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Write to Eric!

by Haddenham Webteam – 11th February 2015
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Are you thinking of writing to Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to voice your concerns over the way AVDC's Strategic Development Management Committee appeared to ignore our Neighbourhood Plan? Letters from individuals will make a very important contribution. Here is one example letter, sent to him in the last few days by a concerned resident of Haddenham. This is the resident's personal perspective. We hope that some of the arguments he/she puts forward might help others to write to Mr Pickles in their own words.

Dear Mr Pickles

Re: 14/02666 – Glebe / Aston Road Development, Haddenham

Thank you for your support in holding back the current approval for this development until such time as you are able to consider whether it should over ride the emerging NP. I did write to you on the 27th January raising my concerns at the lack of evidence within the committee report to demonstrate that this site and this size of development was suitable for Haddenham village. My apologies to you for writing once again, as I appreciate that I am adding to your current workload.

My own assessment of the planning committee meeting is detailed below, which I hope will prove to be useful to you in deciding Haddenham's fate.

Sadly, the overwhelming feeling of frustration and open disappointment at the outcome of the meeting of 28th January from the 250 people present was palpable, as we filed out of the conference room, the strategic planning committee having voted in favour of the application to build 280 houses on the above site.

Despite the Committee's report clearly stating that there was an emerging Neigbourhood Plan, the majority of councillors ruled in favour of the development, fearing a challenge from the developers if it was refused in order to allow the NP to be finalised.

I fail to see how the above premise met the remit of the committee and the majority vote by the councillors in reaching their decision, based on the best interests of those that they represent – on this occasion the residents of Haddenham. They are accountable and should act diligently to ensure impartiality: neither was demonstrated in reaching the decision on Wednesday, 28th January.

Six of the councillors, having voted in favour, were obviously satisfied that the presentation and the council's report proved that the development would not have an adverse impact on the village and met the under-pinning core principles and dimensions to establish it as being sustainable in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework. However, please see attached my letter, which was addressed to each councillor prior to the committee meeting, in which I question how the report has demonstrated that the three dimensions (Environmental, Economic and Social) had been given equal consideration being mutually dependent, and how this development meets seven of the 12 core planning principles. Also attached is the National Transport Survey of 2013 – recognised research into the current use of the motor car.

During the course of the meeting, the limited time afforded to those who gave statements and accounts on behalf of the village also challenged how the Committee's report reached its recommendation for approval to this development in meeting the core principles, laid out in the NPP Framework, in defining it as being sustainable.

Despite the above, the process applied to demonstrate due diligence and impartiality in the Committee reaching the decision was undermined by the following actions :

The closing date for public objection following the revised plans was for a period of five working days. The notice was made public on 24th December (Christmas Eve) and the closing date for objections was 6th January. The planning office was closed for the total notice period and only re-opened on the closing date of 6th January.

When challenged at the meeting, the planning officer failed to give a clear reason for this and in fact concurred that due to the choice of the date suggested that the application was still in the consultation period which raises questions not least as to why this application was fast tracked resulting in a final decision needing to be reached on 28th January?

Councillors and officers made mis-informed statements during the meeting, and members of the public were not allowed to correct these as any interruption from the floor risked the room being emptied and the decision being taken in private without public witnesses. The representative of Lightwood Strategic spoke late in the proceedings and some of his comments were of questionable accuracy. Haddenham representatives were given no opportunity to respond to these comments or offer an alternative perspective. The current decision to approve was therefore based on potentially mis-leading information.

The report fails to demonstrate with facts supported by unbiased data from third parties that the site will not be isolated and car dependent. Despite the council's report stating that the development must not be car dependent (1.29 and 1.30) and one councillor openly agreeing that, due to the location, the development would be car dependent, she gave weight to her own subjective judgement that a temporary bus subsidy from the developers would mitigate this and voted in favour of the application.

The fact that the representative for Bucks County Council was absent, who may have been able to provide some official information as to whether the bus subsidy would have any impact on reducing car dependency was not taken into account .

The public enquiry held in 2002 for a development on this site for a smaller development of 100 houses was turned down on this 22 ha site, the officer stating that the site was the worst kind of development tacked on in a manner which would be impossible to integrate. The report went on to say that urbanising this part of the village would seriously harm the setting of Church End and its historical assets. Demand for housing might have changed, but this is the exact same site bordering on the conservation area. The plan within the report is inadequate – it doesn't show the area in relation to the existing residential limits of the village. At the meeting it was shown in context and this plot I would estimate would increase the building in the village by another 15% or so, which is an enormous increase for any village to integrate: it would represent a very significant housing estate.

The Committee's report also failed to address how the increased demand for school places would be met, the developers only when challenged said that the infant schools would be enlarged.

There was consideration by the committee of the impact that the proposed development would have in the village in terms of additional car parking, further building and the resulting increased traffic that would be the result.

Haddenham's NP was given limited weight by the committee over this application due to it being 'emerging'. However the planning officer was vague regarding its current status. In fact, the NP completed its preliminary consultation stage on 17th January and was presented to AVDC for their public consultation process on Tuesday 27th January, the day before the SDMC meeting. The NP incorporates an allocation of land in areas where a larger number of houses than this (430 in total) could be built in a sustainable manner and which would contribute very significantly to the current target requirement for more housing in the South East of England. It makes no sense to rush through this one isolated development through, since it does not have the community's interests at heart and will ruin the village for the sake of another few months, when the wider picture can be encapsulated in our completed NP.

The full reasons that the NP is not at an advanced stage is set out in the Parish Council's Letter of objection to be found in the Committee report (p.26). The glebe planning application has proceeded at a rapid rate, and AVDC is unwilling to endorse the NP in advance of continuing with this private application. We can therefore only conclude that AVDC is saying that it is giving priority to Light Strategic's application over and above the NP, and at the same time denying their own responsibility for the state that the NP has currently reached.

Despite one of the core planning principles requiring empowerment to the local people, no weight was given to the NP by six councillors in reaching their decision on Wednesday 28th January.

Emphasis throughout the SDMC's report is given to the economic benefits of this development. The economic benefit to the local people is also arguable. Indeed, this is challenged in very recent report, from the Natural Capital Committee – section 2.33: "It is equally – perhaps more – important to understand the underlying factors driving the process of economic growth. Future growth is determined by the portfolio of assets that a nation possesses or makes use of. While these assets include manufactured and human capital, they also include natural capital and society derives benefits for using them all. A shrinking asset base implies declining benefits and lower economic growth".

We look to our Government for good governance, and to follow good practice. There should be no need for people like me and many of my neighbours taking hours to pour over extensive planning applications, yet is appears the only desperate means left available to us in our humble attempts to prevent unsustainable, destructive and ill thought out developments taking place, due to our having lost confidence in the elected officials acting on our behalf. Poor planning decisions and ill placed developments, by their irrevocable nature, become a long term problem for any community living with them.

Yours sincerely
A concerned Haddenham resident.

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