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