Comment: Development with a difference opens up can of worms for councils

Aylesbury Woodlands map
Aylesbury Woodlands map

It’s easy to feel a little punch-drunk when it comes to development proposals in and around Aylesbury.

After all, there are so many of them – and they’re usually met with the same reaction of ‘not here please’, followed by an appeal for adequate infrastructure before housing.

The development proposal to the north of Aston Clinton does – with the limited information that has so far been released –appear to be different. Firstly, Aylesbury Woodlands is being promoted by Bucks Advantage, an organisation controlled by the district and county councils, and not a private developer which is profit driven.

As a result, infrastructure, jobs, and community facilities are, it is claimed, leading the agenda rather than ‘volume housing’. It’s certainly true that a lot more homes could be squeezed into that giant site than the 1,100 currently proposed. And even many of these could look very different if Bucks Advantage goes down the ‘self-build’ route – effectively selling the plots to people so that they can construct their dream home. The development would also enable the southern part of the eastern link road to be built. While this isn’t the bypass everyone is crying out for, it should alleviate traffic in the centre of Aylesbury, particularly Tring Road. The stadium also sounds intriguing. It will surely reignite calls for the town’s two leading football clubs, Aylesbury United and Aylesbury FC, to be offered use of such a facility.

There are of course a few question marks – and not just about its planning merits.

Firstly, once again we have an example of our councils delving into private sector territory. They already publish glossy magazines, provide broadband and sell legal services, among other things, and now they’re turning their hands to house building. Is it unfair that taxpayer-funded organisations compete with private businesses, or does the end justify the means?

Then there’s the political minefield which will have to be tread. The authorities will argue its statutory planning function is independent of its development arm, but to the public it will look like they are the judge and jury for their own proposal.

Councillors have also in the past been quick to criticise ‘greedy’ developers who are rushing to put in their ‘speculative’ planning applications while there remains a planning blackhole in the Vale, due to the lack of a district housing plan. That their own authorities are now proposing a development of more than 1,000 homes before the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan has been ratified may leave them a little red-faced.