This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Buckingham: Doughnut or Donut?

I have only heard a verbal report of yesterday's Aylesbury Vale District Councils Development Control Committee, but to my knowledge and understanding:
  • The development of a Sainsbury's supermarket on the edge of Buckingham was considered
  • The council's planning officers had written a comprehensive and balanced report about the pro's and con's of this planning application. (You can read the full report here
  • This report goes into some detail about the traffic and retail impact of this new store, were it to be built, as well as reporting the comments from both the Town Council and residents of the area
  • In conclusion, the officers state (I have added some bold) "11.3 In respect of the retail impact, having regard to the likely significant adverse level of impact upon convenience shopping; the concern that the proposal would result in the closure of the Waitrose store, the loss of convenience goods shopping provision more generally; and the effect on linked shopping trips which would lead to consequential impacts on the vitality and viability of Buckingham town centre it is concluded that the proposals would have a significantly adverse impact upon town centre trade and turnover, consumer choice and town centre health contrary to paragraph 27 the NPPF [and]
  • 11.4 It is recommended therefore that having regard to the likely significantly adverse impact on the vitality and viability of Buckingham town centre, Members should defer and delegate the application for refusal subject to the resolution of matters in respect of highway details. Any refusal will be subject to such reasons as Officers consider appropriate.
  • It is my experience that it is rare for the members to go against a specific recommendation by their professional planning officers.
  • Town Councillor Howard Mordue read out a statement representing the views of the Town Council (see the report for these). However as District Councillor Howard Mordue, he later spoke in support of the application (in something akin to Gaullist mode, I assume!)
  • The application was approved subject to the planning officers negotiating a mitigating s.106 agreement with Sainsbury's involving (and this is where I am hazy) the building of a new health centre and other support for the town centre.
I am worrying deeply about this decision. And yes the irony is not lost on me that at the Town Council meeting I proposed cautious approval, although I lost the vote. As the AVDC committee report outlines on page 12:
Proposed by Cllr. Harvey, seconded by Cllr. Newell, that the Town Council cautiously supports this outline application subject to further robust discussions with it (and the CCG or appropriate part of the NHS) and resolution of our serious concerns about s106 arrangements, health care provision, public transport, traffic, economic & structural implications so that we get the best deal for Buckingham. Members voted 6:7 with no abstentions; the proposal therefore fell.
And so it would appear that AVDC members voted in accordance with my original motion at the Town Council. I hope they note that!!

But why am I worrying? I guess it because I fear that the s.106 deal to be struck will not be tough enough. AVDC has made a public commitment to becoming a more 'commercial' council:
Councillor Neil Blake, Leader of the Council, said: “We have to build on what we’re doing – becoming a more commercial council."
For me being a commercial council is not just about improving effectiveness and efficiency (as arguably haven't councils always tried to do that?) it is crucially about developing commercial 'nous' deep in the culture organisation. This includes having hard (but fair) negotiations with Sainsbury's.

Because if they don't, Buckingham risks going from a traditional doughnut town (with sugar on the outside and a hearty jammy centre) to an American style donut town with nothing in the middle and just a ring on the outside.

So what would I be seeking from Sainsbury's to mitigate the impact on the town, and indeed make the new store a positive asset to everyone living in Buckingham or nearby? Here is my wishlist:
  • A fully equipped state of the art health centre (as more or less promised in the marketing literature pushed through everyone's doors a few months ago)
  • Revenue support to this health centre to help get it on its feet for the first couple of years
  • Enough revenue to allow AVDC to make parking free for the first three hours in the town centre car parks for the next three years (just like the free parking around the new Sainsbury's)
  • Capital investment in the town to create new toilets for shoppers and visitors
  • Support for a village & town bus service to bring people to both the new store and the town centre
  • A promise by Sainsbury's to favour full time job contracts with a proportionate mix of some part time ones (rather than a rash of zero hour unstable contracts for their operating staff)
  • A contribution towards either the University or the Town Council or a new independent Trust (or a combination of all three) to set up a new Arts centre in the town to support the visual and performing arts to draw people into the town.
It is a long list (and perhaps not all s.106'able). But let us be very clear, Sainsbury's stand to make a great deal of money out of the town. Why should they not be putting a good deal of that profit back into our town?

And as always, what do you think? What do you think of the decision taken yesterday? What would be on your wishlist?

UPDATE 121213|0901: Email received from Cllr Howard Mordue

Just received an email from Howard where he stated: "Your informant was wrong It was deferred" As this seemed to me to be a challenge to what I have written (and was told), I have just phoned AVDC planning to check on the precise decision. Their officer said to me that the decision was that the application was "deferred for approval subject to the 106 agreement". This seems compatible with what I have written above so I won't be changing the words. Hopefully, this update clears up any lingering confusion though. But tell me if not!

UPDATE 230114|1109: Email received from Town Clerk: for total clarity

AVDC SDCC minutes for 11th December say (a) RESOLVED – That determination of the application indicated below be deferred to enable a planning obligation agreement with the Council to be completed to ensure that the health care site obligations contained in a planning obligation agreement dated 28 October 2009 with this Council in relation to the adjacent residential site are secured and, if considered necessary, financial contributions to secure improvements to Buckingham Town Centre and for the application to be referred back to the Committee for determination. 

13/01465/AOP, Demolition of existing restaurant and development of supermarket (Class A1 use), petrol filling station (Sui Generis use) with 394 car parking spaces and 36 cycle parking spaces, together with a Health Care facility (Class D1 use) with 77 car parking spaces and 12 cycle parking spaces and associated highways works (including realignment of existing spine road), access, landscaping and ancillary works.


  1. I really wonder why Buckingham is part of AVDC ... all we get is a set of decisions that are not in the best interest of the Town. The lease on our town centre shop is up for renewal ..... this certainly makes us think about tis negatively. I am appalled that you supported this in the first place! Your other councillors know what is best for the town!

    1. I take your point Peter - but increasingly our planning decisions at the Town Council are like bidding in bridge, it seems to me. In my view, our decisions have to be nuanced & pragmatic in a way that leads to the best benefit for the whole town. And many people have supported this application (albeit the rosey one that was distributed through people's doors). I am told that Sainsbury's bussed some people there yesterday.

      If this instance highlights anything is the need for more people to get involved in the politics of the town, so that the right decisions are made.

      But make no bones about, national politics are making a difference too. I read a report the other day which said that the Department for Communities and Local Government is considering a measure whereby if a council objects to a development, then loses on appeal, the council will then lose the New Homes Bonus that would have come with that new housing...!!!

      How 'localist' is that!?

      Thanks for you contribution.

    2. But I do absolutely agree with your sentiment that AVDC seems to focus far more on supporting and sustaining Aylesbury town centre rather than ours as well. We often get ignored - unless we campaign hard.

      So lets start the campaign to #savebuckinghamtowncentre!

      And please don't go! We can fight for a good s.106 mitigation together!

  2. Mike Smith12/12/13 08:13

    Surely we should be going for a GP surgery plus support for the services at Buckingham Hospital, rather than a new fully equipped state of the art health centre?

    1. That is a fair point Mike - what ever is put there needs to be compatible with existing health care facilities in the town, especially the Hospital.