Inspector 'severely troubled' over Aylesbury Vale local plan's Oxbridge expressway 'uncertainty'

A planning inspector examining the Aylesbury Vale local plan has warned that "further work" is needed before the document can be found sound and recommended that the housing target is increased by about 15 per cent.

The Vale of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Pic: Martin Pettitt, Wikipedia
The Vale of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Pic: Martin Pettitt, Wikipedia

In his interim findings on the draft Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan (VALP), inspector Paul Clark advised that he was "severely troubled" by proposals to review the plan soon after adoption to take into account a government announcement on the route of the Oxford to Cambridge expressway.

The government was due to confirm the route for the Oxford to Cambridge expressway over the summer but it was eventually announced in September - after the Aylesbury Vale local plan was submitted for examination.

Clark raised worries that the expressway's impact on housing need had not been adequately considered. He questioned why a report by the government's infrastructure advisor, the National Infrastructure Commission, on the growth arc had informed work to identify the need for employment land but not for housing.

This, among other concerns including migration and affordability, led Clark to suggest the plan’s housing requirement should be increased from 27,400 to 31,500.

On the issue of the plan review, he wrote: "Whilst inspectors are generally willing to find a plan sound where one or two finite issues remain unresolved and are relatively peripheral to the main thrust of the plan, it appears that the consequences of an impending government decision on the route of the Oxford- Cambridge expressway are expected to lead to a fundamental review of the plan’s development strategy."

Clark went on to say: "Predictable events should be planned for. Both Heathrow expansion and the Oxford-Cambridge expressway are predictable, known, events. Only the route of the latter is not yet fixed. To be sound, VALP should make contingency plans to accommodate them, not simply abandon its function to a future review of uncertain timescale."

He warned: "I have sufficient concerns to advise you that VALP requires some further work before it can be found sound."

In its response to the inspector’s findings, published last month, Aylesbury Vale cited a letter sent by housing minister Kit Malthouse, which urged councils to submit proposals for new settlements in the region, and a subsequent email sent by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's deputy director for regeneration and infrastructure Rachel Fisher which apologised for "any confusion" and informed councils that identification of new settlements would be "a long term process".

"On this basis, Aylesbury Vale District Council considers that the government’s exact intentions for the corridor are very unclear, and there is no current information as to the timescale to be applied," wrote the authority, adding that "an approach based on inchoate potential policy is not a suitable basis for preparing a local plan for adoption in the near future".

Due to "significant uncertainty" over the route of the expressway, Aylesbury Vale said it had chosen "not to commit scarce resources to evaluating multiple sites for significant growth".

The inspector will now consider Aylesbury Vale’s response and has informed the council that any changes to his interim findings will be outlined in the coming days.

The council withdrew a previous local plan in 2014 for failing to meet the Localism Act's duty to cooperate. An inspector told the authority that its local plan, covering the period up to 2031, did not address potential housing need generated by neighbouring districts in the housing market area, while its housing target of 13,850 new homes was too low.

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