Newly-elected Tory MP lobbies housing secretary to call in Bucks local plan

A newly-elected Conservative MP has written to housing secretary Robert Jenrick requesting that the emerging Chiltern and South Bucks local plan be called in, claiming that the strategy is needlessly proposing the development of green belt land.

Joy Morrissey, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield. Pic: AJ Cornett
Joy Morrissey, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield. Pic: AJ Cornett

Joy Morrissey, the MP for Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, made the request just a week after winning her seat at the 2019 general election, replacing former attorney general Dominic Grieve. 

Grieve ran as an independent after having the Tory whip removed over his stance on a no-deal Brexit. 

Morrissey wrote to housing secretary Robert Jenrick on 19 December to raise concerns about proposals within the Chiltern and South Bucks local plan to use green belt land for development and a lack of infrastructure provision to cope with the proposed level of housing growth.

"While I fully appreciate the requirement for local plans which support house building in my constituency, it is clear to me and my constituents that the current proposals are poor for two main reasons," she wrote.

"Firstly, the plan requires construction on the green belt. I believe that it is government policy that building on the green belt should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances. Yet this plan will see parts of the green belt released for construction even though there are plenty of brownfield sites that are suitable for development. 

"Secondly, the plan does [not] provide sufficient improvements in infrastructure to meet the increasing demand. Most noticeably the busy train and road links around the town of Beaconsfield are already insufficient for the number of residents and the construction of 15,260 new homes over the next 17 years will inevitably put further strain on this inadequate infrastructure adversely affecting residents.

"Principally for these two reasons, I request that you exercise your powers of call-in."

Consultation on the Chiltern and South Bucks local plan took place this summer and the plan was submitted for examination on 26 September 2019.

The plan proposes the release of green belt land to accommodate 5,200 homes, more than a third of the plan’s total housing target over 20 years. 

"We are focussing development on our built-up areas and on previously developed land, but will need to supplement this with green belt releases where sustainable built area extensions can be achieved," the plan states. 

A spokeswoman for Chiltern and South Bucks District Councils said: "We are aware of the letter from Joy Morrissey MP to the secretary of state asking him to exercise his power to call-in the local plan for his determination.  

"The council is in the process of responding to that letter and writing to the secretary of state indicating that a call-in at this stage would be premature and that the most appropriate course for the local plan would be to allow the appointed inspectors to conduct the examination into the plan and rigorously test the evidence upon which the plan is prepared."

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a statement in response to a request from Planning which said the plan will be "carefully considered by the independent inspector to determine whether it meets the specific tests of soundness" and a "decision will be announced in due course".

David Bainbridge, a planning director at consultancy Savills, said the call-in request was notable given the early stage of the local plan’s examination process.

"It’s unusual in that we haven’t really got into the detail of the examination yet," he said. "Already, you’ve got one MP asking the secretary of state to consider taking the plan in for his own determination rather than waiting for due process."

Bainbridge said he felt it was unlikely that Jenrick would decide to call in the plan at this stage. "But he could revisit that in two, three, or four months time," he added.

In October, Jenrick made a last minute intervention in the South Oxfordshire local plan process, issuing a holding direction that prevents the council adopting the plan while the housing secretary considers whether to call it in.

In March, Jenrick’s predecessor James Brokenshire lifted a 16-month holding direction that had prevented adoption of the Stevenage local plan.

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