Hampden Fields and Woodlands: Do They Matter to Wendover?

Chris Webbley, Chairman, Hampden Fields Action Group  |  Published: Nov 23rd 2017

The basics first. Hampden Fields is a proposal to build 3,000 houses plus ancillary services filling the green gap between Bedgrove, Weston Turville and Stoke Mandeville. Woodlands is a development west of Aston Clinton, comprising 1,100 houses plus employment space and sports facilities.  The developers for HF are a consortium led by Taylor Wimpey.  Woodlands is being brought by Buckinghamshire Advantage, major components of which are AVDC and BCC.  The planning applications on the AVDC planning website are 16/00424/AOP and 16/01040/AOP respectively.

The shortest distance between HF and Wendover is some 2 km, and Woodlands is further away still. Not exactly on your doorstep, so how much do they matter? Let me explain three reasons why they matter a lot.

HF is actually HF2.  A previous, very similar application was made in 2012.  Their proposal rejected by AVDC, the consortium appealed and a public inquiry followed.  The HF Action Group (HFAG) contested the appeal. The Inspector dismissed the appeal, and his decision was endorsed by the Secretary of State in January 2015.  Contrary to an ‘urban myth’ still put forward by the current consortium, the decision was not based on the single issue of traffic congestion at the Walton Street Gyratory. This was undoubtedly a crucial factor, and we will come back to it, but others also weighed in the planning balance. 

You propose, you get turned down. What next? Of course, you change the proposal significantly to address the problems and try again.  Except that the consortium simply came back with a virtually unchanged proposal a bare year later (Feb 2016).  Once more, HFAG led a vigorous campaign with more than 5,000 objections and raising £10,000s to fund professional scrutiny of traffic, air quality, flooding and planning law.  But despite all this, the District Council were minded to approve the proposal, and finally agreed (Oct 2017) to pass it subject to a large number of ‘Section 106’ agreements to be negotiated between the consortium and AVDC officers.  A similar outcome befell the Woodlands proposal the next day, which had joined forces with HF on matters of traffic planning.

So here is the first reason why this matters. It is surely wrong that a developer can simply re-present a tweaked version of a failed proposal and rely on their depth of resources to overwhelm and outspend reasoned objections. This could happen again, anywhere.  

The second reason that HF and Woodlands matter to Wendover is that the key issues arising from these proposals impact the entire area to the south of Aylesbury.


Let’s take traffic first. It will surprise no one that the plans to manage and mitigate traffic, congestion, delays and air quality are pivotal to such huge developments. 3,000 dwellings can be expected to put an extra 5-6,000 vehicles on to the road network. Woodlands would add a further 1-2,000.  The obvious impacts would be on the A413 Wendover Road and the A41 Aston Clinton Road. But traffic behaves as a system and sometimes the effects are felt across a wider area than would be obvious, as shown below. Readers will be interested and possibly alarmed at the predicted effect from HF on Wendover itself.  The developer’s own report predicts increases in travel times of 63%...98%...187%...191%...   

Any large development must be accompanied by thorough, professional forecasts of all the traffic impacts on the overall system.  Valid, relevant data needs to be gathered.  A fit for purpose methodology must be employed.  Different scenarios and assumptions such as housing numbers have to be tested.  Outputs have to be validated. The findings need to be accurately reported and considered, first by the highways authority (Bucks CC in our case) and then by the local planning authority (AVDC). It is highly complex and data-heavy, but the core process is actually straightforward. If done well, there should be little room for disagreement at the end.

But in the case of both HF and Woodlands, significant disagreements do remain over the process and the results.  Nor is this sour grapes on the part of an action group disappointed by the planning committee’s decision.  In a series of professional reports submitted to BCC and using their data only, we have challenged:

  • the inadequacy of the Aylesbury Transport Model and the weak scope of its data gathering (with, for example, no roadside survey data for the A413 Wendover Road even though it is a Primary Congestion Management Corridor)
  • lack of full compliance with DfT model standards
  • the lack of a like-for-like comparison between the cumulative traffic assessment in this application and the previous one
  • benefits being claimed from extra link roads but no account taken of the extra traffic from the housing that would be required to fund those roads
  • an inflated baseline volume of traffic, chosen, we believe, to make the HF and Woodlands traffic growth seem a smaller % than is actually the case
  • that traffic growth itself significantly understated, with an unconvincing rationale for the reduction

Some figures. On total traffic volumes, we contend from the developer’s own data that HF and Woodlands would add some 10%, not just the 6-7% claimed.  Overloading at the town centre pinch point (the Wendover Road / Stoke Road / Walton Street gyratory junction system) is now forecast to worsen in the plan period to 38% in the morning peak and 20% in the afternoon, when the previous application was turned down on forecasts of 32% and 3% overload respectively.  (A desirable benchmark for an effective junction is 10% underloaded, by the way.) And although HF and Woodlands will add an extra 62% housing growth to the housing already forecast, the developers rather improbably claim that traffic will increase by only 22%, as shown here:

Modelling, data, baseline figures, growth %s, compliance with standards ... it is easy to get lost in the mechanics and the jargon. But all of this translates directly into our everyday life and experience of getting from A to B. An ineffective transport system means longer school runs, unpredictable delays, missed trains, late-running work appointments, frustration, risk of shunts, pollution from stationary traffic.  Aylesbury becomes a less attractive place to live, shop, work and visit.  Of course, not all of this is down to HF and Woodlands. But an already stressed network needed far better planning to tackle the issues than has been done so far.  Especially when large amounts of public funding will inevitably be committed to help fund some of the new roads.

Nor is traffic the only issue. Woodlands in particular, and HF to a lesser extent, face serious questions over flood risk.  Inconsistencies exist between the flood risk assessments conducted for the planning applications and the more strategic assessment for the current draft Vale of Aylesbury Plan VALP. An out-of-date Climate Change % allowance was used for HF. Calculations of water runoff and storage have been queried. It is possible that the HF masterplan would need to be altered to give more space to water management and less to housing or services. Even the proposed route of the Eastern Link Road across the Woodlands site is shown differently on the plans and on the VALP map. The AVDC officers and Committee were convinced that these questions had been answered; we are not.

So to the final reason why HF and Woodlands matter to Wendover. The weaknesses in the planning process, some of which I have shown above, can apply to any development or proposal for change. If issues are not addressed objectively and in a transparent manner, outcomes are going to be worse.  It is not enough for the planners simply to assert confidence in the work that has been done, leave many topics to be negotiated / amended later between the council and the developer, and to reject or ignore challenges. This applies to any proposal, not just HF and Woodlands.

This is why HFAG, with welcome support from MP David Lidington, have asked the Secretary of State to ‘call in’ the HF application. A sound application has nothing to fear from independent scrutiny.

What can you do?  Please stay aware of planning proposals. The draft VALP is out for consultation right now (closing date 14 December), so, to coin a phrase “Comment early, comment often”. Support your local council by letting them know what you think as they seek to represent you. Become a supporter of any action group that you feel are doing a good job.  They can’t do it without you.

 

Chris Webbley,

Chairman, Hampden Fields Action Group

www.hampdenfieldsactiongroup.com

Wendover travel time changes, courtesy Hampden Fields Action Group
Wendover travel time changes, courtesy Hampden Fields Action Group
trip growth vs housing growth, courtesy Hampden Fields Action Group
Trip growth vs housing growth, courtesy Hampden Fields Action Group
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