Sunday, 24 June 2018

241 new homes approved despite residents’ protest

PLANS for 241 homes in Benson have been approved, bringing the total to 400 on one site.

PLANS for 241 homes in Benson have been approved, bringing the total to 400 on one site.

Architect WestWaddy was given consent to develop farmland north of Littleworth Road by South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee following a site visit.

The decision was made on the casting vote of the chairman after the vote was tied at four-all.

The move effectively ends the need for the village’s neighbourhood plan, which is designed to give residents more say over housing developments but has not yet been completed.

More than 35 protesters gathered as councillors visited the site last week. They held signs reading “This is not sustainable” and “Give our plan a chance”.

WestWaddy already had planning permission for 159 properties on the land, which is owned by Ray Stiles, after winning a planning appeal last year. It says the second phase of development will form a “natural extension” to the village and provide convenient access to the village via footpaths and cycleways.

However, residents raised concerns about the impact the development would have on the infrastructure.

Jo Whittaker, of Oxford Road, Benson, who was among the protesters, said: “We’re really disappointed. The residents have been working very hard on the neighbourhood plan and it’s such a shame that doesn’t seem to have been taken into consideration. They’re not giving us time to protect our village.

“The development is going to stretch services. The primary school may have to look at increasing the building size and therefore eat into the playground.”

Benson Parish Council said it was “bitterly disappointed” by the decision.

In a statement, it said the 241 houses were in excess of the district council’s own estimate that Benson would need 190 dwellings and would create “severe traffic bottlenecks” at already congested peak times.

The council said the decision rendered a key part of the neighbourhood plan, which would allow residents to decide where additional housing should go, redundant. A survey had shown villagers had indicated they wanted development split across several sites, not concentrated on one.

The statement continued: “Under the ‘Localism’ banner, Benson Parish Council fully expected our neighbourhood plan to decide where the 190 additional houses required would be located, particularly as the plan had only another four to five months left to reach its conclusion.”

It also said the decision was at odds with the views of district council leader John Cotton who has said that neighbourhood plans should decide “what is possible and desirable”.

The statement added: “This decision must call into question the continued viability of neighbourhood plans everywhere in the district. If the district council is not going to allow decisions on where housing should be located to be taken by neighbourhood plans, what is the point of expending all this effort completing them?”

District council planning officer Carolyn Organ had recommended the application was approved.

She said: “In economic terms, the scheme would provide construction jobs and some local investment during its build as well as longer term expenditure in the local economy, supporting the ongoing vibrancy of the village.

“The proposal helps to support strong, vibrant and healthy communities by providing the supply of 241 houses towards those required to meet the needs of present and future generations.

“It also does this by creating a high-quality built environment in a sustainable location with accessible local services close by for new residents to use. Although the parish and local residents have identified concerns in terms of highway safety and capacity of facilities, there is no evidence of harm that cannot be mitigated.

“There are no objections from Oxfordshire County Council, subject to the delivery of the mitigation measures for highways and education, and no other infrastructure providers have raised objections.

“Taking into account the benefits of the development and weighing these against the limited harm, I consider that the proposal represents a sustainable development.”

John Ashton, a partner at WestWaddy, said the company had addressed all the potential concerns.

“I think this is a very good result and will ensure houses can be developed in Benson in the foreseeable future in a very sustainable location.

“It shows that Benson, with the improvements to the infrastructure that are proposed, can satisfactorily take this level of housing.”

Mr Ashton said the work on the first phase would start later this year and the second phase in the next 12 to 18 months.

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