Send your news, photos and videos by texting bucksfreepress to 80360 or email
Wooburn homes plan halted but not thrown out
THE brakes have been jammed on plans for 26 new homes on 'special' land around an old railway line – but may only stop developers briefly.
Councillors last night tried rejecting the Wooburn Green proposal but the meeting took a bizarre twist as they were told they could not simply vote against it.
Planning chairman Cllr Neil Marshall said for the refusal to be carried through committee members must clearly state firm reasons which would stand up in an appeal.
Despite a vote of six to four to throw out the plan, another lengthy debate ensued about what grounds the refusal were on. Fears were expressed that the council – and taxpayer – was highly likely to face a large bill if developers appealed the decision unless some steadfast, robust objections were lodged.
In another strange turn of events planning officer Alistair Nicholson invoked a rarely used clause which would mean councillors could say they were 'minded to refuse' the plan and refer it to a scrutinising committee.
He said this would be a way to get around the dilemma councillors were facing and his suggestion was backed by seven votes to five.
Now, the proposal will go to Wycombe District Council's appeal and regulatory committee.
The proposals were fiercely opposed at the meeting from two perspectives.
Firstly, opponents said it would destroy any chance of resurrecting the railway line, which could solve problems with the area's congested roads and provide a huge economic boost.
In fact, the reasons outlined for being minded to refuse the application in the end centred on the rail line and its potential to link up with the £15billion Cross Rail scheme which will run from Maidenhead to London.
Residents also opposed the plans, fearing the impact on their privacy, the character of the area and increasing parking problems.
The site has been a major development battleground for over 20 years.
There have been two prior applications and two appeals, both of which were dismissed.
A LEADING campaigner against the new housing proposal lambasted the planning process, calling it a 'joke'.
Alistair Booth, 27, of Wycombe Lane, spoke at the meeting to emphasise residents' deep rooted opposition to the homes being proposed.
Neighbours argue the development will overlook and overshadow their back gardens, as well as create more parking problems and destroy a thriving wildlife habitat.
The management consultant, and about 20 other householders who attended the meeting, were left bemused and frustrated at seeing councillors voting to reject it, only to be told their vote had to be backed up by reasons for refusal.
He told the BFP: “I think the process is a bit of a joke. We had the vote then immediately it became a consultation within the committee about having a reason to refuse.
“They can't just accept that the fact councillors wanted to refuse it and that democracy says it was a refusal.
“I think it's going to go through anyway, the fact they've invoked this process which no one else seems to know about.
"They'll just decide they don't want to pay the costs they think will come.
“It's a bit demoralising to come and speak and then none of the points seem to be accepted.”
High Wycombe Society spokesman Nigel Phillips told councillors: “Nobody wants this development.”
The proposal will “seriously jeopardise” the chances of a light rail system or another revival of the old railway line, he said.
“There's no viable public transport to fill the missing link,” he said.
He told councillors: “Don't throw away this opportunity for future generations.”
He added it would create an “unstoppable precedent” for housing.
The arguments put forward to reject the plans won favour with a number of councillors during a 90 minute debate.
Cllr Ian Turner, independent, said: “This is probably the most universally unpopular development that has come before us.”
However, the discussion kept coming back to fears the council could face paying out significant sums at a planning appeal because of the guidance inspectors had laid down on previous applications for the site.
Cllr David Johncock, Conservative, said: “I feel we are in an impossible position here. Two inquiries have relayed how we should vote, whether we want to or not.
“I can't see how this design meets our own ambitions in the long term but I don't know how you address that if it comes to appeal. The inspector has tied our hands behind our backs.”
He said a resurrection of the rail line could solve the traffic chaos on London Road.
Cllr Clive Harriss, Conservative, said: “The war is over, we are now negotiating the surrender, that's how I see it.”
Cllr Ian Bates, Labour, said it would be a 'gamble' to reject it because of the potential ramifications of the appeal.
Henry Homes Ltd pointed out that previous guidance from the planning inspector showed the proposal was considered acceptable.
The report by council officers had recommended the plans be approved so long as the developer agrees to a Planning Obligation, which would include a financial contribution towards infrastructure.
Planning officer Lucy Bellinger said parking was considered sufficient.