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The case for a new Bucks garden city - Cllr Peter Jones

August 7, 2020 12:21 PM
By Peter Jones

Let's Forget the Local Plan

The controversial draft proposals to build 5,000+ homes around Chesham, Beaconsfield and Chalfont St Peter - aka the Chiltern & South Bucks Local Plan 2036 - have reached something of a stalemate.

Rather than persist with a plan to build on Green Belt, which no one really wants and actually goes against the Conservative Party manifesto, I think it's time we took a fresh new look at an old idea: the garden city. Let me explain why.

Several things have come together to slow the approval of the Local Plan. First, COVID-19 prevented government inspectors from beginning their inspection in March.

On April 1, Buckinghamshire Council was created and became the local planning authority for the area previously covered by four local planning authorities, including Chiltern District Council and South Bucks District Council.

In May, the government wrote to Chiltern and South Bucks Councils, stating their main concern was a failure to cooperate with Slough Borough Council.

In a nutshell, Chiltern and South Bucks say, 'we can't build that many here because we are all Green Belt and AONB. But Aylesbury Vale will take some of ours.' So far, so good.

Slough says, 'we can't build that many here because the M4 motorway and the River Thames get in the way, so we need to overspill into South Bucks'. So far, not so good.

Now let's throw into the mix some party politics.

In 2015, 2017 and again in 2019, the Conservative Party pledged to protect the Green Belt. The 2019 manifesto said: "We will protect and enhance the Green Belt… In order to safeguard our green spaces, we will continue to prioritise brownfield development, particularly for the regeneration of our cities and towns."

That's it. There is no 'we will protect the Green Belt unless we need to build houses on it'. On the contrary, "we will protect and enhance the Green Belt". Full stop.

Why then does a Conservative council, the successor to five Conservative councils, with Conservative MPs and a Conservative government, appear to be so keen to fly in the face of what is clearly the Conservative party's policy.

And here's the other weird thing: I don't know of any local Conservative councillor that actually wants to build on the Green Belt. So why are they proposing to do so?

Time for Plan B.

There may actually be a way out, if anyone has the sense to grasp the opportunity.

If the Local Plan is withdrawn, either by the Council itself or because the inspector says so, we can then withdraw the Green Belt proposals. That has three obvious benefits. One, it increases the defence against Slough. Two, it conforms with Conservative party election pledges. Three, it enables us to avoid the piecemeal approach of building a hundred houses here, a thousand houses there, and some more houses somewhere else, then failing to provide all the new facilities that will be required: schools, health centres, new roads, and so on.

Why We Need a New Garden City

Liberal Democrat party policy for a while has called for new 'garden cities' to be built.

The Buckinghamshire Council already has plans in place for an Aylesbury Garden Town. We may need more than that. It doesn't for the moment matter where those new towns are built, though we could all think of places that are well served by existing or proposed transport corridors.

And if we did that, not in the Green Belt or the AONB, we could ensure that the new towns had proper infrastructure, and job opportunities, and a mix of different types of housing, which doesn't follow from just plonking 500 houses on the edge of Chesham or 1,000 houses next to Beaconsfield.

And this is easier now there is one Buckinghamshire Council. We have done it before, It's called Milton Keynes. We can, and should, do it again.

Cllr Peter Jones is a Buckinghamshire Council member for the Chiltern Ridges Division, and Liberal Democrat council shadow cabinet spokesman on planning.