An independent planning inspector has slammed Aylesbury Vale District Council’s blueprint for homes and jobs creation, recommending it be scrapped.
The Vale of Aylesbury Plan proposed around 13,850 new homes, most of which have already been approved, and a minimum of 6,000 new jobs, along with all the necessary infrastructure, created in the district by 2031.
Inspector Kevin Ward was appointed by the government to review the strategy and decide whether it should be approved.
But in his scathing report published today he says the level of proposed housing is too low to create the new jobs, while he also criticises the council for not working closely enough with neighbouring authorities.
It leaves the Vale open to developers looking to take advantage of the lack of a firm housing target, as it will now be harder for major applications to be refused, such as those for Hampden Fields, Fleet Marston and east of Watermead.
District Lib Dem opposition leader, Councillor Steven Lambert, said the authority was now in ‘planning free-fall’.
Mr Lambert said: “Every Tom, Dick and Harry is going to come in with an application and we can’t refuse them.
“People are going to get growth where they weren’t expecting it and won’t want it.”
Councillor Neil Blake, leader of the council, said: “We are incredibly disappointed and surprised at the inspector’s conclusions.
“We believed our plan was in the best interests of the local area and created the right balance of new housing, for the development of the area.
“We also felt the Vale of Aylesbury Plan followed the government’s localism agenda by reflecting the views of the local community rather than housing numbers being imposed on us by others.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had mixed messages and changing requirements from central government throughout the process.
“We now have no choice but to move on from what we believed to be the best plan for the Vale. Moving forward we will be able to use much of the technical work already done.”
Mr Lambert said there has been a ‘fundamental management failure led by a flawed political agenda’ and that ‘heads must roll’.
He said: “Questions have to be asked about who did what and who is responsible.
“This isn’t just councillors. We need to look at officers too. This is across the board. No one should be immune.”
A decision about how the council will proceed will be brought to the next full council meeting on February 5.
Should the council come up with a new plan, which could take another two years, it will be the third time it has gone through the process.
After a lengthy consultation process, in 2010 the council put forward plans to build 10,000 homes to the east of Aylesbury, following a huge U-turn as it originally favoured building to the south.
The plan went to a public examination, where planning inspector Geoff Salter said he favoured development near Weston Turville and told the council to look at the possibility of combining that with a site in Fleet Marston and one other site. Mr Salter also said he had serious concerns about plans to build new homes to the north and south of Bierton.
But as Mr Salter delivered his initial verdict on the strategy, the coalition took power and promised to scrap the South East Plan which had forced the council to build 26,000 new homes by 2026.
Mr Lambert said the council had been ‘given a pass’ that time but has still not managed to get it right.
As it prepared the Vale of Aylesbury Plan, the council looked likely to set a housing target of 9,000 new homes, in addition to those already given planning permission.
But in August 2012, under great pressure from campaigners against the Hampden Fields proposals, cabinet members did a U-turn and lowered the target to 6,000.
Speaking about that decision and its implications for the inspector’s latest decision, Mr Lambert said: “It’s not just the chickens coming home to roost, this is the whole farmyard.”
KEY QUOTES FROM THE INSPECTOR’S REPORT
Mr Ward said AVDC did not work closely enough with other authorities in the region to establish what housing they could take on and how this would affect the Vale’s quota.
He said: “The extent to which engagement, particular of the limited form undertaken, could have genuinely influenced the overall level of housing provision appears to have been minimal.
“The duty to co-operate does not place an obligation on the Council to have agreed with other authorities in terms of the overall level of housing to be planned for in Aylesbury Vale or how any unmet needs from other authorities will be met.
“However, the nature of representations from other authorities is an indication as to what extent engagement has been constructive in resolving strategic issues.
“I consider that the Council has not engaged constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis and that this has undermined the effectiveness of plan preparation in dealing with key strategic issues.
“It is with regret therefore that I must conclude that the Council has not complied with the duty to co-operate.”
He said that the council had underestimated how many new homes are needed to cope with jobs growth.
He said: “Notwithstanding the difficulties associated with economic forecasting, it is clear that the Council is planning for a level of housing well below that indicated by its own evidence in terms of potential economic growth.
“It seems to me that the Council’s own evidence base raises concerns as to the appropriateness of the level of growth planned.
“I consider that in relation to the overall provision for housing and jobs, the Plan has not been positively prepared, it is not justified or effective and it is not consistent with national policy. It is therefore not sound.
“In terms of soundness, there would be a need for a substantial amount of additional work to rectify the deficiencies I have identified.”