Councillor Peter Cooper
“One of the remarkable consequences of the Covid19 epidemic had been the dramatic environmental improvements resulting from the transport system having all but stopped. Everyone had become aware of clean air, low noise pollution and relaxed working practices. Clearly many of these benefits were likely to be lost as we moved out of lockdown. However, public perceptions had changed and I would suggest that the new council had a once in a lifetime chance to grasp the new public mood, and lead the way to a new sustainable future.
Green ways of thinking no longer belonged to a minority. They were rightly mainstream and this should be reflected in all the Council’s actions and policies.
Walking, cycling and electric cars were now aspirations. Working from home and meeting online were normal and effective.
Would Buckinghamshire Council lead the way to a new way of working by following policies that gave priority to:
· Gigabit broadband
· Home working
· High class public transport
· Expansion of the cycleway network
· Installation of rapid electric car chargers
· 20mph Speed limits in populated areas
· Traffic bans/restrictions in town centres”
Response provided by Nick Naylor, Cabinet Member for Transport
Nick Naylor thanked Peter Cooper and confirmed that the question of how the Council could use this opportunity to improve the county’s environment and how transport initiatives could support that had been considered. In the last few weeks, more had been achieved than ever thought possible whilst working from home and limited to essential travel only. This had brought improvements to air quality, reduced noise pollution and carbon emissions as well as other environmental benefits identified. Digital connectivity had always been a top priority for Buckinghamshire, with the County investing and managing the arrangements for the roll out of Superfast broadband and continually arguing for the roll out to cover the whole of the county. Recently, the Council had agreed to use some of its contribution towards East West Rail to secure the delivery of digital infrastructure along the route at the same time as the railway was constructed. N Naylor confirmed the Council was treating digital infrastructure as important as physical infrastructure.
When lockdown was introduced, the Council was able to roll out MS Teams to thousands of staff and to Members in a matter of days, so that staff and members could work effectively from home. The Return to Work Plan relied on most staff to work from home whenever possible and consideration was being given to what the Council’s new guidelines on working from home would be. It would appear that the Council was not alone in considering permanent changes to how we worked, with many organisations saying that they did not expect normal working patterns to resume.
The Council was keen to encourage policies and proposals which benefitted the environment across all portfolios, both in the Council’s practice and our wider communities. This was not only important in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in terms of broader environmental and climate change pressures.
- Significant investment was being made into improved sustainable transport networks.
- A comprehensive walking and cycling network plan for Aylesbury Garden Town had been developed; a similar project for High Wycombe would commence shortly.
- New walking and cycling links in Buckingham, Taplow and Waddesdon had recently been delivered and the Council was working with partners on a range of further priority links across the County.
- On top of the longer-term walking and cycling work, there was a live work stream looking at how to deliver a number of temporary “pop-up” measures in our key towns, villages and high streets directly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to support social distancing and help make walking and cycling a safe and attractive option for local journeys.
- The Council was exploring options for more innovative technology-based solutions, and had recently contacted the Department for Transport to express interest in carrying out trials of an e-scooter hire scheme within Buckinghamshire.
- The Council was developing an Electric Vehicle Charging Point Strategy, setting out priority areas for investment in new charging points to facilitate wider uptake of electric vehicles, in line with the Government’s proposal to end the sale of new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars.
It was acknowledged that there was growing support for the introduction of lower speed limits and particularly 20mph zones/limits. Currently a reduction in the speed limit was not supported by the Council or the Police unless it could be shown that the physical layout of the road would ensure the speed limit was adhered to, so that they were effectively self-enforcing. Nevertheless a number of 20 mph schemes were being discussed, which local parishes were very involved in, and may be able to finance. N Naylor advised he would like 20mph schemes to be self-enforcing where possible and the transport team was happy to consider how these might best be progressed locally.
In terms of changes to our high streets and towns, the Council had been working with local communities to put in place measures to facilitate social distancing. In addition, work had been carried out with businesses to help them to open and operate in a safe manner. There were ambitious plans for High Wycombe regeneration and regeneration plans were due to be developed for a number of other towns over the coming year. The options for changes to traffic would need to be considered as part of these proposals.
Councillor Robin Stuchbury
“Page 193 of the new Constitution, Clause 2.18 stated: “The powers delegated to the Corporate Director or Directors with responsibility for Planning included delegated powers and duties to deal with all matters relating to development management including but not limited to:
a. Determine all applications, grant permission, refuse permission and determine all decisions relating to neighbourhood planning and other planning functions.”
The Localism Act as revised May 2019 stated:
“Neighbourhood planning gives communities direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and shape the development and growth of their local area. They are able to choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built, have their say on what those new buildings should look like and what infrastructure should be provided, and grant planning permission for the new buildings they want to see go ahead. Neighbourhood planning provides a powerful set of tools for local people to plan for the types of development to meet their community’s needs and where the ambition of the neighbourhood is aligned with the strategic needs and priorities of the wider local area – para 011 of the Localism Act.
Would the Council please confirm that the intention of this clause (2.18) was not to limit the powers of the Localism Act, and not to prevent and have an influence on neighbourhood plans, as it would be contrary to the Localism Act?”
Response provided by Warren Whyte, Cabinet Member for Planning and Enforcement
The Council could not delegate powers it did not have to begin with. Town and Parish Councils would, of course, continue to be able to exercise the statutory rights reserved to them. For information, the Constitution related to the statutory rights and powers that belonged to Buckinghamshire Council. In this case, it was clarifying that those statutory rights and powers which Buckinghamshire Council did have in relation to neighbourhood plans were delegated to the relevant director. W Whyte confirmed that the Council was very keen to work with Town and Parish Councils to support them in developing their neighbourhood plans.