Chiltern Society – Christmas letter from our Chief Officer
Dear Volunteers, Members and Friends,
As we start to put our Christmas decorations up, we’ve been thinking about how we can help local business recovery in early 2021, and about taking some positives from the imposed changes we had during 2020.
High up that list has been the spike in interest in the countryside, for which on the whole we are delighted. However, we are well aware it has come at a cost, with more people visiting there have been more issues for farmers and those already living and working in the countryside. In early January we will be letting Natural England know our thoughts on the Countryside Code, so when they update it in the Spring of 2021 it will work even better for us here in the Chilterns.
We have also talked at length about the problems facing the leisure, tourism and hospitality sector, and how we could help. We here at the Chiltern Society feel we have had to push and support local businesses more than ever. Our partners at the NFU Mutual Hemel Hempstead agreed, and added they were focussing on how they could provide additional support for Hospitality & Food & Drink, with reports already produced offering more help (see links below). I know Ian at the NFU Mutual’s Hemel Hempstead Office would be delighted to direct you in the right direction if you wanted to know more on the help they may be able to provide to your business, for more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whilst we have missed the face to face contact with our volunteers, members and partners, we have managed to keep in touch via video calls which has enabled us to continue as normal – a mid-point balance of the two going forward, would be great!
What has been noticeable is less traffic, which has been more than welcome, and we’re now wondering how we can encourage people to drive less and maintain some of that to reduce the demand on our transport system. Which leads me to thinking about our Cleaner Greener Chilterns conference in November, and our plans to campaign and take action on becoming one of the first regions in England to become a Carbon Neutral. Is that possible by 2025?
One of the strands we are looking at is to see how we rapidly create more space for wildlife by creating a new/improved Wildlife Belt somewhere in the Chilterns, a step change for biodiversity will hopefully mean a carbon sink too.
We have faced enormous challenges this year, and will probably continue to do so for some months ahead, but we will continue to seek comfort from our homes, communities, countryside and environment. Thank you for your unfailing support, it is very much appreciated.
We would like to say a huge ‘Thank You’ to all our volunteers, members and friends for your continued and valued support and wish you all a great Christmas and a Happy New Year. Hopefully see you soon!
Tom (your faithful Chief Officer)
PS: check out our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds over the 12-days of Christmas, the team in the virtual office have some treats coming your way.
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Dacorum Local Plan
The Chiltern Society has today written to Cllr Ron Tindall at Dacorum Borough Council expressing concerns about the Council potentially approving the emerging draft Local Plan this evening, and in particular its ramifications for the future of the Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Chilterns. Having looked at the draft Plan we have significant concerns about the scale of development proposed, particularly as it is unclear whether targets are likely to be changed as a result of the Government’s proposed changes to the planning system. The Government is already indicating that it will review the algorithm for calculating housing numbers, and this could direct more development to the north of England, and away from the South East and areas such as Dacorum, with a high percentage of Green Belt and AONB.
Having looked at this evening’s Agenda, it looks as though the approval of the Local Plan has been removed and has been replaced by a Motion, proposed by Cllr Tindall, to seek a reduction in the overall housing numbers from the Government. The Chiltern Society fully supports this Motion as it believes the current numbers are too high and have not been sufficiently adjusted to take into account the significant constraints within this area. We hope that the numbers will be reduced once it is clear how the Government will treat the Green Belt in housing numbers calculations and that the Local Plan will be amended accordingly before being published for consultation.
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Radical Changes Proposed for the Planning System
The Chiltern Society has expressed its opposition to changes proposed to the way the planning system operates in England. These changes are set out in the Government’s White Paper, ‘Planning for the Future’ and are potentially the most radical changes since the planning system was established in 1947.
The White Paper proposes all land is placed under a zoning system as ‘Growth’, ‘Renewal’ or ‘Protected’ when a local authority prepares its Local Plan. Once land is identified as ‘Growth’ or ‘Renewal’ it will automatically be given planning permission in principle. The Paper, along with an accompanying White Paper, also proposes changes to the way housing numbers are allocated in each Council area, potentially increasing pressure for building in the Chilterns
The Society is opposed to the changes because it would potentially lead to larger numbers of new houses being built in the Chilterns AONB and Green Belt and a reduction in the level of scrutiny of environmental impacts. Changing decision-making on the principle of development to the Local Plan preparation stages risks development being approved without sufficient technical supporting information, and decision-making being taken out of the hands of local planning authorities and the local population.
The current national policy on Green Belts is leading to large and significant sites in the Chilterns being proposed for removal from the Green Belt to allow for housing development. The planning system needs to give greater protection to these areas through national and local policies and to concentrate development in other parts of the country as part of the ‘levelling up’ agenda.
The current planning system has made an important contribution to keeping our countryside special, and we are not convinced that what is now being proposed would be sufficient to keep it that way.
Please read the Chiltern Society’s full response here.
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Chiltern Society opposes new road in South Oxfordshire
The Chiltern Society has submitted a strong objection to the inclusion of a Third Thames Crossing and a North Reading Orbital Route within the Reading Transport Strategy 2036. The new Orbital Route would be located within the Chiltern Society area and would be likely to pass through the Chilterns AONB as it would link the A4074 to a new river crossing to the east of Reading. The exact route has not yet been identified
In our view, these proposals are not sufficiently justified through environmental assessments and do not have the support of South Oxfordshire District Council or Oxfordshire County Council. The development of the new road and the increase in traffic to the north of Reading would have a significant detrimental impact on the Chilterns AONB and many of the area’s villages and towns. It is also unclear how the proposals would incorporate measures to ensure that there was a net gain in biodiversity and a reduction in carbon emissions following implementation.
It is essential that a full Environmental Impact Assessment, including a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment, is undertaken before the proposals are included in the emerging Transport Strategy.
The Society’s full response can be read here
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Local Plan Hearing Goes Online
The Chiltern Society’s Planning Officer has recently participated in the Public Examination for the South Oxfordshire Local Plan. The hearings were the first ones in the country to be held remotely using Microsoft Teams instead of a public meeting. Participants were given one or two slots to speak on the day and all the proceedings were broadcast live through You Tube.
The Society followed up recent written representations by questioning the Council’s approach to identifying development sites across the District, which would result in additional development within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In particular, the Society objected to the proposal to increase housing in all large villages by 15%, irrespective of whether they were located in the AONB. The figures appeared to have been determined before any detailed assessment of the capacity of each settlement had been undertaken.
Further comments were made suggesting that there should be a separate AONB policy to reflect its national importance and that this should be based on a model AONB policy that has been prepared by the Chilterns Conservation Board. The Society pointed out that there needed to be a consistent approach to the AONB across all districts and that all of the other districts had separate policies.
Whilst the online hearing was a new experience for all participants, it did work quite well and there were no significant technical hitches. It remains to be seen whether other Public Examinations, put on hold due to Coronavirus, will now be progressed in the same format.
The Inspector’s Report on the Hearings will be published later this year.
Chiltern Society Planning
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Transport Planning in the Chilterns
There is currently increasing pressure on the Chilterns landscape and wildlife as a result of proposed new transport infrastructure. As well as the HS2 rail line, there are proposed expansions to Heathrow and Luton Airports, and a new Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. Whilst some of these developments would be outside the Chilterns, they have the potential to increase noise and traffic across the Chilterns.
In response to these threats, the Society’s Planning Group has established a Transport Sub-Group, which is working closely with the Chilterns Conservation Board. The two organisations have prepared a document ‘Chiltern Transport Planning: Towards a Common Approach’ to identify the key transport issues likely to affect the Chilterns and proposals as to how impacts could be reduced or managed.
The plan has 3 main objectives –
- Reduce the impact of traffic and the need to travel
- Increase travel by sustainable modes
- Enhance and protect the Chilterns environment and air quality
The document has been sent to all the County Highways Authorities for their comments and to seek their support, and you can read it here.
The Planning Group is also increasing its engagement with other organisations and initiatives in the transport sector. This has included the following –
- Submitting comments on the development of a third runway at Heathrow, particularly in relation to increased flights over the Chilterns and increased road traffic. Further details here.
- Objecting to the proposed development of a second terminal at Luton Airport and increased flights over the Chilterns. See link to a copy of our full response.
- Providing comments on the development of a regional transport strategy by England’s Economic Heartland. See link to our recent news item.
- Commenting on Local Transport Plans as they are published by local authorities. There are current consultations in relation to Reading and Oxfordshire.
The Society is keen to develop its expertise in this area, so the Planning Group would like to hear from any volunteers who may have knowledge and experience of transport issues.
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England’s Economic Heartland
The Chiltern Society’s Planning Group has formed a sub-group to consider transport issues across the Chilterns. As part of this, the Society has been engaging with England’s Economic Heartland (EEH), which is a regional transport partnership covering an area between Swindon and Cambridge. www.englandseconomicheartland.com The centrepiece of their remit is the development of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, but they will also deal with rail transport and airport developments.
EEH are going to prepare a new Transport Strategy covering the period 2020 to 2050 and have recently consulted the public on the Scoping Report for an Integrated Sustainability Appraisal (ISA). This is a process to consider, in a structured way, the economic, social and environmental impacts of the Transport Strategy.
The Society has submitted comments on the consultation and these can be summarised as follows –
- The ISA should take into consideration the Management Plans for the 3 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the area, including the Chilterns. This should help to ensure that the attention they are given in appropriate to their national importance.
- The Strategy needs to consider ways to reduce the impacts of nitrous oxide emissions on roadside vegetation.
- The Strategy needs to recognise the international importance of the Chiltern Chalk Streams, including the risks arising from additional pollution and water abstraction.
- The Strategy must recognise the importance of biodiversity networks, and this should extend over all networks and not just those considered to be of special importance.
- Potential impacts on noise and tranquillity need to be assessed.
The next stage of the process is the publication of the Draft Transport Strategy, which is scheduled for July 2020.
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£1.6million investment in new Misbourne Greenway through the Chilterns
A new Misbourne Greenway route through the Chiltern Hills for cycling and walking is to be created thanks to a £1.6m grant from the government.
Sustrans, the walking and cycling charity, will be managing the £1.6 million funding, and the Chiltern Society is delighted to be a delivery partner.
The new traffic-free trail, due to be complete by 2022, will run parallel with the A413, linking towns and villages between Aylesbury and Uxbridge. The detailed route will be decided by the partnership which also inc;udes Buckinghamshire County Council, the Chiltern Conservation Board and the Greenways and Cycleroutes charity. It will use existing Rights of Way, some private land and quiet roads, providing a new tourism route for those wanting to enjoy the great outdoors
The new route will better link local communities with schools, businesses and railway stations making it far easier for people to walk and cycle for everyday journeys.
James Cleeton, England Director South at Sustrans, said: “Creating this new traffic-free route will open up so many options for active, sustainable travel in the area, with the associated benefits of cleaner air and healthier people. It will also provide a new tourism destination in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, giving more people cleaner access to the countryside.
“Improvement of the local walking and cycling network will also enable increased use by wheelchairs, mobility scooters, adapted cycles, pushchairs and cargo bikes. This is an important step towards our vision of creating paths for everyone on the National Cycle Network.”
Mark Shaw, Buckinghamshire County Council Deputy Leader and Transport Cabinet Member, said: “We’re great supporters of walking and cycling as ways to keep fit and healthy, and as an alternative to the car. This scheme is good news for our residents, and opens more ways for us all to enjoy Buckinghamshire’s beautiful countryside.”
Tom Beeston, Chiltern Society Chief Officer, said: “We’re excited to be working with Sustrans to increase access to this beautiful part of the world, ensuring that the route that’s developed is high-quality and sensitive to the needs of the different types of visitor to the Chilterns, and to the conservation of the area. This is an excellent opportunity to showcase the best of what the Chilterns has to offer.”
Sustrans will work together with local communities, schools and businesses to ensure that the route that is developed meets their needs. The charity recognises the importance of understanding people’s requirements in making the project a success.
The funding package from the Department for Transport follows Sustrans’ review of the National Cycle Network last year. The review led to the development of a new vision for the network: paths for everyone. Sustrans acknowledged that there are some significant problems with parts of the current network, for which the charity plays a custodian role, owning only 2% of the land that the Network covers.
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Green Belt and AONB Under Threat
Chiltern District Council and South Bucks District Council have recently been consulting on their joint Local Plan. The Plan aims to develop over 11,000 homes in the period up to 2036. Of these, 5,200 are proposed on 7.83km2 of land to be taken out of the Green Belt and 2 sites are proposed within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The Chiltern Society has submitted its objections to the Plan, which can be summarised as follows:
- It is essential that planning policies are considered across local authority boundaries to co-ordinate protection of this special area. The Plan does not give the Chilterns sufficient protection and, therefore the Society objects to the overall plan.
- There are no exceptional circumstances under the NPPF to justify any significant incursion into recognised GB and AONB areas given that housing need alone is not an exceptional circumstance.
- The plan needs to be revised to consider whether there are less damaging sites that were not brought forward through the ‘call for sites’ and whether there is scope for higher density developments on brownfield sites and in town centres.
- We urge the Councils to review the overall development approach in the plan to avoid unacceptable damage to a nationally important landscape and a significant part of the Green Belt.
- We objected to the overall number of dwellings proposed in the Green Belt and to 2 site allocations in the Green Belt and AONB at Amersham, and to significant sites in the Green Belt at Chesham, Beaconsfield, Little Chalfont and Chalfont St Peter.
Following the consultations, the Council will submit the Local Plan to the Planning Inspectorate for an independent examination.
The full response can be found here.
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Buildings Design Award 2019 Presentation
This week, we had the great pleasure presenting awards to the owners, architects and builders of the three successful entrants for this year’s award. Two design projects were awarded a winner’s plaque and the third received a highly commended certificate. The event took place at Incurvo, Goring on Thames, designed by Adrian James Architects of Oxford. The judges selected Incurvo as a beautiful and unique structure which significantly improved the previous use of the site. The highest quality materials were used and the property was designed to be virtually carbon neutral. The landscaped gardens considerably enhance the house with its curving forms, whilst the careful positioning of trees and other features allows stunning views of the Chiltern countryside beyond.
Knight Architects of High Wycombe, who specialise in bridge design, were presented with the second plaque. This new footbridge is an important part of the regeneration of Taplow Riverside. Crossing the river from Taplow Riverside to Ray Mill Island, the bridge neatly solved the problem of lack of access to the Thames from the Taplow area. The structure is a highly attractive addition to what was previously a run-down industrial area and a valuable new public amenity.
A highly commended award was presented to Dock Farm near Princes Risborough for a restoration project on a Grade II Listed 17th century farmhouse. This was designed by DP Architects of Watlington who carried out restoration and improvements to the building which had fallen into a state of dilapidation. The judges awarded this development for its rigour and restraint along with the meticulous care of the works carried out. The farmhouse retains its simple Chilterns rustic character.
The Buildings Design Awards are run in partnership with the Chiltern Society and the Chilterns Conservation Board.
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Countryside North of Luton Under Threat
The Chiltern Society is opposed to the development of 4000 houses and a new A6 – M1 Link Road on land to the north of Luton, which would encroach on the Chilterns AONB and the Green Belt.
We will be giving evidence to the Public Examination of the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan in relation to the housing development and a freight interchange facility at Sundon. We consider that the housing development would not be able to demonstrate exceptional circumstances for developing within the AONB and this would not be in the public interest. It would, therefore, be contrary to national policy on AONBs.
The Plan proposes removing land from the Green Belt to allow for 4000 houses. We are not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that exceptional circumstances exist for removing land from the Green Belt. Our view is that housing need on its own is not an exceptional circumstance that outweighs harm to the Green Belt.
Our full report to the Examination can be read here.
We have also objected to the planning application for development of the Link Road on both AONB and Green Belt grounds. This has included offering our full support to the detailed response submitted by the Chilterns Conservation Board. Our major concern is that this is being applied for before the development has been discussed at the Local Plan Examination.
Click here to read our comments on this application.
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Chilterns Buildings Design Awards 2019 – The Results
We are delighted to announce that our team of judges has chosen the three winning buildings for this year’s award. There are two design projects which will be awarded a winner’s plaque, the third will receive a Highly Commended award.
The first winner is ‘Incurvo’, a newly built residential property in Goring on Thames, designed by Adrian James Architects of Oxford. The judges picked out Incurvo as a beautiful and unique structure which significantly improves upon the previous use of the site. The highest quality materials have been used, such as the warm-toned Swanage bricks interspersed with panels of charcoal- coloured zinc.
A variable height zinc parapet round the edges of the flat roof serves the practical purpose of concealing the solar panels, photovoltaic panels and heat recovery system, whilst constituting a bold design feature. Various other energy-saving measures have been incorporated so that the house is almost carbon neutral.
The landscaped gardens wrap themselves around the sinuous curves of the house in perfect synergy with the building, whilst the planting has been carefully designed to provide stunning views of the Chiltern countryside beyond.
Our second winner is the River Thames Footbridge – an elegant new structure designed by Knight Architects of High Wycombe, who specialise in bridge design. It is an important part of the regeneration of Taplow Riverside. Crossing the river from Taplow Riverside to Ray Mill Island, it neatly solves the problem of lack of access to the Thames from the Taplow area. From the island one can join the Thames Path.
The steel structure has a 35m span and its shallow arch echoes the design of the nearby Brunel railway bridge, which has the widest and flattest brick arches in the world.
The judges said that not only is the bridge a highly attractive addition to what was previously a run-down industrial area, but a valuable new public amenity.
A Highly Commended award will be given to Dock Farm near Princes Risborough for a restoration project on a Grade II Listed 17th century farmhouse. The property has an elm timber frame with brick infill panels. Because of its age, these materials were obviously locally sourced and its style is that of a typical rustic Chilterns dwelling of the period.
DP Architects of Watlington were asked to carry out restoration and improvements to the building which had fallen into a state of dilapidation. The refurbishment enabled the removal of incongruous additions such as cooker hoods, and the reinstatement of a number of historic elements. The builders even uncovered an old well during the outside works, which has now become a garden feature.
The architects also managed to introduce energy-saving measures such as proper insulation, draft proofing and different types of double glazing to suit the range of different window styles, so the house is much snugger in winter and generally more breathable. All this was achieved without compromising the original simple character of the farmhouse.
The judges praised this development for its rigour and restraint, and for the meticulous care with which the works were carried out.
The Buildings Design Awards are run jointly with the Chilterns Conservation Board.
Winner: River Thames Footbridge
Highly Commended: Dock Farm
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Buildings Design Awards 2019- Update
These awards are a long-established competition run jointly by the Chiltern Society and the Chilterns Conservation Board. Our aim is to encourage the creation of high quality buildings in the Chilterns, applying standards including how the property contributes to the local distinctiveness of our region, how it relates to its location, use of suitable materials and appropriate landscaping. Another increasingly important factor is sustainability i.e. what measures has the architect used to minimise the impact of the property on the environment. The ultimate ambition would be to achieve Passievhaus status, meaning that the building would be carbon neutral.
In January we invited architects to send us details of their projects completed during the last 3 years. which they believed complied with the competition standards. We were delighted to receive 19 submissions from Beds, Berks, Bucks, Herts and Oxfordshire – an excellent representation of the entire Chilterns.
Earlier this month our judges met to select properties they wished to shortlist, based on how well the buildings matched the judging criteria. Since many of the entries appear to be of a promising quality, it took the panel a full day to choose the 7 most exceptional ones.
The next step is for the judging team to visit the shortlisted properties which include a new footbridge over the Thames, an Oxfordshire country pub, a woodland cruck barn, a Berkshire home consisting entirely of curves, another with all the sharp angles of its 1970’s design and a restoration of a seventeenth century farmhouse.
The judges will be looking for those projects which best fit the key requirement that they contribute to the local distinctiveness of the Chilterns and the need to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area.
We will be ready to announce the winner of our coveted black plaque along with the highly commended properties by the end of May.
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In the Flightpath?
The Chiltern Society has commented on the recent consultation on Heathrow Airspace and Future Operations. This forms part of the long term planning for the addition of a new runway at Heathrow Airport.
The Airport is reviewing the flightpaths for arrivals and departures for all three runways and the Society is concerned as to what impact this would have in terms of noise and disturbance on the towns, villages and countryside within the Chilterns and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in particular.
The full response can be read here, but some the main points can be summarised as follows:
- We seek the minimisation of disturbance to residents, and users of the countryside within the whole Chilterns area.
- Tranquillity and freedom from disturbance are key factors contributing to the special qualities of this nationally protected landscape.
- We suggest a strategy that includes complete avoidance of particularly sensitive areas of the AONB and the alignment of routes over already-noisy parts of the AONB. Flightpaths should spread the burden by the use of the maximum number of routes used on a rotational basis, having regard for when the AONB is most likely to be used for quiet enjoyment.
- Areas or corridors that merit complete avoidance could be identified through the measurement of baseline background noise levels as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment and other research.
- The flightpaths will need to be considered in relation to other flightpaths, particularly from Luton Airport.
- We are seeking ongoing engagement with Heathrow, in collaboration with the Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB), the statutory authority for the AONB.
Further formal consultations about the proposed air routes are expected in 2021 or 2022.
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New Housing Sites to be Identified in Three Rivers
The Chiltern Society responded in December 2018 to a consultation on the choice of housing sites in Three Rivers District for inclusion in the emerging Local Plan. Planning Field Officer, Barbara Paskins, reviewed the plan and visited many of the sites to assess potential impacts on the Green Belt and the Chilterns Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The main area of concern was that the proposals would be likely to take land out of the Green Belt to allow for the Council to meet its housing target. Also, one of the larger sites would be located within the AONB. The Society expressed a preference for using brownfield land to cater for development needs wherever possible, but due to the scale of development required, some greenfield land is likely to be needed. The response includes some general comments on development in the District as well as comments on the impacts on specific sites.
The full response can be read here.
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Changes to National Planning Policy on the Way
We have recently submitted comments on the draft amendments to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This is the national policy document that guides local authorities in the preparation of their local plans and in making decisions on planning applications.
The amendments proposed are to update the policies in the NPPF so that they accord with other consultations undertaken by the Government. Amendments include changes in the way that housing need is calculated, how local Councils are expected to monitor progress on housing and how Council’s should address pressure for development in the Green Belt.
Some of the main points in the our consultation response were as follows –
- Amendments to the presumption in favour of sustainable development will give additional strength to the protection of AONBs and Green Belt.
- The whole premise of the Housing Delivery Test is flawed, in that it involves sanctions against LPAs for something that is not wholly within their power to control.
- We object to a new policy on exception sites for entry level homes in the Green Belt, which seems to allow for additional market housing to be slipped in.
- Communications equipment such as masts and overhead cables have the potential to cause significant harm to landscapes, and this is particularly important in protected areas.
- We support the principle of minimum density standards for city and town centres as this will help to reduce the pressure for development on the open countryside.
- We do not support the removal of land from the Green Belt to allow development, and consider that housing numbers should be capable of being adjusted downwards where the only option to meet those numbers is to encroach on Green Belt
- We welcome the more detailed test to be applied to demonstrate exceptional circumstances for removing land from the Green Belt.
- Where no alternative can be found to Green Belt development (including in neighbouring districts) and exceptional circumstances exist, local authorities should be required wherever possible to create new areas of Green Belt with boundaries that can be defended in the long term.
- We are disappointed that the reference to AONBs having the highest status of protection has been removed, there is no protection in relation to the setting of AONBs, and there are no policies for addressing cumulative impacts on AONBs and their settings.
Our full response can be read here.
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Influencing Local Planning Policy
The Chiltern Society has always taken a keen interest in the planning policies being developed by the Local Planning Authorities across the Chilterns area. With the scale of development across the region likely to increase significantly over the next twenty years, it is essential that we take an active approach to influencing the contents of the emerging Local Plans. These plans are being developed by each local authority and their primary aims are to set planning policy for the next twenty years or so, and identify sites that are considered suitable for development.
As the housing targets now being set by the local authorities have been significantly increased, there is increasing pressure to use land located in the Green Belt or the Chilterns AONB and its setting for housing. In order to address the increasing workload arising from these plans, we have appointed a new Planning Officer, Colin Blundel, specifically to work with our Planning Group on planning policy matters. Since his appointment in September 2017, the we have sent in representations on the following Local Plans:
Buckinghamshire County Council – Minerals and Waste Local Plan – Preferred Options
- We were concerned that there was no reference to preserving the openness of the Green Belt in the Vision Statement.
- Whilst we supported the policies on the Green Belt and Chilterns AONB, more emphasis could be put on protecting the setting of the AONB.
- We identified the minerals and waste sites that were located within the Chilterns and stressed that great care will be required with the design and restoration of these proposals to ensure that they do not cause long term harm to the character and appearance of their location.
Read our full response here
Wycombe District Council – Local Plan Publication Draft
- We considered that the allocation of a site for 100 houses at Mill Road, Stokenchurch was unsound because the Plan failed to recognise it as major development within an AONB.
- We were not satisfied that the proposed policy relating to the Chilterns AONB was consistent with national policy as it did not require major developments to demonstrate that they were in the public interest.
- Amongst the allocations were a number of sites that may impact on the AONB and we asked that the wording of the policies referred to conserving and enhancing the AONB, rather than just limiting the impact.
Read our full response here
South Oxfordshire District Council – Local Plan Publication Draft
- The Plan did not include a separate policy in relation to the Chilterns AONB, and was, therefore, inconsistent with the plans of neighbouring authorities.
- The Council had not given sufficient weight to the AONB to meet their statutory duties under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and to be consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework.
- We were concerned about the high level of growth proposed in South Oxfordshire over the Plan period and whether this has been sufficiently justified in terms of impacts on the AONB.
- It is not clear how the Council has taken into consideration the AONB in arriving at housing targets for individual settlements.
Read our full response here
Dacorum Borough Council – Local Plan Issues and Options
- We considered that a co-ordinated regionalised approach was required between local authorities to identify the locations for housing development on a more regional basis to try to reduce pressure for development in the AONB and Green Belt.
- More references to the Chilterns AONB and the Green Belt should be included in the Vision Statements relating to the main settlements.
- We were broadly in support of the settlement hierarchy approach proposed, concentrating on the larger settlements. Is has to be remembered, however, that the towns are immediately surrounded by the Chilterns Landscape, including both the AONB and the Green Belt.
- We considered that encroachment into the Green Belt must be a last resort for development. As the Plan emerges it will need to demonstrate that it has fully considered brownfield sites, sites within towns and villages and sites outside the Green Belt and AONB before considering Green Belt boundary changes and site allocations.
Read our full response here
Aylesbury Vale District Council – Local Plan Submission Draft
- We considered that the allocation of the RAF Halton site could lead to the site’s removal from the Green Belt in the long term and would therefore not be consistent with national policy.
- The RAF Halton site is located entirely within the Green Belt and in the immediate setting of the Chilterns AONB. Therefore, we considered that any development here must be carefully designed to fully respect these designations.
- We agreed with the Council that the RAF Halton site should be retained within the Green Belt and we would expect the Council to re-use existing buildings where possible, and particularly the existing Listed barracks blocks.
Read our full response here
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Planning Campaign Leader
Are you passionate about protecting the Chilterns as a unique and special place to live ? Do you have the drive and commitment to lead a successful campaign, building support from our community and other organisations to influence local and national government ?
Our Planning Group urgently needs a Campaign Leader to step up our campaign to prevent unsustainable development into the Chilterns Area of Outstanding National Beauty and Green Belt. You’ll be used to working in a volunteering role, and how to work with other volunteers to achieve results.
We’re looking for someone, maybe from a marketing background, with skills and experience in leadership, communication and management of diverse stakeholders to influence senior levels of local and national government. There is no need for detailed knowledge of planning regulations, as you will have support from experts in our Planning Group. However you do need an understanding of how government operates and how to collaborate with other organisations in the area such as the Chilterns Conservation Board, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Natural England, District and County Councils.
The role needs to drive out tangible results from our already publicised Planning Manifesto. This safeguards the AONB, protects the Green Belt, overhauls the methods for calculating housing need, scales infrastructure, favours brownfield and infill usage, and promotes good building design. The first goal is to build a coalition of MPs across the Chilterns to support our Manifesto and change housing calculations. The Chiltern Society supports the needs of local businesses and affordable housing for local people, rather than unfettered free market priority for multi-million pound commuterland.
To discuss more about how you could fit this role please contact:
Merrin Molesworth: email@example.com : tel: 01494 773381
Michael Jepson: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 01494 837602
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Will your future MP support our Green Belt Campaign?
We have written to all General Election candidates standing in the sixteen constituencies across the Chilterns region asking them to support our campaign to protect the Green Belt and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from over-development. You can see a copy of our letter below.
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Our Response to the Housing White Paper
Our Planning Group has recently submitted its response to the Housing White Paper.
Within the wide-ranging White Paper, there were some proposals to welcome, including encouragement of small and custom-builders, greater emphasis on design standards, more support for providers of affordable houses, increased powers for local authorities to assemble land and deliver homes themselves, a hike in application fees to help cash-strapped planning departments, and the potential introduction of an appeal fee.
But, if anything, the White Paper increased our grave concern that in the drive to build more homes, local authorities will feel compelled to turn to Green Belt or other designated land. They are still being required to make every effort to meet theoretically-assessed “need” locally if at all possible, with no “automatic” allowance given to reduce numbers even when there is significant Green Belt or other designated land. Furthermore, the proposed revised wording of national planning policy implies that use of Green Belt land will be a legitimate way to do this, once all other options have been explored. The problem is exacerbated in areas like the Chilterns, when neighbouring authorities are also “constrained” by protected land, thus removing the scope to transfer provision elsewhere.
On top of this, the sanctions that already apply when local authorities fail to maintain a 5-year supply of allocated housing land are being supplemented by an additional housing delivery test (based on the numbers of homes actually built), seemingly oblivious to the fact that the actual delivery of housing is almost wholly outside of their control.
Even under the existing rules, 8 out of 10 local authorities in the Chilterns are seriously considering use of Green Belt land, so these threats are real and current.
Early consultation on a revised method of calculating need was promised by the White Paper, but the general election will inevitably delay this. As well as responding to consultations of this sort, our Planning Campaign is using various means to highlight these dangers and lobby for changes to the rules.
Our full response is available here and the Housing White Paper itself is available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/fixing-our-broken-housing-market
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Working together to protect The Chilterns
A new grouping of organisations across the Chilterns has come together to protect the Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which are under threat from an unprecedented housing tidal wave. There is currently an assessed need for 135,000 new dwellings in the Chilterns, with eight out of ten local authorities in the Chilterns identifying a need to build on the Green Belt with some small incursions into the AONB. A recent workshop co-hosted by the Chiltern Society and the Buckinghamshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) was also attended by representatives of the London Green Belt Council, the Chilterns Conservation Board, CPRE National Office and CPRE Branches from Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.
The shared messages of the respective organisations are as follows:
- Government and Local Authorities need to make a long term commitment to protect the Green Belt and AONB, ensuring action and not just empty words.
- Realistic housing targets that account for Green Belt and AONB designations are required based on real local need not aspirational market demand.
- A clearer, more restricted, definition of ‘exceptional circumstances ’is needed for Green Belt releases and AONB developments and assurance that housing need does not override Green Belt and AONB designations. There should also be less opportunity for local government to interpret the NPPF to suit their agenda.
The team of organisations will be lobbying MPs in the Chilterns for support and will continue to work closely together to protect the best interests of the Chiltern countryside.
Watch closely for further details about the team’s planned activities!
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Our campaign to change ‘inflexible’ formula for calculating housing numbers
Did you know that 80% of local authorities in the Chilterns are making plans to build houses in Green Belt because they say there is simply no-where else for them to go? Some councils are having to make room for two or three times more houses than they originally envisaged in their Local Plans because of the inflexible formula laid down for calculating housing need.
The end result will cause serious, irreversible damage to the Chilterns countryside, which stretches through Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.
We have written to the 15 MPs that cover the Chilterns area to request meetings, including the Prime Minister Theresa May whose Maidenhead constituency borders the Chilterns and whose country home, Chequers, is within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It says the current formula for calculating housing need is clumsy and inflexible and in need of fundamental reform.
We believe that at the heart of the problem is the planning concept of Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) and the expectation that each planning authority should meet this need within its own area. This essentially requires councils to calculate future housing needs by looking at past trends. In effect it leaves no leeway to consider the capacity of the area to accommodate the numbers.
We’re concerned that the Government’s latest Housing White Paper fails to recognise that in some circumstances OAN cannot be met without irreversible damage to the character of an area or undermining the fundamental purposes of Green Belt.
We are calling for a four point change:
- Housing targets to be determined more flexibly and intelligently
- Green Belt, AONB and the overall character of an area to become legitimate reasons for reducing housing targets
- Real housing need in an area to be considered instead of calculating numbers via a one-fits-all formula
- Councils to be given the ability to deliver a range of homes in terms of tenure, type and size that meets genuine local need.
We appreciate that there is a need for new housing – indeed in this area there are particular issues for young people wishing to stay in the area they grew up in. But what is needed for such people is genuinely affordable or low-cost homes and in this respect the current system lets them down. By and large, local councils cannot exert meaningful influence to ensure that the right type and number of housing for this local need is delivered.”
Read our letter to MPs here:
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Development pressures in the Chilterns remain, despite Housing White Paper
The Chilterns Green Belt and its Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) remain under unprecedented threat from development despite assurances in the new Government White Paper on Housing, says the Chiltern Society.
The Society, with 7,000 members the leading conservation charity in the Chilterns, is examining the details of the White Paper and the likely consequences on the area and will give a considered response in the Government’s public consultation.
However, Society trustee Paul Mason is concerned that the fundamental problems facing the area remain.
“A tidal wave of tens of thousands of new houses are planned in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire.
“Some of these are on Green Belt and encroach the AONB. The Society is not opposed to the provision of new housing to meet local needs. But for everyone’s sake we must protect the special setting and heritage of the Chilterns. Protected countryside must remain protected.
The White Paper declares the commitment of the Government to the continuing protection of the Green Belt but the Society believes the Government needs to re-examine the way it calculates housing need. The current method puts impossible pressures on councils in the Chilterns, forcing them to make short-sighted planning decisions which damage protected countryside and its setting. The Society will be making this clear in its response to the White Paper.
The Chiltern Society shares the concerns raised by the London Green Belt Council that measures for the protection of the Green Belt may not be robust enough. We also agree with the position expressed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) that MPs and local authorities need to ensure that the commitment to the Green Belt outlined in the White Paper actually translates into achievable targets and appropriate well designed development.
For information : The Government Housing White Paper, titled ‘Fixing our broken housing market’ was published on 7th February and sets out proposals on how the Government intends to boost housing supply and, over the long term, create a more efficient housing market whose outcomes more closely match the needs and aspirations of all households and which supports wider economic prosperity. Specific proposals are made with respect to the Planning Process;
- Making sure every part of the country has an up-to-date, sufficiently ambitious plan so that local communities decide where development should go;
- Simplifying plan-making and making it more transparent, so it’s easier for communities to produce plans and easier for developers to follow them;
- Ensuring that plans start from an honest assessment of the need for new homes, and that local authorities work with their neighbours,so that difficult decisions are not ducked;
- Clarifying what land is available for new housing, through greater transparency over who owns land and the options held on it;
- Making more land available for homes in the right places, by maximising the contribution from brownfield and surplus public land, regenerating estates, releasing more small and medium-sized sites, allowing rural communities to grow and making it easier to build new settlements;
- Maintaining existing strong protections for the Green Belt, and clarifying that Green Belt boundaries should be amended only in exceptional circumstances when local authorities can demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting their identified housing requirements;
- Giving communities a stronger voice in the design of new housing to drive up the quality and character of new development, building on the success of neighbourhood planning;
- Making better use of land for housing by encouraging higher densities, where appropriate, such as in urban locations where there is high housing demand; and by reviewing space standards.
As ever, the devil is in the detail of how this will be translated into action. The Chiltern Society Planning Group will be watching closely.
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Planning threats coming early in Hertfordshire
Three large areas of Green Belt could be lost this year to housing development around Hemel Hempstead and Tring if current plans are approved.
Dacorum Borough Council wants to bring forward proposals to build 1,500 houses in what many consider a knee-jerk reaction to perceived housing demand in the area.
Green Belt is, of course, supposed to be protected and developed only in exceptional circumstances. Yet this latest move is unlikely to be the end of the Green Belt land grab. Dacorum and neighbouring Hertfordshire local authorities are planing to review Green Belt as part of a wholesale review of their Local Plan.
The Government continues to insist the Green Belt is safe in its hands. Yet the reality is many local authorities are steadily whittling it away as they try and cope with the Government’s unrealistic method of calculating future housing demand.
The public consultation on this latest onslaught on the Green Belt – featured as part of Dacorum’s Site Allocations Modifications document – ends at midnight at Sunday 5 February, 2017. You can comment here and/or speak to your local councillors.
The Chiltern Society has launched a planning campaign highlighting the unprecedented threat to the Chilterns from development and suggesting ideas to ease the pressure. For more details about the work we’re doing, please see our planning pages. Anyone interested in helping to protect the Chilterns from these sorts of threats by joining our team of Planning Field Officers should contact us on 01494 771250 for further details.
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Join our heroes defending the Chilterns!
The Chiltern Society opposes development within the AONB which fails to conserve or enhance the natural beauty of the landscape. The Society also opposes any new development in the Green Belt which fails to protect its openness or undermines its purposes, including the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas and neighbouring towns merging into one another.
Government planning criteria and methodology is putting most local authorities in a position where they feel a need to take a cavalier and short sighted approach to the beauty and heritage of our special Chilterns landscape.
District councils in the Chilterns are putting the Green Belt, and even the AONB, at risk. A tidal wave of tens of thousands of new houses are planned across Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire. Some of these are on Green Belt and encroach the AONB. Local preferences and priorities are simply being ignored.
Do you care for the appearance of our lovely Chilterns countryside? Are you concerned about the increasing threat from unwarranted developments threatening the Green Belt and AONB?
One of the primary aims of our Planning Group is to firmly resist the worst excesses of the development wherever it can. Our Planning Field Officers are the unsung heroes of the Chiltern Society at the front line of our efforts to protect and enhance the Chilterns.
What do our Planning Field Offers (PFOs) do?
- Monitor and respond to planning applications throughout the Chilterns but especially those affecting the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Green Belt and open countryside
- Act as respected consultants to Local Authorities regarding emerging planning documents that might affect the future development of the Chilterns area
- Examine and respond to draft Government guidance documents and other consultations
- Represent the Chiltern Society at public inquiries, hearings and examinations relating to local planning and development
We urgently need additional Planning Field Officers to help protect our Chiltern landscape and heritage.
The Chiltern Society Planning Group is always interested in new volunteers to fill PFO vacancies across the Chilterns. There are several vacancies for PFOs in the following areas;
- Three Rivers
- Wycombe North
- Aylesbury Vale North
- South Buckinghamshire
- Central Bedfordshire (particularly Luton)
- North Hertfordshire
- South Oxfordshire
If you are interested in one of these vital PFO roles, please contact the Society Office on 01494 771250. Planning knowledge is not essential but would be helpful, guidance on the role will be provided.
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Housing tidal wave threatens our special Chilterns countryside
The Chiltern Society has expressed its increasing concern at a “tidal wave” of planning applications which it says seriously threaten the special Chilterns countryside.
“The new year has started with district councils putting forward ever worrying threats to the Green Belt and even the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB),” said Society trustee Paul Mason.
“We cautiously welcome the Government’s decision to designate Aylesbury as a Garden Town because it will help the local council to plan in a co-ordinated way for the 27,000 homes that are due to be built in the Aylesbury Vale over the next few years. The council can now look at the bigger picture ensuring there will be plenty of green spaces, trees, gardens and walking and cycle ways, and a balance of jobs and homes. We will be monitoring progress to try and ensure that happens
“However, in stark contrast is the situation in the rest of the area in and around the Chilterns where a tidal wave of tens of thousands of new houses are planned in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire. Some of these are on Green Belt and encroach the AONB.”
Mr Mason added: “It is inconceivable that Government planning policy is putting most local authorities in a position where they feel they need to consider a cavalier and short sighted approach to the beauty and heritage of our special Chilterns landscape.
“The method for estimating future housing demand in the Chilterns is clumsy and flawed. It needs to focus on realistic local requirements – including housing, business and infrastructure – and not simply be a response to a blanket Government formulae.
“The Society is calling on local authorities to be bold and look again at the rationale of permanently damaging the countryside for the sake of complying with current Government planning guidelines.”
The Chiltern Society, with 7,000 members, is the leading conservation charity in the Chilterns with hundreds of active volunteers maintaining important heritage sites and nature reserves.
Chairman David Harris said: “We oppose development within or affecting the setting of the AONB which fails to conserve or enhance the natural beauty. We believe that any new development within the AONB should be small scale and restricted to land within existing developments or on brownfield sites.
“We also oppose new development in existing Green Belt which fails to protect its openness, or undermines its purposes, including the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas and neighbouring towns merging into one another.”
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Chilterns Countryside Under Threat
A current tidal wave of planning applications seriously threaten our special Chiltern countryside. Pressures for more dwellings in the Chilterns originate from Central Government planning guidelines used by County and District councils to calculate housing demand. These demands now threaten the Green Belt and even the AONB.
The Chiltern Society Trustees and the Planning Group have a clear policy on these threats. The Society opposes development, within or affecting the setting of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which fails to conserve or enhance the natural beauty. As a consequence, to be acceptable, new development within the AONB should be small-scale and restricted to land within existing settlements or on brownfield sites. The Society also opposes development in the existing Green Belt which fails to protect its openness, or undermines its five purposes (to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas; to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another; to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment; to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land).
The members of the Chiltern Society Planning Group are the unsung heroes monitoring and as necessary making responses to planning applications and proposals. Their efforts are crucial in the protection of our special countryside. In addition to this key Planning Group activity, the Trustees hope to re-energise the Planning Campaign team working, either on its own or in collaboration with like minded organisations, to protect the AONB and Green Belt.. We will keep you posted of developments!
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The Chilterns will suffer permanent damage if massive Green Belt land grab goes ahead
The Chiltern Society is concerned that The Chilterns will suffer permanent damage if the amount of Green Belt being considered by two councils is released for development.
In a joint public consultation document, Chiltern and South Bucks District Councils are seeking views on potentially releasing over a 1,000 acres of Green Belt for housing and business development.
Our position is that there is no justification for releasing such a massive amount of Green Belt. These local authorities want to make space for over 5,000 dwellings and provide room for around 40 hectares of business development on 15 different sites.
Chairman David Harris said: “We are horrified by the scale of what is proposed. If allowed, it would cause permanent damage to the character of the Chilterns. Last year across the whole of the UK 1,000 hectares of land was removed from the Green Belt. This one proposal alone would release over 400 hectares, nearly half of last year’s nationwide figure. It amounts to a gigantic Green Belt land grab.
Of course we recognise that local authorities are under enormous pressure to find land for new homes and businesses but we need to be convinced that in preparing their Local Plans the councils are not just taking the easy option of using protected Green Belt. They need to exhaust all other options for development like using former industrial sites or consider a higher density of building in built-up areas. There is no evidence they have done this. Green Belt is designated not just because it looks pretty. It plays a vital role in preventing urban sprawl and protecting the countryside for the benefit of everyone.
The Society maintains that the method for calculating housing need in the Chilterns is clumsy and flawed. Housing need in the Chilterns should be made on the basis of local requirements, including those of local businesses.
It should not be made on the projected potential movements of population into the area from outside. We are concerned that the current system puts an intolerable strain on existing facilities and infrastructure and puts local councils in the Chilterns in an unfair and impossible position. Local Authorities should not be compelled to meet these so-called ‘objectively assessed housing needs.
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