Village of Haddenham

How Did Public Inquiry Finish?

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A public inquiry was held in AVDC offices last week, examining the District Council's approval of the planning application by Lightwood Strategic to build 280 houses on the Aston Road / Glebe site despite this decision being contrary to the specific preferences expressed Haddenham's Neighbourhood Plan. This decision had been 'called in' by the Secretary of State.

The inquiry was overseen by the Planning Inspectorate, part of the Government's Department for Communities and Local Government.

The long and drawn out proceedings started on Tuesday 24th November and concluded on Friday 27th November. You can read how the first three days went by clicking here.

The final day comprised a summing up process during which the closing statements of the three parties (AVDC, Haddenham Parish Council and the applicant, Lightwood Strategic) were delivered. A site visit was then conducted by relevant officials (see upper photograph).

It would be fair to say that some of the concluding remarks caused significant frustration and anger among a few of those present — resulting in some heated exchanges. Indeed, it was felt by some that the summary statements made by the QC acting for Lightwood Strategic were defamatory and, at the very least, were insulting and likely to cause personal offence to one or more specific individuals involved in consulting with residents and producing the Neighbourhood Plan. (Those who followed the various communications published and distributed by Lightwood Strategic during the run-up to Haddenham's local referendum in July will perhaps not be surprised by this).

Paul Stinchcombe QC, who very positively and capably represented Haddenham PC, argued cogently and convincingly in his closing statements. He highlighted the reasons why the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision having received and studied the Inspector's report, should quash the decision to grant planning permission for 280 dwellings on the Aston Road / Glebe site.

Included in his closing statement was his rebuttal of AVDC's stance which underpinned the approval of the application at the October Strategic Development Committee meeting in relation to the much reduced planning weight to be afforded to the housing supply policies of made Neighbourhood Plans. His summary included the following:

Item 53. Hence the proposition made by Aylesbury Vale that "... we cannot reject housing applications just because there is conflict with housing supply policies in a recently made ... Neighbourhood Plan" is simply wrong, as is its explanation for adopting that position.

Item 54. And that a mistake made by Aylesbury Vale really matters, not just for Haddenham but for the whole Vale. So far as we understand matters, the Secretary of State has had to call-in a number of applications to Aylesbury Vale District Council which directly conflict with the relevant made Neighbourhood Plans and in which the recommendation had been to approve the application — on a site in Buckingham, another in Great Horwood, and here in Haddenham.

Paul Stinchcombe's closing statement provides the detailed legal argument which clearly indicates that, as many local parish and town councils in the Vale of Aylesbury have been maintaining throughout, AVDC's interpretation of the legal position was wrong.

This, of course, is good news. However, it is still only a Counsel's opinion.

The Inspector, in the first instance, will need to decide whose line to take when he makes his recommendation to the Secretary of State — and ultimately it will be the Secretary of State's decision to go with that recommendation or not.

Even then we will not have a definitive positon until the matter is dealt with in the High Court through a Judicial Review. This is because Lightwoods had already (before the Planning Inquiry started) applied for a judicial review of the Neighbourhood Plan with the aim of overturning it completely. This application will be heard by the High Court in the next few months.

So, good news for the moment — but let's keep the champagne on ice for the moment!

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Below is a further account of Day 4, kindly provided by one of the attendees:

Friday was the final day of the public enquiry. The morning was for the three closing statements and the afternoon a site visit by the Inspector and those who wished to join him.

It was felt by all observers that the Inspector, Mr P Jackson, had been very even handed throughout and always encouraged the public to engage when appropriate. He indicated that we might have to wait several months before the Secretary of State makes his decision on whether or not to reject the application by Lightwood Strategic.

As the editor has indicated, closing submissions were made by Mr Boyle the QC acting on behalf of Lightwood Strategic, Mr Smith for the District Council and Mr Stinchcombe QC for the Haddenham Parish Council.

The enquiry should have officially finished following the statements but instead it finished with a bit of high drama.

Sir Roderick Floud, who took a key part within the Neighbourhood Planning Team and then represented the parish council at the enquiry felt the need to ask the Inspector whether he had any right to seek legal advice, believing that he had been personally slandered by Mr Boyle.

He was also concerned that Mr Boyle had questioned the integrity of other members of the Neighbourhood Planning Team.

The Inspector explained that the closing statements by each side must be reported but that it was for him to make his own assessment of these statements in making his recommendation to Secretary of State. After some discussion Mr Boyle was asked to withdraw some specific words used in three different paragraphs (55, 56 and 59) and these have since been redacted (censored). The words cannot now be repeated here but they can be imagined within the context of the explanation given above. They were 'slanderous!'

Also paragraph 51 in its last sentence shows a contempt for villagers: 'The assessment is not fair, objective, or-ultimately-accurate.'

Robyn Thorogood then described his concern that, in paragraph 38, Mr Boyle states: 'We now know that local people were systematically misled as to the proper priority ranking of the sites they were subsequently asked to vote on' (these are the allocated housing sites).

Robyn said that although not having had any involvement in the development of the plan other than attending some of the public meetings, he was certainly able to read and analyse the very well written and presented plan. He was not misled and neither were other local people, i.e., the villagers.

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