A court date for Hampden Fields.  And is ‘Woodlands’ safe from flooding?

We have now heard that our claim for judicial review of the Hampden Fields decision is to come before the court on 23  and 24 February.  Work to prepare for this is continuing. We will keep you informed

On the proposed ‘Woodlands’ development that adjoins Hampden Fields, we are not alone in having concerns about the risk of flooding.

The site lies on the north side of the A41 and includes an estate of 1,100 houses.  The area is on a flood plain, with the Bear Brook, Burcott Brook and Drayton Mead Ditch all flowing through or round it.  The developer (basically Buckinghamshire Council itself) therefore has to conduct a detailed and thorough Flood Risk Assessment to test the risks and make sure that houses, roads, and other public areas are safe.

Well, they are now on the fourth go at this piece of vital work.  Having worked on it since 2016, they have still not been able to satisfy the Environment Agency that the Assessment is sound.  In a recent letter, the EA stated,  “In the absence of an acceptable Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) we maintain our objection to this application and recommend that planning permission is refused.”

They went on to say that the FRA did not “adequately assess the flood risks posed by the development.”  This, after years to get it right.  

Even if the developers find a way to convince the EA and get the assessment approved, the fact that it has taken so long and so much effort to work this out leaves us with a worry about their competence. Flooding is not 100% predictable, as we have seen many times, not least in Weston Turville last year.  How safe will Woodlands be?  What difficulties might the owners of the 1,100 new properties face in getting their new homes insured?  What will be the impact of Woodlands on neighbouring areas including ‘Hampden Fields’ and downstream towards Aylesbury and beyond? 

We are, of course, raising this with the planning authority and the Environment Agency.  

SAFETY OF PLANNED ROAD CHALLENGED AT PUBLIC ENQUIRY

At a recent public inquiry, the safety of the planned Southeast Aylesbury Link Road (SEALR) was again called into question.  

HFAG made strong representations to the Buckinghamshire Council planning committee in January 2021 on this very topic. Quoting the council’s own Road Safety Audit, we pointed out our concern that on the SEALR – a one-mile straight stretch of dual carriageway — vehicles would be very likely to travel at excessive speed.  The same point was made by Thames Valley Police, who expect some drivers to go at “much higher speeds” than intended by the designers. 

Those designers and the wider council ignored these warnings and concerns.  They have refused to alter the straightness of the road, arguing that ‘constraints of the scheme’ justify their decision.  

Just as bad is that the SEALR is not even going to have laybys for speed enforcement vehicles. These had been requested by the police as a second best to provide at least “some deterrent strategy”. Talk about planning to fail!

These points and others were strongly made by Phil Yerby supporting local residents at the public enquiry into a compulsory purchase order required for the SEALR scheme.  Whether the planning Inspector accepts these arguments or not, they have at least been made in public.  

There must be a concern that the Council could be building a new ‘Mad Mile’ at Aylesbury.  

BUNDLES, SKELETONS AND OTHER THINGS

Our Judicial Review case recently came forward to The Honourable Mr Justice Dove. He has ruled that the Planning Court will be asked to decide whether to grant us permission to make the case.  If it does, the formal hearing will take place immediately.  We naturally hope that permission will be granted so that our case can be heard in court. 

The judge also ruled that the court may take account of statements from two NHS senior managers. The Council wanted them disregarded. The statements strongly support our case over the inadequate provision for healthcare. 

It has also been confirmed that the costs we would have to pay to the Council if we were to lose would be limited to £10,000. We expected this, but it’s good to have it confirmed.  

Bundles? They are the groups of documents from which the court will need to work.  Mr Justice Dove rules that both sides need to agree what is most relevant – could be an interesting process.  

And skeletons? These are summaries of the main points each side wishes to make – what you might call the bare bones of their case.  (No Hallowe’en jokes, please!) 

JUDICIAL REVIEW LATEST, AND HFAG OBJECT TO WOODLANDS OVER HEALTHCARE 

Our Claimant’s Reply to Bucks Council’s long-winded defence over ‘Hampden Fields’ went to the court on 21 September. Despite the council’s many pages, our barrister feels that they have not been able to put up a good defence against our case.  In fact, they exposed themselves to a new angle of attack, which our barrister has now added to our claim papers.  

(When we say, ‘long-winded’, we mean just that. At 543 pages, the council’s defence submission and a witness statement from developer Taylor Wimpey are many times longer than our barrister’s closely argued 49 pages. We believe that the court will not be impressed by the council’s book-length submission when compared to our case, which has clarity and impact. Especially when, for example, Bucks and Taylor Wimpey aren’t even consistent with one another! But we suspect a deliberate tactic here, namely piling up extra papers that our lawyers must work through, which adds to our costs.)

We now await the judge’s decision whether to grant permission for us to proceed to the hearing itself.  

In other news, on 3 October HFAG made a further strong objection to the ‘Woodlands’ application.  As with ‘Hampden Fields’, a developer is rejecting the NHS’s reasonable requests for funds to alleviate the adverse impacts of the increased population.  The Woodands scheme includes up to 1,100 new dwellings. All those residents will expect adequate GP / clinic / hospital facilities. Our letter contains six strong arguments on this.   

Stay in touch with these and other topics on hfag.net.

Is there a risk of flooding at Hampden Fields and Woodlands?

HFAG have written to the Environment Agency and Bucks Council to express concern over the risk of flooding affecting Woodlands and Hampden Fields.  The technicalities are complex, but basically the Woodlands developer (in effect, Bucks Council!) appears to be using an out of date flood map, which conveniently favours their case, rather than the more recent Environment Agency one, which doesn’t.  

Furthermore, the recently adopted Vale Plan bans development on a flood plain.  Yet, in a delicious irony, that is just what is proposed for Woodlands, a major part of area AGT3 contained in … er … the Vale Plan. The Council’s proposed development may therefore be in breach of their own latest policy!  Not to mention the National Planning Policy Framework and the Aston Clinton Neighbourhood Plan.

Finally, the developer’s flood map worryingly shows an increased risk of flooding affecting the Hampden Fields area.  This could have an adverse impact on the surface water drainage for that estate.  If you need any reminders of what that can mean, here are some images courtesy of Vicki Walker.

All these points and more have been clearly set out in our letters.  


STOP PRESS:
The Environment Agency has today (24/9) written to the Council maintaining their objection to the development on grounds of flood risk. 

Part of the ‘Hampden Fields’ site, July 2021
Part of the ‘Hampden Fields’ site, July 2021

CLAIM, DEFENCE, REBUTTAL

Our Judicial Review case continues.  As predicted in our 19 August update, the council has now put in their defence against our claim. We have examined this in detail. Many of the points the council seek to make are inaccurate, incomplete, or even in some cases appear to have little to do with our claim.  

A major focus of the case is the inadequacy of healthcare provision in the ‘Hampden Fields’ proposal and how this has been mishandled by the council.  The importance of adequate future healthcare facilities goes without saying.  

So, we are working closely with our solicitors and barrister to prepare the most carefully thought-through and most strongly expressed rebuttal of the council’s latest statement.

As always, if you have any questions about this case, do get in touch via info@hfag.net.

Best wishes from Chris, Glynn, John, Peter, Phil and Roger

Inspector finally approves Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan, but criticises transport planning

After years of preparation and over three years of being examined by a Government Inspector, the VALP has finally been approved.  This, while disappointing, is not surprising given the amount of effort that the Council have had to put into both creating and modifying the proposals.

It should be noted that the transport element of the Plan, which HFAG contested so long and hard, was subject to considerable criticism in the final report.  Here are some examples: 


The key infrastructure requirements on which delivery of the plan depends should be contained in the Local Plan itself. VALP does not do this and so is unsound as submitted.”

Again, “National Guidance calls for the preparation of a transport assessment at a number of stages in the preparation of a local plan, the first being as part of the initial evidence base in terms of issues and opportunities. This stage seems to have been omitted from the process of preparing VALP.”

“It is not clear that the [transport] schemes were originally conceived with that purpose [mitigating the problems identified in 2016] in mind.  In consequence, the nature of the issues or problems which the transport schemes are seeking to address is hidden.”

“The [Aylesbury Transport] model is not well calibrated…”

“There will also need to be a focus on improving north/south connectivity to enable the district to function better in relation to national highway networks and rail networks but there is no identifiable highway proposal in pursuit of this objective.”

This is small consolation for everyone who worked so hard for better transport and a better VALP, but at least it shows that the campaign was well worth pursuing.

“So, what happens now?”

Well, not “another suitcase in another hall”, anyway!

Now that our legal challenge to Bucks Council over the grant of outline planning permission to the Hampden Fields development has been lodged with the court, we now await several things.

First is any defence that the Council wish to offer. This will be reviewed by our legal team (solicitors Richard Buxton of Cambridge and barrister Jack Parker of Cornerstone Barristers at Gray’s Inn Square, London). Any rebuttal arguments and evidence will be prepared to take the case forward. One of the key next steps will be to await the judge’s decision as to granting us permission to pursue the Judicial Review.

(‘The court’, incidentally, is the Planning Court in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice. This is a serious case.)

But, while our prime focus is naturally on the Judicial Review, that does not mean that we are taking our eyes of the ball in other areas. One of our committee checks constantly for anything on the ‘Woodlands’ planning portal. (More on this next week.) Another keeps track of anything relating to the ongoing Examination of the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan VALP. And we are always looking for any suitable opportunity to press our case publicly.

Quite a bit happening, actually. Thanks for staying in touch.

9 August update: Our Judicial Review case goes in

Thanks to the astounding financial support given by hundreds of people we have now been able to go ahead with seeking Judicial Review (JR) of the Hampden Fields development. The law requires a JR application to be submitted to the court no more than six weeks from the date of planning permission being granted. In that time, the money was raised, a recommended firm of solicitors was selected and a barrister with particular expertise in this type of case was engaged, their advice taken, and many documents, chronology and legal grounds were considered and analysed to ensure that we had the strongest possible strong case. The papers were submitted to the Court on 5 August, inside the time limit.

It is important to understand that a JR is not a re-run of the merits of the decision made by Bucks Council but a challenge to the lawfulness of that decision. A council (the defendant in this case) may well submit “summary grounds of defence” to try to explain why it is unarguable and that permission for JR should not be granted. We then wait for a judge to grant or refuse permission to proceed to the next stage. This may take several weeks, and we are naturally hopeful of success.

This is just the beginning of what could be a long process. Again, thanks for the support that everyone gave to enable us to achieve our financial target. It was a tremendous effort not just by local people but from a remarkable number of areas of the country.

We will keep you informed each week on this website and via social media. There may be some weeks when nothing has happened, but check in anyway so as not to miss any developments. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch via info@hfag.net.

“That’s great news!” “Brilliant. Thanks so much” “Brill news!” “How exciting to have won such a wonderful prize!”

The Midsummer MegaRaffle draw was held on 30 June. It has been a pleasure to offer people the chance to win one of the great prizes as well as supporting the campaign. 102 people bought tickets and a splendid £1,000 was raised. Thank you to everyone who joined in. Here are the winners. We congratulate them all:

Spitfire / Messerschmitt simulator experience Chris Barrow

Spa Day at Champneys Mark Webb

Chequers meal        Carolyn Rooth

Go Ape tickets     Beryl Hunter

Go Ape tickets Damien Campbell

Presentation bottle of gin Eric Green

John Lewis Vouchers  Linda Sanders

Wine and Cheese hamper from No 2 Pound Street      Sue Mayhew

Croquet session Sue and Rex Horton

Bottle of Claret       Victoria Bye

National Gardens Gift Token       Beth Adams

Two bottles of Fizz                     Jo White    

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