By Cynthia Floud - 26th November 2015 2:00pm
This week a public enquiry has been taking place examining the planning permission granted to Lightwood Strategic in respect of the Aston Road / Glebe site in Haddenham. Here is an update from Cynthia Floud.
The Diamond Room in AVDC's headquarters in Aylesbury, a light and airy modern venue, is devoted to Haddenham this week.
The Planning Inspector presided in a calm and fair manner over important and often dramatic events in this planning inquiry. On the side of the village, our Neighbourhood Plan and Parish Council was Paul Stinchcombe QC, his junior, Ned Helme, and the PC's Planning Consultant, Mike Gilbert. Ranged against them were no less than seven lawyers and consultants on behalf of the developers and three for AVDC.
This inquiry is proving a lengthy affair. It began on Tuesday at 10 am and the first evidence came from AVDC's Planning Consultant defending the Council's decision to allow Lightwoods to build 280 houses on the Glebelands site in contravention of the Neighbourhood Plan. Then came the Planning Consultant in support of the housing allocation in the Neighbourhood Plan, which was approved by 86% in our referendum.
Each witness can be cross-examined by the opposing barrister. Lightwoods' QC, Christopher Boyle, specialises in planning inquiries on behalf of property developers and he is a formidable opponent. The many Haddenham residents were surprised to discover how late they were in returning home as matters did not finish until 6.00pm.
Twenty-four villagers, including our three AVDC Councillors, (this was a rare sighting of the elusive Michael Edmonds, Chairman of the StrategicDevelopment Management Committee) returned for the second day's business.
Roderick Floud gave evidence on behalf of the Neighbourhood Planning Team and was vigorously and repetitively cross-examined for an hour and three quarters; the general view was that he survived this ordeal with flying colours. Thereafter the developers' heritage and transport consultants spoke in favour of building the houses and were questioned not only by our QC but also by Haddenham villagers.
Many valuable points were made about the adverse effect of the proposed development on the listed buildings in that part of the Conservation Area. The transport issues were even more intractable: the dangers for children walking to St Mary's School along Aston Road were emphasised along with the difficulties of providing a pavement long the road. The inquiry closed at 5.30pm.
The third morning was Haddenham villagers' opportunity to make their objections to the development. Nick Lock kicked off business and skilfully resisted the assault by Mr Boyle QC. He emphasised that he and the rest of the team had given up their own time and worked hard to produce this plan, but could not be expected to remember every detail.
Gaynor Bull, Chairman of St Mary's School, highlighted the problems of safety to schoolchildren.
Roderick Floud recalled his conversation with the Secretary of State, Greg Clark, who told him that Neighbourhood Plans were meant to be made locally by amateurs and not by predatory developers.
Brian Bowman showed his courtroom experience in a polished series of points about road problems and distances within the village.
Chris Thorogood referred to the loss rather than an increase of village facilities when previous houses had been built in the village.
The Inspector sympathised with the difficulties she had had in making her views known to AVDC when she tried to comment on this planning application over last Christmas.
Robyn Thorogood raised the importance of the need for all planning decisions to stipulate improved conditions for walkers and cyclists and for the use of Section 106 funds to restructure the whole Church End area to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists. He asked about the upkeep of the proposed nature reserve?
Cllr Judy Brandis objected to the destruction of the village spirit by too many new houses and pointed out how many houses were currently being built in Haddenham.
Nick Nash applied the views of the Inspector in 2000/1, who had rejected a plan for fewer houses on the site, and concluded that the new application should be dismissed. He also provided a detailed and killer critique of the developers' transport assertions.
Our QC was delighted with the high quality of villager's contributions.
Further Update (Thursday afternoon) from Sir Roderick Floud:
Thursday afternoon began with evidence from Mr Weaver, the planning consultant employed by Lightwoods. He gave it as his professional opinion that:
1. AVDC was correct in giving planning permission for the Glebelands site;
2. the preparation of the Haddenham Neighbourhood Plan was flawed but that,
3. nevertheless, the application for 280 houses was consistent with the Neighbourhood Plan.
The logic of this approach is not easy to understand. However, Mr Weaver also argued that the emerging Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan targets for housing in the Vale up to 2033 make it likely that Haddenham will need to take far more houses than envisaged in the Neighbourhood Plan and that therefore approval should be given to the Glebelands application.
The Inspector then considered the "Section 106" agreement which would come into force if the Secretary of State ultimately decides to approve the Glebelands scheme. This covers payments by the developer for bus services and other transport improvements, footpaths, education and the Haddenham to Thame cycle path as well as arrangements for the country park, burial ground and nature reserve which are part of the plans. The discussion of this agreement does not mean that the application will be approved; it takes place in order to save another possible meeting.
The section 106 agreement is signed by Lightwoods, by AVDC, by two private landowners and by the Oxford Diocese Board of Finance. The participation of the Oxford Diocese was queried, since a number of residents had gained the impression that the Diocese were not responsible for the planning application and therefore could not control it in any way.
In response, it was confirmed that the Diocese Board of Finance had indeed signed the agreement. It was also stated that their representative, Mr Alan Divall, had written to the Inquiry to support the application. His letter can be found on the AVDC website. It supports all the arguments made by Lightwoods for their application and by AVDC for approving it and concludes:
"The application site would provide much needed market housing, much needed affordable and age-restricted housing as well as open space and a burial ground. All of which are outlined in the Haddenham Neighbourhood Plan as being needed for Haddenham. The site has gone through the planning determination process, through Planning Committee on two occasions and has been assessed through the District's HELAA process. At every stage the proposal for 280 dwellings at Haddenham Glebe has been found to be sustainable, deliverable and developable and on that basis the application should be approved."
This statement is written on behalf of "the Oxford Diocese Board of Finance, who own Glebe land in Haddenham. It should be noted that the Diocese Board of Finance is a separate and independent body to the Haddenham St Mary's Parish Church and that the Proof of Evidence reflects the views of the Board of Finance only."
The inquiry continues tomorrow, Friday 28th November, with closing statements by the three barristers, for LIghtwoods, AVDC and the Parish Council. Then the Inspector will visit the site. After that, he will consider his recommendation to the Secretary of State. We eagerly await the result!
Chair, Haddenham Village Society.