'Bad quality housing' could be coming to Bucks following 'undemocratic changes to planning policy

Robin StuchburyRobin Stuchbury
Robin Stuchbury
A Labour councillor said he felt “let down” by the council over his challenge to a government consultation on future large developments which “effectively undermine democratic influence” in the county.

Cllr Robin Stuchbury rebuked Buckinghamshire Council’s response to the “Planning for the Future” White Paper, which he claims sets up a system of “top-down centralised” decisions-making led by central government.

The Labour member confronted council members during a webcast cabinet meeting, on Tuesday, September 8, asking if it would oppose reforms to the planning system which give “huge amounts of power back to government once held by the planning authority”.

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He said he was in “disagreement” with Cllr Warren Whyte, cabinet member for planning and enforcement, adding: “I think Cllr Whyte’s response didn’t answer my question and leaves the development question unresolved and unchallenged.”

The white paper outlines reforms to “streamline and modernise the planning process”, while ensuring “more land is available for development where it is needed,” according to a government website.

However, the scheme has come under fire from critics who say it could lead to “bad-quality housing” and diminished local influence.

In an August 2 tweet, Buckinghamshire Council leader, Martin Tett, wrote: “We need great places for people to live not just uncontrolled urban sprawl.”

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During Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Cllr Whyte said the white paper sets out the government’s “intention” for future reform of the planning system.

Adding: “It is important to point out these are just proposals at the moment and none of the changes will come into force until legislation is passed and after the government has considered responses to the consultation.”

Cllr Whyte added he was “pleased to see a recognition… of the need to streamline the planning system” and to make it “fit for purpose in a post-Covid era”.

He said he welcomed the “importance and relevance” of local plans in the document as “tools” for local planning authorities to “shape the future of their areas”.

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Cllr Whyte added he was pleased to see an “ongoing commitment” to the role of neighbourhood plans in the planning process, as well as the need for “wide community engagement”.

The cabinet member for planning and enforcement said Buckinghamshire Council did not receive prior notice of the white paper or its contents – an answer to a secondary question posed by Cllr Stuchbury.

“Following full consideration of the white paper, the council will set out its formal view on proposals and we will respond to the consultation,” he added.

In response Cllr Stuchbury laughed briefly, before saying: “I’m not sure we are completely in agreement, but I respect your response.”

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Talking directly to the Herald, Cllr Stuchbury said: “I think Cllr Whyte’s response didn’t answer my question and leaves the development question unresolved and unchallenged.

“The statements made by the cabinet member were, in my understanding, in line with the government and might not be what the people of Buckinghamshire expect.

“The council doesn’t seem to recognise this will outstrip HS2 in width, breadth and influence, and on the environment.

“I felt let down and I could imagine many people who also read the paper feeling let down.

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“I don’t believe it’s in line with my view of what the white paper says – which is the government line.

“In Buckinghamshire, we are not the government and we have a responsibility to the constituents.”

A consultation on reform of the planning system closes on October 29.

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