Last night, Wycombe District Council’s cabinet met to debate RARA’s petition for a better town plan. RARA were permitted five minutes to make a statement, after which the cabinet member for planning, Councillor David Johncock, made his own statement and took questions from his fellow councillors. You can read RARA’s full statement below.

RARA are very disappointed with the comments made by Councillor Johncock during the course of the debate. Unfortunately, RARA were not permitted to respond – this is due to Wycombe District Council’s constitution, which limits citizens to making a five minute statement at the start of the process.

We will be publishing Councillor Johncock’s full statement in due course, along with our response.

—-  RARA STATEMENT TO WYCOMBE DISTRICT COUNCIL CABINET

Good evening councillors and thank you for listening to this presentation.

RARA are here to present the case for the reduction in scale of the Princes Risborough Town Plan, the cornerstone of the petition, which now represents over 50% of the electorate of the Risborough area.

Our petition focuses on three areas: It asks WDC:

  • To reconsider its plan for Princes Risborough, and propose a lower scale of development;
  • Investigate better solutions for the Wycombe District that makes better use of available land;
  • Properly consult with local residents on future proposals and act on their views and feedback.

RARA fully recognise that, for the moment, national policy is to boost significantly the supply of housing; to build more homes; to fix the broken housing market.

However, RARA cannot support the Council’s proposal to expand Princes Risborough by 2,600 houses – it is bad in terms of planning; bad in terms of the environment; bad in terms of sustainability. And it is bad politics too – to ignore overwhelming local feeling in an age of so-called localism.

And what is more, it is wholly unnecessary. There is no need to inflict this pain on Risborough – as national planning policy makes quite clear. And there is every need to look at more sustainable alternatives before you even contemplate doing so as the law makes quite clear.

That is because “fixing the broken housing market” does not mean one abandons principles of sound planning and sustainable development; it makes it even more important that these principles are followed – so that we build the homes which are needed in the right place – in sustainable locations where homes can be matched with jobs and reduce reliance on the car; and in locations where grave damage will not be done to the environment or to valued landscapes.

This is central to current national policy. It is why the NPPF states in terms, at paragraph 14, that it is sustainability which is the golden thread which runs throughout our planning system – and that all three pillars of sustainability must be met – social, economic and environmental.

That paragraph of the NPPF goes on to state precisely what this means for Plan-making and makes it absolutely clear that Local Planning Authorities do not have to make Plans to meet their full housing needs if their area is constrained by Green Belt or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

This district is, of course, heavily constrained.  It is exactly the type of place which Government policy protects from damaging development. Paragraphs 109 and 115 of the NPPF make this plain: the planning system is there to protect and enhance valued landscapes, not destroy it.

And the scale of building proposed for Princes Risborough is unsustainable. The proposal is not to match homes with jobs. It will clearly lead to increased road usage and reliance on the car.  That is why you are proposing a relief road that is so opposed; opposed because it is completely contrary to the golden thread of sustainable development.

And before you make any decision to allocate so many homes in such an unsustainable location you must, as a matter of law, test the sustainability of what you propose against all reasonable alternatives – and they plainly include meeting less housing need than the Council is planning for; and meeting that need with less damaging, more sustainable, locations and better integration.. This you have so far failed to do.

Indeed, we have been told the figure of 2,600 homes is “non-negotiable”. That is not evidence of a consultation entered into in good faith and with an open mind, not evidence of a willingness to be persuaded. It is evidence of a closed mind, of pre-determination, and, alongside other matters we have raised with you, would lead any reasonable observer to think that justice is not being done, nor being seen to be done.

We fully understand the political reality but cannot understand when considering the sustainable and economic reasons how Princes Risborough has somehow ended up high on WDC’s list. WDC need to be very sure about their local plan before submitting it to the examiner in the early part of 2018, in order to avoid the collapse of this plan and the serious risk of legal challenge. It is vital you get it right now.

Thank you

I leave copies of this presentation for you and will be sharing this with the BFP and local media.

—-  END