19 APR 2017

Development in Chinnor

Let me say straight away that I am happy to help in whatever way I can to give Chinnor the power to control the future development of the village. The current situation arises because SODC "lost" its five year land supply figure when the calculation process, agreed when the Local Plan was approved, was changed which renders its local plan out-of-date. The five year land supply identifies a future supply of land which is suitable, available and achievable for housing. It is thus a measure of the deliverability of housing. This situation arose as the result of conflicting opinions from the independent Planning Inspectorate on SODC's then Local Plan and the situation is being addressed through the production of a new Local Plan.

In the meantime, I have already moved to give the village back control over development by helping to change the regulations so that villages with Neighbourhood Plans that meet certain criteria only have to show a three year land supply rather than a five year land supply. The quickest way, therefore, of Chinnor achieving control of planning is for it to complete its Neighbourhood Plan.

The actions of the Government

It is wrong to say that this Government or its predecessor have introduced a law allowing developers to go to appeal or that it has made it impossible for councils to appeal decisions. If you look at the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 you will see there the same right of appeal for the applicant against a decision of a local authority to refuse a planning application which you are seeing in Chinnor (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/8/section/78). The ability to appeal a decision, therefore, goes back to at least 1990.

In addition, Councils are still fully able to appeal decisions and at a recent meeting with Parish Councils I have obtained a promise from the Leader of SODC that he will always appeal decisions where there is a good planning case. SODC has in fact taken cases to appeal and to judicial review to support the village as it tries to meet local housing needs.

The importance of Neighbourhood Plans

Secondly, the Government and I gave Chinnor an important power in the planning system by introducing the rights of the village to create a Neighbourhood Plan. I am afraid it is not possible to ignore this or to sweep it under the carpet. Nor can one walk away from the fact that when asked to produce a Neighbourhood Plan, Chinnor initially refused. Despite both I and Chinnor's District Councillors repeatedly recommending that the Village start work to produce a Neighbourhood Plan it was decided that this course of action would not be taken. That refusal helped create the conditions which we face now and drew developers to the village like a magnet.

I am very glad that a group of local people, including Parish and District Councillors are taking the future of the village under control now by preparing a Neighbourhood Plan at this stage and the quicker this is completed the better the position you will be in. I have already had several meetings with the Parish Council and the Neighbourhood Plan working group and am pleased that the Plan is now with the independent Planning Inspectorate.

Are people involved with the plan? Have people commented on the plan during its consultations? Have poeple made themselves aware of the plan itself? Will people be voting during the referendum?

The importance of a Neighbourhood Plan for Chinnor

Thirdly, when SODC lost its five year land supply a Neighbourhood Plan would still have been of immense value. First, as the judgement in the High Court case of Crane v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] EWHC 425 (Admin) shows, Neighbourhood Plans still carry very significant amounts of weight in the planning system even where the District Council has lost its five year land supply. This means that a Neighbourhood Plan would have had the strongest of influences in helping to decide on planning applications in Chinnor just as it did in the case of Thames Farm, near Henley. As I have already mentioned, I helped change the regulations to ensure that where a District Council loses or does not have a five year land supply, a community with a Neighbourhood Plan which allocates sites for development will only have to operate under a three year land supply figure. SODC has a three year land supply and a Neighbourhood Plan would therefore now not be considered out-of-date and would carry full weight. This is an important change which works fully in the interests of communities.

A local or a national issue?

The belief that this is no longer a local Government issue, but is an issue for me as your representative at Westminster is misjudged. Planning is a local matter with responsibility shared. The District Council knows better than anyone sat in Whitehall or in Guildford (where the Regional Assembly used to sit) what is needed in any village across the county. My job is to make the planning system fair within the law. This I have been doing as I set out on this web-site at http://www.johnhowellmp.com/john%27s-blog/protecting-and-speeding-up-local-plans/826. The changes I am seeking to introduce would have a profound effect on communities like Chinnor in giving them more security over the future and I am pleased that some are being introduced as part of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill and some others in the Housing White Paper.

What I can do

Let me be clear what I can and cannot do as an MP. First, I have no right to interfere in any planning application. I can comment only as an individual member of the public. Second, I have no ability to overturn cases which have been heard by SODC's planning committee. There is a clear process in place for this in which I have no rights to be involved. Thirdly, what I can do is to ensure that the planning system is fair within the law and this I am actively doing. I am also pleased that in recent cases brought before the High Court and the Court of Appeal, the position of Neighbourhood Plans has been upheld.

However, there are two issues in which I am already involved and on which I would like your help. First, there is a question about the cumulative effect of development on infrastructure. I've long said that the cumulative effect of applications should be looked at. The principle which currently applies of looking at 'each application in its own right' has its limitations when looking at large developments. It leaves no room for seeing the implications on infrastructure of all types. I admit that it can be solved by completing a Neighbourhood Plan which can take that general view in a local context. However, I have also been trying to raise it as an issue with the National Infrastructure Commission particularly in relation to the road network. I issued an invitation to the National Infrastructure Commission to a meeting to discuss this in relation to Oxfordshire. I am still awaiting a response but will continue trying.

Second, is the question of a moratorium on planning until you have a Plan in place. I do not wish to mislead and believe this will be very difficult to achieve. However, I would like to put together a village petition that I can present to Parliament. I cannot say what effect such a Petition will have but I believe it is worth trying. We would need to agree wording. Are you willing to help?  This will obviously have to wait until ater the General Election.

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