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Planning reforms better for Chilterns

Friday 30 March 2012

“The Government’s new planning polices published on Tuesday are a great improvement on their earlier version,” said Mike Fox, Chairman of the Chilterns Conservation Board.

“The Board is relieved that the Government has listened to the ferocious criticism of its earlier plans to completely overhaul the planning system, which would have left the countryside vulnerable to poor quality development and long term damage to the environment.”

“The revised polices are much better than the draft and retain much of what was good about the previous system” said Colin White, the Board’s Planning Officer. ”Simplifying planning policies is not in itself a bad thing as long as you keep much of the detail that is necessary to safeguard the environment as the public would expect.”

The Board was concerned that the earlier draft would have meant much weaker protection for the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the environment in general.

A number of important changes have been made to the draft, some of which respond to concerns that the Board and others had expressed.

These include:

  •  The primacy of the local plan is retained, ensuring that proposals must be consistent with the development plan.
  •  A better definition of sustainable development, based on the 2005 sustainable development strategy.
  •  The expectation that previously developed land will, in general be developed before green field sites.
  •  The removal of the default ‘yes’ to development where there is no plan.
  •  A reference to the ‘intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside’, which recognises the importance of countryside outside designated areas.
  •  Confirmation that existing plans will remain in force while the new policy framework is introduced, and that there will be a one-year transition for the preparation of new plans - though this is considered to be a very short period of grace.
  •  Recognition that it is proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness when considering the design of new development.

All these changes are considered to improve the document. However, the Board remains concerned that, in practice, there are still many grey areas. Application of the new planning policies may be fraught and many decisions will be decided on appeal or even in the courts.

Bettina Kirkham, chairman of the Board’s Planning Committee, said: “We welcome the emphasis on good design and will continue to support development for local needs as long as it also conserves the special character of the Chilterns.”  

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