Princes Risborough Town Council met last night to agree their collective response to Wycombe District Council’s (WDC) local plan, which they will submit to the Planning Inspector as part of the final public consultation phase. Committee officers from Risborough Area Residents Association’s (RARA) were present to deliver a short statement on behalf members and supporters.

Before the things got started, town councillors (David Knights, and former independents Alan Turner and Gary Hall) made declarations of interest as they’re also Conservative district councillors. Alan Turner deserves special mention as he is deeply involved in local planning bureaucracy. As well as being a town councillor and district councillor, Alan also sits on the WDC planning committee and is the deputy cabinet member for planning – effectively the second most senior planning politician at WDC.

Town council chairman, Matt Walsh, who stood as a Conservative candidate in the 2015 District Council elections, then provided councillors with a document setting out the town council’s draft response to the local plan. To those RARA members present, it seemed that this was the first time many of the councillors had seen the document. This could account for the poor level of debate and scrutiny that we observed.

Before any material discussion of the document took place, David Knights spoke in defence of WDC. He stated that the local plan process had been hard for “every councillor, in every ward”. He went on to say that Conservative-controlled council had faced a “very difficult task” in trying to deliver the challenging housing targets set by central government, especially as the Wycombe District is so heavily constrained by AONB and Green Belt. As RARA has pointed out in previous posts, this ‘very difficult task’ is of WDC’s own making, and 24 similarly constrained councils from across the UK have agreed reduced housing target with central government.

The most surprising thing about the 90-minute long debate was that the number of new homes being proposed in the local plan was not discussed at any point . Yes, you read that correctly. The fact that WDC plan to build 3,000 new homes in Princes Risborough was not raised, let alone challenged, by a single councillor. This flies in the face of the 4,000+ local residents who signed our petition.

Instead the councillors focused on how they’d all done such a good job to date, and how the local plan should be supported, providing the amendments set out in the town council’s response document are agreed to and funded by WDC. It should be noted that the town council’s proposals are only required to mitigate against issues that have arisen because WDC are planning to build more homes that can be sustainably accommodated in Princes Risborough. 

One town/district councillor went on to suggest that we needed “mansions” so we could attract millionaires “like they have in Beaconsfield”. Affordable housing was also discussed, and despite some interesting ideas about discounted rents for people on low and minimum wage, it didn’t seem to dawn on councillors that the lack current and future employment prospects in the Risborough Area would mean those people would have to commute to the south of district by increasingly congested roads or travel on expensive and increasingly overcrowded trains. Building more homes in areas with employment opportunities and growth is a more sustainable approach for the Wycombe District.

Overall, the debate was dominated by the Conservative WDC councillors, although independent councillor Ian Pearce made some very valid points. Ultimately, the town council unanimously agreed the proposed response to the planning inspector. We look forward to reading it in detail when it’s published.

Also a few bombshells were dropped:

  • The local Clinical Commissioning Group, who are responsible for funding primary healthcare services, have declared that Risborough will not need any more GP surgeries to deal with the proposed 5,000 new people
  • Once councillor was aware of some developers having already completed traffic surveys, and deciding that building 3,000 new homes will not be a problem for road congestion. The local plan hasn’t even been adopted and developers are already looking to maximise profits at the town’s expense

 

It seems the Town Council is unwilling to robustly challenge Wycombe District’s Local Plan, despite considerable local dissatisfaction. RARA will continue to fight for a better town plan, and work on behalf of our manny supporters and the 4,000+ people who signed our petition.  To find out how you can have you say before the deadline of 27th November, visit our ‘Rescue Risborough’ page.