Save Our Green Belt - latest update

Planning Inspectors publish initial findings on the Local Plan

We are delighted to be able to share some very encouraging developments in the examination of the draft Local Plan. The Planning Inspectors consider it "likely" that this appalling plan will have to be withdrawn following their initial findings. If this happens we will broadcast the news immediately, but the current situation is as follows:

The Stage 1 Hearings of the Local Plan were scheduled to begin on 17th March. However, the hearings were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During the lockdown, the Inspectors decided to consider one important issue relating to the Plan by way of written submissions from all parties involved, including our experts. 

That issue was whether Chiltern and South Bucks (CSB) had complied with the "Duty to Co-operate" with neighbouring authorities and other relevant bodies, one of which being Slough Borough Council. Just as CSB are looking for Aylesbury Vale to take some of CSB "un-met housing need", so too are Slough looking to CSB to take some of its unmet housing need. If CSB have failed in their Duty to Co-operate with Slough (and others), then the Plan cannot proceed. This is an issue of which CSB have been aware for many years, since at least the 2016 consultations, i.e. at a very early stage in the Plan preparations, yet still CSB ploughed on with the Plan including making provision for releasing our Green Belt and putting it and other Green Belt at risk.

This domino effect of local authorities looking to palm off their housing need onto neighbouring authorities is taking place across the country. There are varying reasons for this: councils are using out of date inflated housing need figures; they are applying unrealistic up-lifts to housing need figures; councils are incorrectly calculating housing need numbers by applying the calculation method wrongly; and local authorities are failing to identify all brownfield sites for development (and at sufficient density where appropriate) within their own boundaries; councils are failing to identify alternative strategies; and in some cases, but not all, there will be a genuine need to some extent.

In the case of Slough and CSB, the Inspectors' initial findings on this issue (para.32) state:

" Based on the evidence provided we therefore have very serious concerns that the Councils have not engaged actively, constructively and on an ongoing basis in relation to a strategic matter in the Plan's preparation..."

and:

"there is a strong likelihood that the only option will be for the Council to withdraw the Plan."

In para.13 of the Inspectors' report, the Inspectors say:

"In terms of how the submitted Plan seeks to address SBC's unmet housing need, there is very little evidence of any effective and ongoing joint working leading to the production of a positively prepared and justified strategy.."

The CSB Local Plan which was published in June 2019 says in para. 3.5.7 that one of its objectives was to establish a new, strengthened Green Belt boundary "subject potentially to further consideration of the Green Belt boundary north of Slough in a review of the Plan.."  So, as we pointed out at our public meetings, the Plan itself does not protect CSB Green Belt as it perversely claims to do, but instead provides for speculative development of our Green Belt to take place AND also for the possibility of even more development on Green Belt as a result of Slough's unmet housing need, if proven. 

As we have always said, this Plan, in seeking to release Green Belt rather than protect it, puts not only our Green Belt but all other Green Belt in CSB at greater risk.

What CSB should have done, as we have said all along, is protect the Green Belt because Green Belt policies provide a strong reason for restricting development which includes restricting development arising from the unmet housing need of neighbouring authorities. This is mentioned in the Inspectors' report at para. 24. CSB have been incredibly foolish in seeking to release Green Belt, especially as other alternatives exist.

There is no up-to-date figure for the extent of Slough's unmet housing need. Bucks Council will need to carry out a very significant piece of work to establish what this figure truly is and challenge it if necessary. Bucks Council also need to prepare a new county-wide Plan by 2025. This means there is no point in the council continuing with the current Plan when opportunities now exist for a far better Plan to be prepared which properly protects our Green Belt from pressure to develop from speculative developers within and without our borders. Bucks Council should learn from the mistakes of CSB.

The Inspectors are allowing Bucks Council time to consider the findings and no deadline has been set for their response, but note in the Inspectors' words "there is a strong likelihood that the only option will be for the Council to withdraw the Plan.'

The Inspectors' report can be read here:    Inspectors' Initial Findings on the Duty to Co-operate [159.61KB]