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.