Shock and disappointment at the release of the Inspector’s Report. A statement from Maids Moreton & Foscote Action Group reads:
“You may be aware that the Inspector’s Report into the ‘soundness’ of the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan (VALP) has now been published. As part of this Report, the Inspector reviewed the inclusion of the Maids Moreton site (MMO006) as an allocated site for development. We are deeply disappointed to inform you that the Inspector has found the allocation of the Maids Moreton site ‘sound’. This means that we will not be able to stop houses being built on that site in the long run. It has been a terrific campaign involving the whole community, and our great success was achieving a second Hearing Session for the VALP allocation before planning permission was granted, although we are saddened that we were not able to convince the Inspector the site should be removed from the VALP.
“We will now focus on negotiating with the Council to secure the best possible s106 Agreement together with Maids Moreton Parish Council, Foscote Parish Meeting, Buckingham Town Council and Parish Councils from the neighbouring villages. The s106 Agreement is the legal agreement between the Council and the developer which sets out the developer’s obligations and financial contributions. As drafted, the s106 Agreement fails to implement the resolution of the Strategic Sites Committee which would render granting planning permission unlawful. In the first instance, we will be appealing to our local Councillor, Warren Whyte, to call the planning application back to committee for a third determination. Failing that, we will seek legal advice on the best way to proceed.“
MMFAG, 4th September 2021
There will be more news to follow. The Inspector’s Report can be found here:
The Times online featured an article on Tuesday 27th July, entitled “Wildlife rules ‘too easy to manipulate’ by builders”. The Times’ Environment Editor, Ben Webster, covers some of the issues with the developer’s biodiversity net gain report after speaking to Professor Tim Shreeve
Tim Shreeve, professor of conservation ecology at Oxford Brookes University, examined net gain plans by David Wilson Homes, part of Barratt, for 170 homes on a greenfield site in Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire.
He said some of the “species-rich grassland” the developer proposed to plant to achieve biodiversity gain was going to be children’s play areas, meaning its value for wildlife had been exaggerated. Hedgerows that were in good condition had been downgraded to “moderate”, which made it easier to claim they would be improved, he said
“The biodiversity metrics have been applied with erroneous initial values and the so-called biodiversity plan is really a work of fiction,” he added.
Barratt said: “On this development the information used and provided to the local authority follows the relevant and applicable guidance, has been accepted by the local authority and our biodiversity plans will develop as the development progresses through the planning process.”
Following the marathon VALP Hearing Sessions on MMO006 in April, the Planning Inspector has accepted additional written evidence supplied by village residents and the Maids Moreton & Foscote Action Group as VALP Examination Documents. These include:
ED273A to ED273D – documents showing the absence of an hourly bus service serving the village. Council officers have previously told the Inspector such a service exists and used the claim as evidence for the classification as a ‘Medium Village’ in the Settlement Hierarchy
ED276 – evidence on the status of MM CE School as an infant school
ED277 – evidence on the historic nature of some of the village’s buildings
ED279A to ED279D – evidence of the current levels of traffic within the village
ED 284 (and ED284A to ED284G) – evidence clarifying the Council’s position on the proposed mitigations for Mill Lane. Council officers initially told the Inspector that the measures were to ‘facilitate the additional traffic’ whereas previous statements from the Highways Authority show that the measures are to ‘deter traffic’ from using the route, feeding it along Moreton Road to Buckingham town centre instead
ED293 (and ED293A to ED293C) – a report analysing the cumulative impact on Mill Lane of the traffic from 16/00151/AOP and the proposed Moreton Road Phase 3 development (20/00510/APP). The report uses figures supplied to the Council by the developers and shows that figures provided by the Council’s Highways Officer at the Hearing Session were incomplete and could be misleading. The documents also include a transcript of what officers actually said on this issue at the Hearing Session on Day 2
Currently, the Inspector is working towards his final report in which the soundness of the MMO006 allocation will be determined. This is expected towards the end of July. The VALP Examination Documents can be accessed on this page
The s106 Agreement
During the Hearing Sessions, Buckinghamshire Council announced that the draft s106 for 16/00151/AOP had been finalised and was ready for parties to sign. It is suspected that the Council believed this would ‘force the Inspector’s hand’ as it will contain an agreement for the developer to provide short term funding for a peak hour bus service, something the village does not currently have. The draft was finally published for consultation on the 9th June. Stakeholder Parish and Town councils have begun submitting responses, noting that the new text has taken no account of representations that were made in response to the previous draft in November 2020…and that the draft is littered with typos and mistakes!
The local plan hearing session for the Maids Moreton site was scheduled to take place on Thursday 15th April. Such were the volume of matters to be discussed, the Planning Inspector decided to schedule an additional session on the Friday afternoon. In total, the Maids Moreton hearing ran for 8 hours…!
A quick recap…
The Walnut Drive/Foscote Road site (known as MMO006) was allocated in the draft Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan (VALP) as ‘suitable for development’ in 2017. However, the allocation has yet to be deemed ‘sound’ by the Planning Inspector and the VALP has not been signed off. Despite this, David Wilson Homes have submitted a planning application to build 170 homes on the site
As detailed in Maids Moreton: Beyond The Boundary, the planning application was considered in November 2020 by Buckinghamshire Council’s Strategic Sites Committee (SSC). The SSC voted – narrowly – to allow the scheme to go ahead subject to the signing of an s106 agreement. This was after an intervention from Susan Kitchen, a senior planning officer at the Council, who told the Committee that MMO006 is a key allocation in the VALP, “…with no question of its soundness raised by the Planning Inspector”.
However, Mrs Kitchen’s claim of, “…no issues of soundness” was subsequently brought into question following an investigation by David Elvin QC. In February 2021, Mr Elvin told the Council that the planning application would need to go back to the SSC once further VALP Hearing Sessions had taken place
What happened next…?
The VALP hearings took place in April 2021, with the session relating to Maids Moreton taking place over two days (15th and 16th April).
Who was there…?
The Inspector invited members of both Maids Moreton and Foscote Parish Council to attend, along with a representative of Maids Moreton & Foscote Action Group (MMFAG) and several local residents. Also attending were representatives from the developer, David Wilson Homes, and senior Council officers from the Planning and Highways departments
How did it go…?
The Maids Moreton and Foscote team were given an opportunity to question at length the inclusion of the site in the local plan and outlined a number of issues which they felt showed the allocation to be ‘unsound’. Amongst these are:
The lack of evidence for Maids Moreton’s designation as a ‘medium village’
The lack of evidence for the change in the site’s status from ‘not suitable for development’ to ‘suitable for development’
The lack of evidence that a satisfactory Ecological Assessment had taken place
The lack of evidence that an assessment of the impact on Maids Moreton’s heritage assets had taken place
The lack of evidence that this car-dependent site would be ‘sustainable’
The lack of evidence to show the site would not have a severe impact on the local highway network
It was argued by our village’s team that, without satisfactory evidence for the above, the allocation of the site in the VALP should not be considered ‘sound’
On the second day of the hearing, Suzanne Ornsby QC (acting for the Council) was invited to co-chair, fielding questions to Council officers present. Much of the Council’s response focused on matters relating to transport and sustainability (points 5 and 6). However, this served only to highlight a number of serious inconsistencies and contradictions in the Council’s position. At one point, their Highways officer admitted that he had given the Inspector incorrect information and also that certain traffic impacts had not been correctly modelled.
Significantly, the Council chose not to directly address any of the earlier points (1 to 4). Instead, they announced that the s106 agreement between the developer and the Council had been completed and was ready to be signed, in an apparent attempt to ‘bounce’ the Inspector into a quick decision.
Sound or unsound…?
So, after two days of debate, is the site ‘sound’ or ‘unsound’? One further question asked of the Inspector by our team was this, “When is the ‘soundness’ determined?”
The Inspector was quite clear on this. This decision is his alone and until his report is published, the ‘soundness’ or otherwise of MMO006 is, in his words, “…not proven”.
It is quite clear that the Council will be taking a risk if they attempt to determine the planning application and sign the s106 document before the Inspector has made his decision