Written evidence submitted by the Beaconsfield Society [FPS 130]

1. Is the current planning system working as it should do? What changes might need to be made? Are the Government’s proposals the right approach?

The general feeling in our town is that the planning process is biased in favour of developers. This is because developers have pre-application meetings with planning officers and private meetings throughout the process of their planning applications. The public cannot see what goes on in these meetings.


The only way planning applications can be heard by the planning committee is if a Unitary Councillor calls it in.


Planning Committees feel pressurised to grant applications due to the cost of appeals.


A public speaker can only address the planning committee for 3 MINUTES! No powerpoint or other visual presentations are allowed.


Councillors who sit on planning committees usually appear not to have read the applications and objection letters. They seem very unfamiliar with planning policy.


The “viability” loophole allows developers to easily avoid providing affordable housing. They can input the “existing use plus” value of the land rather than the price they actually paid, meaning that their costs are made to look hugely inflated in their viability statements. This means they can avoid affordable housing.


It takes a long time between an application being validated and being decided. As an example, an application to satisfy a condition validated in June hasn’t been listed yet for a decision. And the weekly planning lists are very short at the moment.


Developers sit on planning consents for a long time and land bank.


Reliance on developers for infrastructure is a problem. As an example, SBDC planning ref 17/01763/OUT was granted with a s.106 Agreement which obliges the developer to build part of a relief road by the time the 99th home (of 304) is occupied. The council have already completed their section of the road but cannot now compel the road to be finished by the

developer. It is a “road to nowhere” and the developer hasn’t even started building. They’ve owned the land for 6 years.


The standard methodology for determining housing “need” is ridiculous. In our area of South Bucks, the uplift would be almost 100% (double the ONS actual housing need figures). This is an absolute nonsense. It does not address affordability because developers build to the market, land-bank and land is expensive. It just doesn’t work.


The standard methodology acts as an inhibitor rather than enabling Local Plans because it has no basis in reality.

The definition of affordable housing isn’t affordable in areas where land is expensive – only social housing would work.


Green Belt and SACs must genuinely be protected, not subject to “restricted development.”


There is insufficient importance attached to climate change, the environment, sustainability and biodiversity.


SEAs, HRAs and Sustainability Assessments must be retained.


Full public participation in planning applications and Local Plan processes must be retained as currently and strengthened.


The proposals would make the system MORE biased in favour of developers and largely remove the voice of local communities which is already difficult to hear. This is unacceptable.


We suggest addressing the problems we’ve listed above and in our 2 consultation responses on the planning reforms. The planning reforms DO NOT resolve these problems, they make them WORSE.


It is essential that the public examination stage of Local Plans continues. “Self-assessment” by LPAs is an outrageous proposal, completely undemocratic.


2. In seeking to build 300,000 homes a year, is the greatest obstacle the planning system or the subsequent build-out of properties with permission?

The figure of 300,000 homes has never been justified. This number of homes is not needed according to ONS.

Hundreds of thousands of planning permissions remain un-implemented. The problem is the subsequent build-out of properties with permission.

The greatest obstacle is the standard methodology which imposes a completely unjustified crazily uplifted number of homes which would never address affordability.

3. How can the planning system ensure that buildings are beautiful and fit for purpose?

By imposing building safety, space and quality standards. We do not believe that “beauty” guidelines would work because this is too subjective. Design is the least of the problems, other issues are far more important.

4. What approach should be used to determine the housing need and requirement of a local authority?

Use the latest ONS figures, no uplift.

5. What is the best approach to ensure public engagement in the planning system? What role should modern technology and data play in this?

LPAs and Town/Parish Councils should publish planning lists on parish/town noticeboards, in town halls and in libraries. They should also email copies (with clickable links through to each application) to civic societies and anyone who asks to be on the e-mail list – and post to those who request postal copies. Planning notices should also be put up on site.

Bucks Council’s “Objective” portal is not fit for purpose for making and reading comments and many can’t use it. The search facility doesn’t work properly and data input by the council is unreliable.

Some plans are so large that they cannot be opened on personal PCs. Hard copies and documents must remain available to view.

By all means use tech but it must be good tech – and the existing document based systems must continue in tandem for those who can’t use technology.

6. How can the planning system ensure adequate and reasonable protection for areas and buildings of environmental, historical, and architectural importance?

Retain REAL protections for Conservation Areas, SACs, Green Belt, AONBs, SSSIs, no ifs or buts. Retain requirements for HRAs, SEAs and Sustainability Assessments.

Do not use idiotic standard methodology that imposes unjustified housing need figures with massive uplifts  - this threatens treasured landscapes and inhibits Plan making.

7. What changes, if any, are needed to the green belt?

Retain it all. Proper protection will help levelling up and regeneration of degraded brownfield sites. The planning proposals are seriously alienating the electorate.

Release of green belt is not needed, there is sufficient brownfield land available to satisfy housing need. There are hundreds of thousands of planning consents which haven’t been implemented. Developers sit on land and land bank.

Its release would not help affordability in the slightest.

8. What progress has been made since the Committee’s 2018 report on capturing land value and how might the proposals improve outcomes? What further steps might also be needed?

No comment.


October 2020