliament. Likewise, the Leader of the Chiltern District Council, Isobel Darby was very supportive. Every Councillor that spoke at this meeting appeared to be very much in support. We all recognised there is still much work to be done and many challenges lay ahead but none of these challenges are insurmountable.
If everyone is so convinced that this is the way forward and that Chesham's Greenbelt can be protected, why have we still not heard that the Greenbelt Option #1, the land to the North-East of Chesham, is no longer under threat? The meeting was well attended by many elected officials ranging from the local MP, County, District and Town Councillors.
The Head of Planning for Chiltern & South Bucks was not in attendance and it is this person that ultimately decides whether the Chesham Masterplan is incorporated into the Local Plan for Chiltern and South Bucks. It appears that the Head of Planning, playing his cards very close to his chest, still needs convincing regarding the strength of the Chesham MasterPlan and the protection of Chesham's Greenbelt despite the fact that building on Greenbelt without exceptional circumstances flies in the face of the Government National Planning Policy Framework.
Chesham Renaissance need to build a strong Evidence Base, thus one of the reasons for their Public Consultation. This consultation is in the form of an easy-to-complete questionnaire. Your response can be as brief or as long as you like. Your response will be used to shape and confirm the next stage of the Masterplan. What you say today will go towards designing the Chesham of the future. This is a real chance to have your say on how the Masterplan develops.
If you wish to find out more about the Chesham Masterplan, they will have an exhibition at Chesham Town Hall, tomorrow, Saturday November 4th between 10am and 3pm. Try and get along there. If you can't make it, it is worth investing the time exploring their fabulous website www.cheshammasterplan.org.
I came away from this meeting, very much inspired. Chesham Renaissance have a great team of Directors. They may have had what started out as a vision but they are heavy hitters and I have every confidence that if the Masterplan is incorporated into the Local Plan they can make it happen. The BNG Team are very much in favour of this project and urge our supporters to take part in the Chesham Masterplan Consultation. As with the BNG petition - even more so in fact - the more responses they receive the better.
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PS And if you haven't had a chance, don't forget to visit our Fund-raising page. It looks like we may be needing to commence legal work very soon.
Members of the Brown Not Green Campaign