David Bainbridge, director in the planning team at Savills Oxford, looks at the state of Local Plans in the Thames Valley in the light of the Government’s Planning for the Future White Paper and the likely move to scrap the Chiltern & South Bucks Local Plan.
Winston Churchill is credited as having said: “He who fails to plan, is planning to fail.”
This is what a number of local authorities are in danger of being accused of due to delays in adopting a Local Plan for their area.
In a letter at the beginning of October, Joanna Averley, chief planner for the Government, strongly encouraged local authorities to continue to prepare and adopt Local Plans, despite current uncertainty over national-level planning consultations.
Planning for the Future is the planning White Paper published in August with consultation running until October 29.
In the foreword to Planning for the Future, our current Prime Minister has not held back in his views on the planning system. It stated:
“Thanks to our planning system, we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places. People cannot afford to move to where their talents can be matched with opportunity. Businesses cannot afford to grow and create jobs. The whole thing is beginning to crumble and the time has come to do what too many have for too long lacked the courage to do – tear it down and start again.”
The sentiments of the PM is especially true in the south east of England and in the Thames Valley area, but fortunes vary across different parts of this economically buoyant area.
The main centres of Oxford, Reading, Aylesbury and Slough continue to be a focus for investment and renewal but plan-making varies.
The Government says that it takes too long to adopt a Local Plan because on average it takes seven years to prepare and adopt a local plan.
Local Plans set the vision and objectives for development in local authority areas over a period of ten to fifteen years but as of June 2020 only 50 per cent of local authorities in the country had a Local Plan in place.
Oxfordshire has led the way in plan-making with a well organised Growth Board having secured a Growth Deal from Government and being only a few months away from having a full set of Local Plans in place across the county.
Reading and Milton Keynes have also adopted plans recently and are looking to update these. Windsor and Maidenhead have re-commenced their examination hearings after a pause of more than two years.
Other areas have not made the progress expected of them. Slough has an old plan by modern standards but does not anticipate adoption for another two years from now.
Headlines have been made recently by Buckinghamshire Council. Just established in April, the new authority includes what was South Bucks District and Chiltern District who had co-operated in the preparation of a draft Local Plan.
The council now looks set to withdraw the Chiltern & South Bucks Local Plan and start again creating a policy vacuum for this part of the Buckinghamshire area. The Government wants new-style Local Plans to be in place by the end of 2023 but for this new unitary authority transitional regulations require the council to adopt a new Local Plan by April 2025.
This is a long time for a policy vacuum even for an authority with large areas protected as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Planning the Thames Valley, to maximise investment in infrastructure and sustainable development, needs Local Plans to be in place. Failure to plan in this way is planning to fail.
See also: Tough task ahead for Bucks Council.
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