Aylesbury Vale Fails Duty to Cooperate over Milton Keynes Expansion

Letter here. (the link on the Council website is broken so this link is from the programme officers personal website)

The issue is why AV failed and MK did not.  The answer being that MK was expanding as much as it reasonably could within its boundaries.  This does not bode well for the review of the Central Beds plan.  Despite the lack of strategic planning major proposals such as the expansion of MK as seen in are creeping back by virtue of the DTC.

AV had of course withdrawn a previously submitted plan meeting housing needs and allowing for MK expansion  as they thought they believed Greg Clarke and not what the NPPF and localism act said – poor naive fellows.

In light of the duty to co-operate and the publication of the NPPF, the Council commissioned the Strategic Housing Market Assessment: Validation Study (the Validation Study) in May 2012. The Validation Study (published in February 2013) undertook a review of the HEGA, defined a sub-regional housing market area (HMA) and identified potential housing requirements across it. The Validation Study considered that Aylesbury Vale is most appropriately regarded as being within the Luton and Milton Keynes HMA which also includes the local authority areas of Milton Keynes, Central Bedfordshire, Bedford and Luton.

The District boundary adjoins the urban area of Milton Keynes, which is likely to continue to be a major focus for housing and economic growth. The relationship between Aylesbury Vale and the growth of Milton Keynes has long been recognised as a key issue, in particular the potential for future growth of the urban area, partly or wholly within Aylesbury Vale. The need for joint working and effective co-operation on this matter is clearly set out in the recent Inspector’s Report on the Milton Keynes Core Strategy (May 2013) and in the Core Strategy itself (Policy CS6) adopted in July 2013.

The duty to co-operate is not a duty to agree. In addition, whilst consideration must be given to joint working and the production of joint local development documents, these are not specific requirements of compliance with the duty. The lack of jointly produced evidence and the fact that a number of other local authorities continue to have concerns in respect of the level of housing provision set out in the Plan are not in themselves reasons to conclude that the Council has failed to comply with the duty. It is the actions of the Council in terms of co-operating to maximise the effectiveness of the preparation of the Plan which are critical to my consideration of the matter.

There is no Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) or other assessment of housing needs produced jointly with other authorities. The Validation Study and supplementary report which considered housing needs across the wider HMA were commissioned and produced solely on behalf of the Council. The conclusion that a joint SHMA or equivalent document was not a realistic proposition appears to have been reached on the basis of discussions with officers of the other authorities concerned. Other authorities were not formally approached to undertake joint work on housing needs and provision.

Its position on the matter had been clearly established whilst the Validation Study was still in preparation and the Council’s decision to submit the Plan on the basis of overall provision for 13,500 houses was made before adjoining authorities were consulted on the draft Validation Study and before the final report was published. The conclusions of the Validation Study were drawn in the context that the Proposed Submission version of the Plan was making provision for 13,500 houses [Policy based evidence clearly]….

The extent to which engagement, particular of the limited form undertaken, could
have genuinely influenced the overall level of housing provision appears to have been
minimal….

the duty to co-operate does not place an obligation on the Council to have agreed with other authorities in terms of the overall level of housing to be planned for in Aylesbury Vale or how any unmet needs from other authorities will be met. However, the nature of representations from other authorities is an indication as to what extent engagement has been constructive in resolving strategic issues.

A number of other authorities beyond the HMA raise concerns in respect of the overall
provision for housing and the implications for their areas. There are particular concerns in the case of Dacorum, Chiltern, Wycombe and South Bucks that the Plan does not give sufficient recognition to the interrelationships with Aylesbury Vale, constraints within these other areas and the potential need for Aylesbury Vale to accommodate some unmet housing needs.[These constraints are precisely why MK was proposed in the first place]

The key question is that of timing and the choice between having an adopted plan as
soon as possible or a plan that at the point of adoption, effectively resolves strategic
housing issues following genuine co-operation and collaboration with other authorities
based on constructive, active and ongoing engagement.

As it stands there are significant issues in terms of potential unmet needs from other
authorities and how they will be accommodated. There are particular issues concerning the relationship of Aylesbury Vale to Milton Keynes and its future growth. These issues have been left unresolved. The Council has been aware of these issues from early in the plan preparation process, if not before. There has been a substantial period of time since the duty to co-operate came into force and the NPPF was published. Whilst noting the lack of specific evidence on potential unmet needs from other authorities and accepting that collaboration and joint working is a two way
process, it is the Council’s duty, as the authority submitting the Plan for examination, to have sought to address these issues through constructive, active and ongoing engagement.

The key question is that of timing and the choice between having an adopted plan as
soon as possible or a plan that at the point of adoption, effectively resolves strategic
housing issues following genuine co-operation and collaboration with other authorities
based on constructive, active and ongoing engagement.

As it stands there are significant issues in terms of potential unmet needs from other
authorities and how they will be accommodated. There are particular issues
concerning the relationship of Aylesbury Vale to Milton Keynes and its future growth.
These issues have been left unresolved. The Council has been aware of these issues
from early in the plan preparation process, if not before. There has been a
substantial period of time since the duty to co-operate came into force and the NPPF
was published. Whilst noting the lack of specific evidence on potential unmet needs
from other authorities and accepting that collaboration and joint working is a two way
process, it is the Council’s duty, as the authority submitting the Plan for examination,
to have sought to address these issues through constructive, active and ongoing
engagement.

The key question is that of timing and the choice between having an adopted plan as
soon as possible or a plan that at the point of adoption, effectively resolves strategic
housing issues following genuine co-operation and collaboration with other authorities
based on constructive, active and ongoing engagement.
The key question is that of timing and the choice between having an adopted plan as
soon as possible or a plan that at the point of adoption, effectively resolves strategic
housing issues following genuine co-operation and collaboration with other authorities
based on constructive, active and ongoing engagement. …

It is with regret therefore that I must conclude that the council has not complied with the duty to co- operate.

Notwithstanding the above, I consider it appropriate to also set out my findings in respect of soundness, insofar as it relates to the overall provision for housing and jobs given that I held initial hearing sessions on the matter.

The proposed level of housing growth is close to the bottom of the overall range of options initially consulted upon. The Council confirmed that it considered each of the options to be a credible assessment of housing needs and reflected reasonable alternatives. It also confirmed that there are no fundamental environmental or infrastructure constraints to higher levels of growth within the overall range identified….

Notwithstanding the difficulties associated with economic forecasting, it is clear that the Council is planning for a level of housing well below that indicated by its own evidence in terms of potential economic growth.

A number of key strategic issues remain unresolved. The contingency
approach included in the Plan is not an effective or appropriate way to deal with the issue of potential unmet housing needs from other authorities. The decision on whether unmet needs had been identified and justified and that these should be met in Aylesbury Vale would be taken by the Council itself. On a practical level, the only
effective response to such a situation would be a review of the Plan, given that the issue would be the overall level of housing provision rather than phasing and also that the Plan does not include site allocations. This is likely to take some time, even if the Council agreed to such a course of action. There is considerable uncertainty as to when and indeed whether strategic issues would be addressed.,,,

There are significant strategic housing issues which need to be effectively resolved as soon as possible through the plan making process following genuine co-operation and collaboration with other authorities. Putting this off by relying on a potential future review wholly dependent on the Council’s own interpretation of the situation would not be appropriate. Whilst there are clearly benefits in having an adopted plan as soon as possible, these would not in themselves outweigh the need for that plan to be effective in respect of housing issues.

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