The Chilterns Were Not Under Threat From Planning – By Election Lessons

Orpington or Brecon and Radnor, other sites of mid term tory by election kickings, were not about planning, q

was Chesham and Amersham.

The Libdems fought a very Nimby Campaiagn based around a very Nimby national shift to outdo the Greens, which has not thus far been successful nationally as they enjoy half the Green Support.

The Prime Minister…

highlighted hopes of turning the nearby Chilterns into a national park, and ensuring development takes place on brownfield land, not the green belt

The constituency is around 87% Green Belt and high coverage of AONB, the 7th highest GB coverage of any constituency. The joint Chilterns and South Bucks local plan, which proposed 900 units released from GB to NE of Amersham was withdrawn from a failure of DTC concerning expansion of Slough. Then the councils were withdrawn and its an issue for the Bucks Unitary Local Plan. The problem is the lack of certainty from lack of a plan, not planning reform. Indeed it is the lack of certainty concerning what is protected and what is not from the current system that is the problem.

The new Buck Unitary could simply shift housing from south of Chilterns to North of it, presuming people commute further, but voters will never know the land was never in the Green Belt. They would get an electoral kicking anywhere.

Nor was the constituency threatened by HS2, at huge expense it mostly goes through a tunnel under the constituency. But what HS2 did was make local hyper sensitive to opposing everything, and of the view that with enough plackard waving anything could be stopped.

Buckinghamshire has 7 constituencies. Lets say there was strategic growth (900 houses) at Chesham, North of Slough and somewhere around Aylesbury Vale, and everywhere else was hyper protected, even the silly National Park proposal, even extra Green Belt around a Garden Town. The electoral calculus might be losing three constituencies and keeping 4, in the short terms, for success elsewhere from the majority of the population that wants more housing and in the long term once the new houses are built. How many New Towns in the South of England these days vote Labour – none. Outside the ring around London the proportion of losses to gains is far less striking. ‘Midsomer land’ Bucks, half Green Belt/AONB, Half Ox-Cam Arc is as worse as it gets.

That is a risky strategy. The temptation is to ‘do a Sevenoaks’ and put your head in the sand when doing a local plan in the Green Belt and seemingly, and falsely, believe it to be electorally popular. However no government of whatever party could apply an Avocado Nimby policy without watching housing completions collapse, as Pickles showed. Nimbyism is a luxury for opposition, which the Tories grew in opposition 15 years ago and the Lib-dems are growing in opposition now. It is a short termism approach doomed to long term failure.

So lets be clear planning reform was lot the cause of the loss but planning uncertainty from lack of a local plan may have contributed. Unless the government can clarify what planning reform means and what benefits it offers that uncertainty will grow.

One thought on “The Chilterns Were Not Under Threat From Planning – By Election Lessons

  1. Pingback: Chesham and Amersham shows which parts of the Government’s planning reforms will work best | Policy Exchange

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