The fight to stop a planning application for 170 homes in Maids Moreton

Tag: Vale Of Aylesbury Local Plan

What does the 170 homes mean for Maids Moreton?

The 170 homes site overlaid on a satellite view of Maids Moreton

It has been said that the 170 home development will increase the village population by at least 50% and possibly up to 60%. Where does that figure come from? And what else will change in the village?

For village residents, the exact impact of the 170 homes site is difficult to forecast because much of the detail will be decided by what are known as ‘reserved matters’. However, it is possible to understand the extent of the impact from some of the published documentation contained on the Public Access portal.

Increase in population

The ‘at least 50%’ figure is an estimate. Nobody knows how many people will live on the new development and it is not known at this stage what proportion of the homes will be 5-bedroom, although the original design statement shows the majority as being 4 or 5-bed. The planning statement simply says it will be a mixture of 2 – 5 bed homes ‘not exceeding 2.5 storeys in height’ and, “The final size, type and tenure mix of the entire site to be determined through discussions with the Council at Reserved Matters stage”.

The 50 – 60% estimate is based on ONS (Office for National Statistics) data. Their Families and Households in the UK 2020 dataset shows that the average UK household size is 2.4 people, which indicates a population increase of 408. According to the UK Census 2011, the current population of the Parish of Maids Moreton is 847. Therefore, based on the 2.4 figure, the population increase would be from 847 to 1255 residents. The number of houses (currently 351 according to the 2011 Census) would increase to 521. Both figures point to the ‘at least 50%’ figure being accurate. If the proportion of homes with more than 2 bedrooms is increased, the % population increase will be greater still

Green spaces

Similar to the proposed mix of housing, exact details on the extent of changes to the landscape of the site are currently unknown. For instance, the number of trees to be removed is yet to be agreed. The planning statement simply says that, “Overall, every effort will be made to retain as much of the existing trees and hedgerow coverage as possible however the precise details would be subject to a future reserved matters application”.

‘Rocky’s Walk’ will be tarmaced

The public footpath that goes across the site will be ‘upgraded’ to improve access to the site but few details are given. The Council rights of way officer has specified that the 163 metre section between Main Street and the site (i.e. Rocky’s Walk) should be upgraded to 3 metre wide and ‘re-surfaced to footway specification’ for walking and cycling. This is to be a bitumen surface and the route should be ‘lit’ i.e. it will have street lamps.

A David Wilson Homes 2.5 storey house

Another change that is difficult to quantify will be the quality of views across the site, which is currently open fields, dropping away to Foxcote Reservoir. As the developer has stated that the new homes will be ‘up to 2.5 storeys’, it can be assumed they will be similar to the very tall houses seen on the recent Moreton Road developments overlooking the Rugby Club. It is clear that anyone living along the site’s boundary with The Pightle, Manor Park and Foscote Road will lose these open views and be overlooked by taller buildings. On this matter, the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) simply concludes that, “Homes to the south of the site and the footpath which crosses the site would experience long term significant negative visual effects’

Traffic

An increase in population means an increase in the number of vehicle movements. According to the UK Census 2011, around 80% of work journeys by MM parish residents who are in work are via car – either as driver (73%) or passenger (6%). Bus journeys account for 1% of journeys.

UK Census 2011 data on Maids Moreton work journeys

The developer, David Wilson Homes, has estimated that the number of vehicle journeys generated by the development in the AM and PM peaks will be 100 (AM – 8am to 9am) and 77 (PM 4pm to 5pm). Whether or not these estimates are accurate is an open question but, nevertheless, they are the figures Buckinghamshire Council have accepted for the purposes of traffic modelling and predicting the impact on village roads.

In the council planning officer’s own words (Feb 2019), “It is acknowledged that additional traffic would be created and that this would be substantial”. The Officer’s Report of November 2020 states that, “The application is considered to be acceptable on highway grounds subject to a number of mitigation works to be secured as part of a S106 and subject to conditions”

Highways mitigation works

The 170 homes development will have two access points, one at the top of Walnut Drive and one along Foscote Road, next to the kissing gate entrance to the public footpath. Confirmed highways mitigation works include:

  • A mini roundabout at the Walnut Drive/Main Street junction, including warning signs on both approaches. The council says this will have a ‘minor negative effect on the significance of the heritage assets’. The scheme was described by a local Councillor as ‘the ‘urbanisation’ of the conservation area’.
  • A Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) restricting parking along Main Street and Walnut Drive. These will be enforced by double yellow lines at the approaches to the roundabout. This is despite many resident’s concerns about the reduction in availability of on street parking in the area, harming both residents and local businesses. The council say a parking survey was carried out ‘using approved methodology’ but the survey did not include evening peak times when the pub and village hall were in use.
  • Additional signage and road markings on the A422 in the vicinity of the Mill Lane junction
  • Plans to add a left turn filter lane at the Mill Lane/A422 junction if required
  • Traffic calming and re-profiling of the entrance to Mill Lane, reducing the width of the carriageway
  • Extended pedestrian area outside St. Edmunds church to close off the second ‘fork’
  • Gateway feature and additional road markings and signage at the entrance to Mill Lane
  • 2 metre wide footway from Manor Park along Foscote Road to the site entrance
  • Part funding for an hourly peak time bus service to Buckingham (for a maximum of 5 years only)
  • A ‘Monitor and Manage’ strategy, using ANPR (number plate recognition) cameras to monitor vehicle usage along Mill Lane and Foscote Road. Should traffic conditions deteriorate, further highways mitigations will be necessary. The proposed ‘further mitigations’ along Foscote Road are not specified despite both Parish Councils requesting clarification

At the Planning Committee meeting in November 2020, Councillor Clare commented that, “…just taking highways as an issue: to fit this estate on to Maids Moreton requires a root and branch highways change through the whole village that you can’t return from. It’s incredibly marginal at every level. Squeezing that mini roundabout in only just provides enough vision splay to make it technically feasible.

And having to use this casual term of ‘Monitor and Review’ because we don’t have the data to say it is going to work. The only way that this could proceed is by taking a massive gamble, changing what is a historic village with a Conservation Area and entirely changing all the highways aspects of it to build on an estate – and then monitor and review it and only then will we know if we’ve made the right decision.

To not only add up to 60 per cent to a population but to absolutely change a village on a gamble that we then have to monitor and review to work out (a) how bad the situation is and (b) what other additions we will need to make it viable…just in terms of what are we going to do to a village that has been in existence for hundreds of years on a gamble is totally unacceptable”.

The Committee proposal to approve the planning application was tied 50:50. However, approval was gained via the Chairman’s single casting vote.





Pat Hardcastle launches legal action against the Council

Following Buckinghamshire Council’s decision to approve the 170 homes planning application in Maids Moreton, longstanding village resident Patrick Hardcastle has announced that he will be seeking a Judicial Review of the decision.

Pat is well-placed professionally to be taking this action, having served first as a forestry officer in Malawi, followed by 10 years’ teaching at Oxford and Aberdeen Universities and then 30 years advising aid agencies on sustainable development. In a long and distinguished career, Pat’s focus has always been on the social and environmental needs of communities, and promoting development that is both sustainable and responsive to the needs of those communities.

Speaking at two village meetings over the weekend, Pat contrasts his approach with the planning system in the UK, which he describes as:

“Purely target driven. Building X number of houses without considering what types of houses are needed or where they should be built to minimise the impact”.

Pat is highly critical of the failure of developers in the UK to consult with the communities where they propose to build – and a planning system which allows that to happen. He describes the public exhibition held by David Wilson Homes (DWH) at the Rugby Club in November 2015 as:

“Nothing more than a tick box exercise”.

The feedback results from David Wilson Homes consultation in 2015 – and a selection of villager’s responses

Pat goes on to say that:

Had there been real consultation, the village could have agreed to 60 or 70 houses that were a mix of genuinely affordable, social and for downsizing or sheltered living. But DWH had no interest in that approach. DWH want maximum profit

Pat is also critical of the way Buckinghamshire Council planners seem to sign off developers’ plans without ensuring there is compliance with the aims of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) or even their own rules and procedures. He cites the lack of scrutiny and the many contradictions, omissions and irregularities in the 170 homes application, adding:

“It seems the Council is only concerned with meeting its housing numbers target

He is realistic about what can be changed.

“We can’t change the planning system but we can at least draw attention to what is happening – the Council’s failure to hold developers to account, The way they have ridden roughshod over our interests. The destruction of an historic village and the distinct community that thrives here. We are not NIMBY folk; we just want to have our views heard and properly valued”.  

To raise the necessary funding for the legal action, Pat has launched a crowd funding drive via JustGiving. Pat recognises that it will be an enormous challenge to raise the required sum but believes if the village pulls together, the target can be reached.

Pat’s JustGiving page can be visited using the following link https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/patrick-hardcastle

Buckinghamshire Council approves 170 homes: Statement from MMFAG

After 6 long years of manouevering, on 24th March, Buckinghamshire Council signed the controversial S106 agreement with David Wilson Homes and Vitalograph Ltd, giving the green light for the 170 homes site to go ahead. In a very detailed report they state that they see no reason to refer the application back to the planning committee, despite what many people say is new information regarding traffic and ecology issues and despite the 3-member call-in by Cllrs. Whyte, Osibogun and Mordue.

Maids Moreton & Foscote Action Group have issued a statement responding to the day’s events

Today planning permission for the 170 houses behind Manor Park was granted by Buckinghamshire Council.  There are now just 6 weeks to file for a Judicial Review.  Discussions are taking place with a barrister confirming advice given on the merits of a Judicial Review in light of the new documentation published on the planning portal.  We will report back to the village early next week on whether the Action Group will be able to support this legal action

MAIDS MORETON & FOSCOTE ACTION GROUP, MARCH 24th 2022

September 2021: VALP Inspector’s Report

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
Excerpt from the Inspector’s Report on Mill Lane traffic
Excerpt from the Inspector’s Report on the coalescence of Maids Moreton with Buckingham

There will be more news to follow. The Inspector’s Report can be found here:

Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan (VALP) 2013-2033 | Buckinghamshire Council | Aylesbury Vale Area (aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk)

July 2021: Press interest, national and local…

Maids Moreton in The Times and local press!

Coinciding with the release of Maids Moreton: Beyond The Boundary Part 2, the 170 homes planning application has been featuring in the local and national press.

Buckingham Advertiser picked up the story for the front page of the Friday 16th July edition. You can read the full article full here Groups join forces to petition Bucks Council leader over new homes planning process | Buckingham Advertiser

Bucks Radio covered the same story on Monday 19th July. You can view the web page here Maids Moreton residents urge Bucks Council to reconsider build of 170 homes in the area |Bucks Radio

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.”

The times, 27th july 2021

Summer 2021 Update

The VALP

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:

  1. 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
  2. ED276 – evidence on the status of MM CE School as an infant school
  3. ED277 – evidence on the historic nature of some of the village’s buildings
  4. ED279A to ED279D – evidence of the current levels of traffic within the village
  5. 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
  6. 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 draft s106 document and responses can be accessed on the Council’s planning portal

April 2021: VALP Hearing Sessions

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:

  1. The lack of evidence for Maids Moreton’s designation as a ‘medium village’
  2. The lack of evidence for the change in the site’s status from ‘not suitable for development’ to ‘suitable for development’
  3. The lack of evidence that a satisfactory Ecological Assessment had taken place
  4. The lack of evidence that an assessment of the impact on Maids Moreton’s heritage assets had taken place
  5. The lack of evidence that this car-dependent site would be ‘sustainable’
  6. 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