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Council unveils housing and business options under Local Plan
RESIDENTS are being asked to help a council decide where thousands of new homes and businesses should be built around the district.
Wycombe District Council may have to build between 500 and 700 new homes every year between now and 2031 to keep up with growth. Up to 400 dwellings are currently built around the district every 12 months.
A review of the Green Belt will be carried out by the council, which says it "can’t see an answer" that doesn’t involve the use of Green Belt land - but council chiefs have pledged to keep development to a minimum.
WDC Leader Richard Scott said the Local Plan was a "big challenge" but "doing nothing was not an option" as WDC would risk being at the mercy of developers who could run riot over south Buckinghamshire.
Cllr Neil Marshall, WDC’s Cabinet Member for Planning and Sustainability, said: "People need to understand we have to go through the process and we would like their input. This is our means of controlling our destiny, rather than it being in the hands of developers.
"Getting your Local Plan approved means you can control development. If you lose, you are effectively handing over power to the developer."
WDC pointed to the problems facing Aylesbury Vale District Council, which had its Local Plan thrown out by the Planning Inspectorate.
"Aylesbury had three appeals that became a public inquiry with 6,000 proposed houses tied up in it - it’s planning by appeal with developers picking sites and councils spending money to fight them off", he added.
All local authorities have been told by the government to work out how many homes and jobs are required and plan to meet that need.
WDC used census data and population trends from the last decade and applied that formula to work out the housing need up until 2031.
Penelope Toillitt, WDC’s new Head of Planning and Sustainability, said the Government would "struggle to accept" the council continuing with its current housing levels.
The council does not want ‘piecemeal development’ or homes in one place and jobs in another, which would encourage commuting.
Cllr Marshall said: "We don’t think that would be a sustainable solution.
"There’s a strong economic pull for the south of the district, we just haven’t got the space down there for economic and housing growth. So we are limited to a bit here, a bit there and housing where we can."
DEVELOPING Green Belt land to accommodate additional housing and jobs could prove to be the most contentious element of the Local Plan.
Wycombe District Council has admitted it cannot see a way of meeting growth without building within the Green Belt.
Once the public consultation has come to an end, the council will carry out a review of both its own Green Belt land - as well as work with neighbouring authorities to see if they could take some of the burden on the area.
Cllr Marshall said: "We have to do it with our neighbouring authorities. If we look at what we can deliver, we don’t think we will have the capabilities to deliver it all.
"So we then have to go to our neighbours to see if they can help.
"If we haven’t had a thorough look at our patch first, and they will be looking, they will turn around and say ‘look again’. We have to do it."
According to figures provided by the council, the protected Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers 71 percent of the district. That, coupled with the area’s topography, makes development difficult.
Cllr Marshall added: "It’s a difficult one, you look at the map and there’s a lot of Green Belt in [South Bucks District Council’s] plot but we have a very limited scope, a little patch down the south-east we can look at."
A council statement added: "If we don't look at the Green Belt, any plan we put forward is likely to be rejected. Right now we are exploring all options."
Residents in Bourne End and Wooburn Green had already been in touch to suggest an area of land they would be happier to sacrifice, as opposed to the Slade Meadow site put forward (below).
ESSENTIAL infrastructure upgrades would have to be funded by a new development or it might not be allowed to go ahead, the council said.
WDC’s Leader Cllr Richard Scott said if a new development required any new roads, schools or doctors' surgeries to make it sustainable; the infrastructure would have to be funded by the development.
If not, it would impact upon the council's decision-making abilities with a site potentially being deemed unacceptable and ruled out as a result.
He said: "The argument we could use is - if we are to do x we need the infrastructure, if we haven’t got the infrastructure we can’t...
"If we say to a developer, we can’t do this unless you put in a new road or a new railway, whatever, that is clearly an argument to say we can’t do it."
Penelope Toillitt added some developments have been estimated to cost in the tens-of-millions which would not be funded by the development.
She said: "That raises questions about how we deal with the balance - are there other sources? Do we talk to the LEP? Are there government funds?
"If the infrastructure is too expensive to the point it makes it unviable, that’s when we say it’s a real constraint."
So what about the district’s existing infrastructure? Residents and groups have been campaigning for the road network to be improved and for Accident and Emergency to be reinstated at Wycombe Hospital.
Cllr Marshall said WDC takes its lead from Buckinghamshire County Council about the roads, while power, water and other service providers assessed the council’s plans and then drew up their own to match up.
WDC planning officers said the hospital service was a "higher debate".
WDC has put forward four ‘reserve sites’ - pieces of land not in the Green Belt on the edge of towns and villages that have been previously identified as development sites - for consideration in High Wycombe.
Abbey Barn South could provide about 450 homes, new businesses and open spaces.
Abbey Barn North could host around 75 new homes and a nature reserve.
Terriers Farm between Hazlemere and Terriers could play home to about 400 homes, as well as sports pitches and transport measures in the area.
Gomm Valley and Ashwells, like Terriers Farm, is deemed to be a sensitive site but it could provide 400 new homes, job opportunities and an extended nature reserve. Most of the area would remain untouched.
The council is also consulting the public over three potential new employment sites in High Wycombe.
These are: Land to the north of Heath End Road at Junction 3a of the M40. The land is in the Green Belt and would require heavy investment - but it would be a major economic development opportunity, the council says.
Wycombe Air Park will be kept open but WDC believes it could make better use of the existing building space already on the site.
Buckmaster Playing Fields in Booker could be transformed into employment space if another site could be found for the playing fields.
Large scale housing is "probably a no-no" in Marlow, WDC Leader Cllr Richard Scott has said, but the Westhorpe Interchange near Westhorpe House could be a long-term site for additional employment.
It is, however, within the Green Belt and visible from the Chiltern AONB so it would need to be a 'sensitive development'.
The council has a reserve site in Slade Meadow - the field which seperates Bourne End and Wooburn.
Part of the site is a village green and it is also in the floodplain but the council believes it could host 175 new homes and maintain the green feel.
Could face large-scale development with planning honchos stating it holds the "greatest potential" out of all the district centres.
The single largest housing development site opportunity put forward by WDC is an area of land to the north-west of Risborough between the town and Longwick.
The plot could host anywhere between 2000 and 2500 homes but it would have to be built to ‘garden city’ principles of well-designed, energy efficient homes with good routes for walking and cycling.
As many jobs as possible would have to be attracted to the area to cut down on commuting and at least one new school and doctors’ surgery would need to be built. Any development would take over a decade.
Picks Mill Farm could accommodate 450 homes, which could dovetail with land north of Longwick Road which could hold up to 1000 homes.
Picts Lane and the Princes Estate could offer additional homes and jobs, while the Longwick Road employment area could be expanded.
Cllr Neil Marshall said while Risborough offers the greatest scope for development it also throws up dilemmas - as the town is not seen as a business destination.
He said: "Risborough certainly has the greatest potential. The difficulty is Risborough is it’s not where business wants to be.
"So it’s all very well to plan homes there, but if we can’t attract business and it leads to commuting, is that the right solution?"
Planning bosses said a development of 2500 homes would require significant infrastructure investment which would not be covered by the development. It could cost £27m to put in a suitable road network.
Penelope Toillitt said: "We don’t even know if that’s viable, there are some real questions of deliverability even if we decide it is sustainably desirable."
Saunderton, Stokenchurch and Kimble have also be considered by WDC but due to the Chilterns AONB and lack of facilities in those places development would seem unlikely.
Council chiefs have also explored the possibility of a new town above Risborough near Terrick.
EVERY home and business in the Wycombe District will this week receive a booklet outlining the options of the Local Plan.
Residents are asked to consider the merits of six main options - build in towns, build on brownfield sites, build on reserve sites, expand villages, consider the use of Green Belt land and expand Princes Risborough.
A host of exhibitions and workshops will be held across the district between February and March, with the consultation closing on April 4.
The first exhibition will be held in the High Wycombe Library in Eden between February 11 and March 15.
Residents can email their views to firstname.lastname@example.org, call 01494 421158, tweet @wycombedcnlp or write to the council’s headquarters in Queen Victoria Road, High Wycombe.
Visit www.wycombe.gov.uk/newlocalplan for a complete overview of the options, take part in the consultation and for details about the exhibitions dates and venues.
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