Councillors have warned that proposed new laws could end their right to discuss the finer details of planning applications.
At a meeting last week a committee spent an hour picking through some of the minutiae of a new development of 250 new homes at land off Yardley Road, and Aspreys, in Olney.
The development control committee heard that Bovis Homes has already been granted the principle of the development.
Thursday’s meeting was called upon to approve so-called ‘reserved matters’ of scale, layout, appearance, and landscaping.
Councillors probed the finer details of car parking, the amount of land to be used for recreation, and whether some of the proposed homes were too big.
Cllr Martin Petchey (Lab, Stantonbury) said: “It’s ironic that if the Government’s planning white paper becomes law none of the discussion we’ve been having would have been possible.
“Neither Olney Town Council nor Cllr Peter Geary would have had the right to speak, we wouldn’t have had the right to discuss it.
“There wouldn’t have been 30 per cent affordable housing in the project and none of the contributions to Olney through section 106 would have been made.”
Cllr Paul Trendall (Lib Dem, Campbell Park & Old Woughton), referring to new permitted development rights, said: “We won’t be having these conversations and we won’t be having the conversations about the things that have already passed into law.”
And Cllr Anthony Brown (Lab, Tattenhoe), the chairman of the committee, said even though the implications would have to be “unpicked”, he added: “It is fairly worrying.”
The Government’s Planning for the Future white paper was published on Thursday (August 6) with a consultation that closes on October 29.
The white paper promises to “democratise the planning process by putting a new emphasis on engagement at the plan-making stage.”
An underlying idea is to speed up the planning process so that new homes can be built quicker, at the same time helping the economy recover from the covid crisis.
But the white papers adds that “At the same time, we will streamline the opportunity for consultation at the planning application stage, because this adds delay to the process and allows a small minority of voices, some from the local area and often some not, to shape outcomes.”
Thursday’s meeting heard that the Olney Neighbourhood Plan, including the site being discussed, had been agreed in July 2017.
In a referendum, 38.3 per cent of the town voted by a narrow majority of 991 votes to 968 (50.6 per cent), to agree the neighbourhood plan.
And even though town councillor Chris Tennant old the committee that the plans broke various policies in that neighbourhood blueprint, planning officers disagreed.
And Cllr Peter Geary (Cons, Olney), who is not a member of the committee, said: “It bears no relationship to what was intended in neighbourhood plan.”
But when it came to the vote, ten members of the committee voted in favour, with none against.
One of the borough’s Olney councillors, Keith McLean (Cons), abstained from voting.
For details of the Government proposals visit https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future