This website documents the fight against a planning application for 170 homes on a greenfield site in the village of Maids Moreton in the north of Buckinghamshire.
Maids Moreton is a small village situated approximately 1 mile north of Buckingham. It is a Parish in its own right and adjoins the hamlet and civil parish of Foscott (also known as Foscote). The UK Census 2011 records the following:
- No. of homes: 351
- Population: 847
The proposed site for the 170 homes is north of the existing physical boundary of the village, on land previously used as pasture (up to 2015) and arable crop (2016 to present). It is adjacent to and overlooks Foxcote Reservoir, an SSSI (site of special scientific interest) under the management of BBOWT.
The site covers 22 acres (8.8 ha).
The development of the site has been subject to two planning processes, which ran in parallel:
Specifically, the landowner in partnership with the developer (David Wilson Homes) sought to have the site – known as MMO006 – allocated in the Local Plan for development of 170 homes and, in parallel, submitted a planning application for the site.
The Local Plan is a ‘high-level’ strategic plan for Aylesbury Vale, allocating various sites across the region for development so that an agreed number of homes are built within a certain time frame (up to 2033). The target for Aylesbury Vale was 28,600 homes. It is a statutory requirement that every local authority has a local plan in place.
The outline planning application is a detailed set of plans for the development of the site. It includes a number of measures to facilitate vehicular access to the site, the provision of necessary infrastructure and various other matters required to show that the proposal meets the requirements of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework).
The Local Plan
The process of preparing the VALP began in 2013 and the final version was adopted by Buckinghamshire Council in Autumn 2021. In an early draft version (May 2016), MMO006 was assessed as ‘unsuitable for development’ for various reasons including:
- “…would not relate to existing pattern of development of the village”
- “…there is no suitable access to the land”
- “Would extend village significantly north east into open countryside”
However, a later draft version (January 2017) came to a different conclusion, stating that MMO006 was:
‘Suitable’ for 170 dwellings: “subject to achieving a satisfactory landscaping scheme sensitive to the wider countryside, protecting TPO trees and public rights of way and achieving a suitable highway access arrangement.”
This version of the VALP went to public consultation in November 2017 under what is called ‘Regulation 19’. The inclusion of MMO006 received 72 objections. In February 2018, this version was submitted to the Planning Inspector (Paul Clark MA), who was appointed by the Secretary of State to examine the VALP. In light of the objections, Mr. Clark submitted a number of written questions to the Council in relation to MMO006 and in June 2018, the Council announced:
“It has been found through considering the planning application 16/00151/AOP that the constraint of highways access and impacts cannot be tackled by mitigation and detailed design. Therefore, the site in Maids Moreton is no longer considered suitable and should be deleted from the VALP.”
Unsurprisingly, the 72 Regulation 19 objectors were now satisfied that MMO006 had been withdrawn from the VALP and the planning application for the 170 homes would subsequently be refused.
However, following direct lobbying of Council officers by the developer and the production of last minute evidence that a suitable means of access was possible, the decision to delete MMO006 was reversed some time in summer 2018.
The preparation and examination of the VALP continued up until winter 2020. This included a number of Main Modifications and Further Main Modifications suggested by the Inspector. These led to a series of Hearing Sessions in April 2021, at which a group of village residents together with members of the parish and town councils had the opportunity to speak with the Inspector about their concerns.
Post-hearing, villagers sent further evidence to the Inspector which claimed to show that advice given by Council officers at the hearings in regard to MMO006 contradicted information contained in the related planning application. This concerned the question of proposed mitigations on Mill Lane: were they designed to ‘deter’ development traffic (as per planning application) or ‘facilitate’ it (as the Inspector seemed to believe)?
Despite this, in September 2021 the draft VALP was signed off by the Planning Inspector and adopted by the Council. In his report, the Inspector acknowledged the ‘discontinuities’ in the advice given around MMO006 but claimed he was reassured by the ‘absolute’ traffic figures given in the closing stage of the hearing. The inclusion of MMO006 means it is highly likely the site will be developed within the time frame of the Local Plan (i.e. up to 2033). The Local Plan is considered finalised in legal terms and can no longer be challenged. However, the VALP will be superseded by the Local Plan for Buckinghamshire, which is due to be adopted by 2025.
The planning application
The outline planning application was submitted by David Wilson Homes to the Council in January 2016. The hundreds of associated documents were freely available via the Council’s ‘Public Access’ website. This amounts to thousands of pages of traffic modelling, biodiversity assessments, plans, diagrams etc and many hundreds of public objections. A condensed timeline follows.
Planning application timeline
November 2015 – David Wilson Homes host an exhibition in the village, revealing their proposals for the site. The developer carries out a poll showing that 93% of village respondents believe the site is unsuitable for development.
January 2016 – Application submitted to the Council, with supporting documentation. By the end of March, over 200 public objections are lodged. Many hundreds more follow.
June 2016 – Council highways officers recommend refusal of the application, “… for a number of reasons relating to the inadequacies of the highway leading to the site”.
February 2017 – A further transport assessment and technical note is submitted by the developer, with new proposals regarding the Mill Lane/A422 junction and the Walnut Drive access point.
September 2017 – Council highways officers again recommend refusal of the application, stating (amongst other points) that the development traffic will push the Mill Lane/A422 junction over its capacity and that this is , “…considered to have a severe impact on the operation and safety of the junction”.
December 2017 – The developer submits a technical note proposing signalisation of the A422 junction.
February 2018 – Council highways officers state that signalisation is ‘inappropriate for a rural location’.
April 2018 – The developer contacts the council requesting a meeting to discuss the highways/access issues. This takes place at The Gateway building in Aylesbury, with the Managing Director of David Wilson Homes, and senior directors from the Council present, along with the relevant planning and highways officers.
November 2018 – Following proposals by the developer for a ‘mitigation’ and ‘Monitor & Manage’ scheme to deter development traffic from using Mill Lane, all highways objections are officially removed.
February 2019 – 16/00151/AOP is sent to the council’s planning committee for approval. The Case Officer recommends that the committee vote to defer and delegate approval to planning officers, subject to the completion of a satisfactory S106 agreement (the legal contract between the developer and council stating what measures will be put in place before development commences). The Case Officer argues that allocation of the site in the VALP is evidence of its ‘sustainable location’. The committee vote to approve. Negotiations on the S106 agreement commence.
March 2019 – Maids Moreton & Foscote Action Group (MMFAG) form.
Summer 2019 through to September 2020 – Ongoing negotiations on the S106 take place. Several draft versions are published for consultation. Objections to the drafts are submitted by MMFAG, the parish councils and Buckingham Town Council. It is claimed that the drafts do not fulfill the requirements of the planning committee and it is urged that the application should be refused by officers under their delegated powers.
October 2020 – The council seek legal advice on the S106 agreement. A QC recommends that the council send the application back to committee for a second determination.
November 2020 – The planning committee convenes to re-determine the planning application. A motion to delegate approval to planning officers is tied and is passed only with the casting vote of the Chairman. Once more, this approval is subject to the completion of a satisfactory S106 agreement.
December 2020 – MMFAG write to the council claiming that, during the second determination, the senior planning officer misdirected the committee as to the status of the site in the VALP.
January 2021 – The council employ David Elvin QC to investigate and report on the claims by MMFAG.
February 2021 – David Elvin QC’s legal opinion finds that the committee were not misdirected but recommends that the council defer signing the S106 agreement until the examination of the VALP is completed. He also recommends that the council consider a third determination at that point
April 2021 – The VALP Hearing Sessions on site MMO006 take place.
September 2021 – The VALP is found to be sound by the Planning Inspector and is finally adopted. However, the council decide not to send the planning application for re-determination and continue to negotiate the draft S106.
September 2021 – The three ward councillors for Maids Moreton submit a request to the council ‘calling-in’ the planning application for redetermination, on grounds that the S106 is unsatisfactory. The ‘call-in’ is refused by the council’s legal director who states that their constitution does not permit a ‘three member call-in’ after an application has been ‘determined’. However, MMFAG points out to the Council that in planning law ‘determination’ does not take place until the S106 is signed and a ‘decision notice’ is publicly issued.
January 2022 – MMFAG organise a village meeting to find out if residents want to continue the fight against 16/00151/AOP. The response is unanimously in favour.
March 2022 – On Thursday 24th March, the S106 agreement was finally signed by the council, the landowner and the developer. This is more than 3 years since the planning committee first delegated approval to planning officers. The Council simultaneously release a Post-Committee Officer’s Report containing a rebuttal of the major objections, along with a copy of the S106 Agreement and Decision Notice. Sadly, the completion of the planning application process means none of the many hundreds of public objections are accessible via Public Access.
Legal advice indicates that the only way to reverse the planning approval is via a Judicial Review (only the applicant can appeal a planning decision). This must be launched within six weeks of the decision being made. A Judicial Review (or JR) considers whether a decision has been lawfully made, rather than reconsidering the planning merits.
In the spring of 2022, villagers launched a campaign to raise money towards legal action against the the Council’s decision. In a short space of time, an incredible amount of money is raised thanks to the generosity of village residents, locals and friends further afield. In May 2022, an application for Judicial Review is lodged with the High Court by village resident and Parish Councillor Pat Hardcastle. The application is accepted and a date for the hearing is set for late 2022.
R. (on the application of Patrick Hardcastle) vs. Buckinghamshire Council
The two day hearing takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, London on the 2nd and 3rd November 2022. The presiding judge Sir Ross Cranston hears evidence from Richard Honey KC which claims to show the Council’s decision was based on errors of procedure and is therefore unlawful.
Among the alleged errors is the question of whether Council officers had the right to determine the application without referring it back to the Planning Committee after the VALP had been adopted, as advised by David Elvin QC. Central to that is whether there had been any ‘material’ changes to the application in the 18 months between the Planning Committee meeting decision (November 2020) and the issuing of the Decision Notice (March 2022). Among the changes to be considered by the Court is the reduction in the developable area of the site and the change in advice regarding the treatment of traffic on Mill Lane (which emerged at the VALP Hearing Sessions in April 2021), both of which are covered in the Post-Committee Officer’s Report.
On 16th November, the Court delivered its judgement in a 32 page document. The Court dismissed the claim and concludes:
For the reasons given I dismiss the claim. There is no need for me to consider the alternative way the council and developer put their case, that pursuant to section 31(2A) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 relief should be refused on the basis that it is highly likely that the outcome would not have been substantially different absent the alleged errors.Sir Ross Cranston, 16th November 2022
It is important to emphasise that the judgement does not relate to the planning merits of 16/00151/AOP. It simply says that, in the Court’s view, the Council’s decision to approve was executed lawfully. Case law indicates that strong grounds to appeal the decision exist. However, this proves to be far too costly.
It should be noted that 16/00151/AOP sought ‘outline’ planning approval for 170 homes on the Maids Moreton site. This means that there are several ‘reserved matters’ and S106 conditions, all of which now require separate approval. This includes the mini-roundabout at Walnut Drive, the highways works at Church Close and various other important matters. The proposal to restrict parking on Main Street and Foscote Road will be dealt with via a TRO (Traffic Regulation Order), which also requires a public consultation.
The initial application to discharge the reserved matters was lodged by David Wilson Homes on 25th May 2023. This was given the application reference 23/01636/ADP and covers “Siting, design, external appearance and landscaping for the erection of 163 dwellings pursuant to outline planning permission 16/00151/AOP and discharge of condition 22 (biodiversity net gain) and condition 8 (Construction Management Plan)“. The application is ongoing, with a decision expected late 2023/early 2024.
David Wilson Homes concurrently launched a website which aims to be a consultation exercise. However, objections can be made directly to the Council via the Public Access website, where all of the reserved matters documentation is available.