Buckinghamshire Council became a unitary authority on 1 April 2020, with the four district councils – Aylesbury Vale District Council, Chiltern District Council, South Bucks District Council and Wycombe District Council with the Buckinghamshire County Council area now ceasing to exist. This is a result of the announcement on 1 November 2018 by the then Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire.
The implementation of Buckinghamshire Council was overseen by the shadow Authority to ensure the smooth transition to the new Council. A total of 202 councillors make up the new Buckinghamshire Council, whose key responsibilities include setting a budget for the Council and appointing members to committees.
The new Buckinghamshire Council leader, Martin Tett, reiterated the readiness of his team across the Council amidst the challenges of the current Covid 19 emergency to work together to deal with an unprecedented national emergency situation in protecting, supporting and informing the residents and businesses in Buckinghamshire.
In a related development, Buckinghamshire Council had criticised the Planning Inspectors decision that the former Chiltern and South Bucks emerging Local Plan failed to satisfy the duty to cooperate by finding significant weaknesses and shortcomings in the proposed Local Plan. The emerging Local Plan was submitted for examination in September 2019.
The Planning Inspectors warned that there is a strong likelihood that the strategy would have to be withdrawn, since the Councils preparing the strategy had failed to engage sufficiently with regards to the unmet need of around 8,000 homes in neighbouring Slough.
The Head of Planning and Environment for Buckinghamshire Council had written to the Council on 12 May 2020 to point out the “significant shortcomings” and an “inadequacy of reasoning” in the Inspectors findings, and called for further examination hearing to address criticism of the plan. The Head of the Council’s Planning and Environment noted in the letter that:
“…Your letter correctly anticipated that the Council is disappointed with your initial findings but, having considered the substance of your letter, the Council is equally disappointed with the inadequacy of the reasoning which has led you to your initial findings…”
The Council’s letter also noted that the Inspector had failed to correctly apply the duty to cooperate, a legal requirement. Consequently, the Council stated that it would address the “significant shortcoming” in the Inspectors’ letter in due course.
Concerning the initial finding of the Inspectors on “the significant weakness”, the Council noted that the Inspectors had demonstrated that this was not an issue which can be dealt with appropriately exclusively on paper, hence, they require that the matter and the substance of the Inspectors response be dealt with at a hearing. Thus, the Inspectors responded in their letter to the Council dated 20 May 2020 that they acquiesce to that request.
However, the Inspectors reacted to the Council’s preference to have discussion in person with them rather than a virtual event online, but stated that it may be many weeks or months before they can hold a hearing of the type envisaged by the Council.
We hope that residents, communities, and businesses will start to see more and more benefits of having a unitary council. More joined up local services, one single organisation serving them, more investment in local priorities and a stronger, louder unified voice to champion the Council at a national level.
It is not clear when the Council would adopt a unified Local Plan or whether the existing Local Plans and emerging plans of the former district councils, like that of the former Chiltern and South Bucks presently under examination will for the meantime serve as their development plans, until the Council is able to evolve a unitary development plan.