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.
Members of the Brown Not Green Campaign