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The Future of Haddenham?

by Haddenham Webteam – 28th January 2016
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haddenham aerial viewdavid truesdale mbe

Buckinghamshire, and Haddenham in particular, often features prominently in various national surveys as a very desirable place in which to live.

We have good schools, high levels of employment, very low levels of crime and walking access to delightful countryside. Haddenham also has excellent transport links, especially via Haddenham & Thame Parkway, served by the relatively high performing Chiltern Railways, and easy road routes to Thame, Oxford and the M40.

Many residents moved to Haddenham because they found its village-style culture to be warm, friendly and welcoming. However, the very favourable transport links may mean that our village could grow into a much larger settlement – maybe even on a scale of a small town.

Perhaps these concerns are unfounded, or at least a little exaggerated? After all, we've got a Neighbourhood Plan in place now – a document that was put together through a well-conducted and democratic process of public consultation to reflect the wishes of local residents. This Plan defines the scale, nature and location of new housing for Haddenham as well as a range of other development aspirations including sport, leisure and arts facilities. Surely this will serve to limit the growth of our lovely village?

Here are the views of David Truesdale, Chairman of the Planning Committee of Haddenham Parish Council. The following is a transcript of the presentation David made to a meeting held on 14th January, hosted by Haddenham Village Society in the Community Library .

Neighbourhood Plan: Issues & Options

Let me start by thanking all those of you who participated in one way or another by helping to shape the Neighbourhood Plan (NP), and not least, for turning out to vote in the referendum.

I would also like to thank on behalf of the Parish Council those Village Society members who came to help defend the NP at the recent public inquiry into the Aston Road site, and in particular to thank Roderick Floud and Nick Lock for giving evidence, and having to endure some shameful cross-examination. This was way above and beyond any reasonable call of duty for volunteers, and calls into question the underlying principles of NPs being a process meant to be relatively "light touch" and also accessible to community volunteers to take part.

So what next with the NP? First let me spend a few minutes on the wider planning context, because this is largely going to dictate what happens next. I'm going to look at recent Government thinking; then our local authority; then the implications for Haddenham.

The Government's NPPF Review

The Government is consulting on various changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), including 2 in particular which are close to home.

Firstly, as we heard at the autumn Conservative Party conference, affordable housing is to be re-defined to include so-called starter homes for sale. So on larger developments, instead of having to provide a proportion of affordable rented homes (usually in turn purchased by housing associations to manage) under S106 agreements attached to their planning permission, housebuilders will now have to provide a proportion of starter homes for sale at a discounted market value up to £250,000 outside London. The background to this is the fall in owner occupation over the past decade from a peak in 2003 of 71% to 63% today (less than 50% in London), and the commensurate rise in private renting. "Generation Rent" seems to be giving up on the home ownership dream – a recent Halifax survey found less than half (43%) of 20-45 year olds are saving for a house deposit. The Government wants to reverse this trend – although may think it is swimming against the tide of ever higher prices fuelled by demand so far outstripping supply. However this plays out, Government wants local communities to consider the opportunities for starter homes in their Neighbourhood Plans.

Secondly, the Government wants local authorities to encourage development, and higher densities, around existing commuter hubs – more on this in a moment.

What's the situation in Aylesbury Vale?

Many of you will be aware that before Christmas AVDC consulted on its "Issues & Options" report. This is a key document in the preparation of the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan (VALP). It sets out the latest thinking on housing and employment needs, sets out options for growth, and in turn is informed by various and weighty research documents. Both the Parish Council and the Village Society responded to the consultation.

The timetable for producing VALP is tight, and under scrutiny by Government with a threat to intervene and take over if things don't happen on time. The timetable is:

  • Draft VALP is due this Spring 2016 – not long!
  • Submission to the Planning Inspectorate for review by the end of 2016
  • Examination in public in 12 months' time – Spring 2017
  • Adoption mid-2017

What does the "Issues & Options" report say?

Firstly on housing numbers: Aylesbury Vale's current best estimate is that it will need to find about 31,000 new homes in the plan period up to 2033. Of this, about 21,000 will meet need identified within the AV District; plus a further 10,000 being need arising from the "duty to co-operate" with neighbouring authorities and which cannot be met from within their boundaries. But these figures are still being worked on, particularly with regard to authorities to the south of AV, and there is every possibility of further revision – upwards. Haddenham NP's growth assumptions were based, on AVDC advice at the time, on the 21,000 figure; not the 31,000 (or more).

Secondly, as in previous plans, AVDC has proposed a settlement hierarchy, with those at the top taking the lion's share of development. At the top are 5 "strategic settlements" including Haddenham – the others are Aylesbury, Buckingham, Wendover & Winslow. The other categories are "larger villages", "smaller villages" and "other settlements". Haddenham and Wendover are identified as the strategic settlements in the "Southern Vale" sub-area. The Parish Council has once again argued that Haddenham, whilst clearly a more sustainable settlement than the larger villages, should not be in the same league as the market towns being without a central retail core, without a secondary school (thereby obliging all children over 11 to make twice daily journeys in all directions), and having the built form, function and characteristics of a village.

Thirdly, AVDC has proposed 9 different broad-brush options for growth without being site specific. But being a strategic settlement, Haddenham looks in line to take 800-900 homes whatever the option – and rather more than our NP total.

Finally, AVDC has commissioned a feasibility study into new and extended settlements. Bucks County Council's response to AVDC's report says that Haddenham should be the basis of an extended settlement, second only after Aylesbury for future growth. Remember that Government consultation about development around commuter hubs? The re-opening of the station some 25 years ago may indeed come to be seen as a pivotal event in our history.

So what next for Haddenham and our Neighbourhood Plan?

Firstly, we await the outcome of the Aston Road inquiry – will the Government support our "made" NP? What weight will it give to localism in the face of housing demand?

Secondly, we await the draft VALP due this Spring for more on housing numbers and growth options.

Thirdly, I think the PC will have to think about reviewing and updating our NP. This won't be without difficulty. There's no published Government guidance on how to review a made NP, so we'll need to join forces with other Parish & Town Councils all in the same boat (including Thame) to push for this. Further challenges are likely to be (a) villagers may well feel consulted-out (b) there will inevitably be a degree of cynicism and (c) volunteers may be jaded about coming forward to take part, not least given our experience at the recent inquiry. So I think we will have to be rather more reliant on professional help.

Fourthly, the PC is therefore including in its budget for the year beginning April 2016 the resources to enable the PC to either or both fight further hostile planning applications, and put ourselves in position to have a stronger say in shaping change rather than having change done to us.

Fifthly, the NP isn't only about housing. The PC is setting up a new Committee to focus on sport, leisure and recreation in order to plan for a balanced approach to needs and opportunities, to maximise the resources coming our way through S106 agreements, to try to use that money to lever in other grants, to build a sports facility on the airfield, and to think about future management.

Finally we are reviewing all NP projects, appraising them to see what we can take forward, how and when, and again we are including budget provision to enable a start to be made.

In conclusion

The next 12 months are likely to see some big challenges:

  • Do we use our scarce resources (money and volunteer effort) to fight battles, or do we concentrate on trying to put ourselves as far as possible in the driving seat to shape change?
  • Do we carry out a full NP review, and if so, how to go about it?
  • What's the best approach to following up NP projects whilst the ground is shifting on growth implications?

David Truesdale
Haddenham Parish Council
Email: david.truesdale@btinternet.com

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