Saturday, 21 July 2018

Homes site ‘should not become care home’

CALLS have been made for a Henley housing site to be protected from becoming a care home

CALLS have been made for a Henley housing site to be protected from becoming a care home.

The No Limits gym and neighbouring clubhouse, opposite Tesco off Reading Road, is earmarked for about 30 homes in the town’s joint neighbourhood plan with Harpsden.

Henley Town Council, the owner, intends to sell it to a developer then use the proceeds to build new headquarters for AFC Henley and Henley Hockey Club at nearby Jubilee Park.

However, there are fears that a new owner might build a care home as this would exempt them from making payments towards new community infrastructure.

The council has been urged to sell it under a covenant forbidding this but councillors fear this would not protect it.

Under planning laws, care housing should be classed separately from ordinary homes but developers are increasingly exploiting loopholes to put it in the same category.

This means care beds count towards the 500 or so new dwellings that must be built by 2027 under the neighbourhood plan, but don’t meet its goal of providing a diverse mix of accommodation.

The plan says 40 per cent of new housing should be “affordable”, with rent or purchase prices fixed below the going rate, but care homes don’t have to comply with this.

The former Jet petrol station in Reading Road is earmarked for 55 dwellings and Inland Homes, the previous owner, had planning permission for 55 ordinary flats. However, it was bought this year by McCarthy and Stone, who now want consent for 53 “assisted living” flats.

The former Henley Youth Centre site in Deanfield Avenue is now owned by B&M Care, which wants to build a 60-bed care home instead of the 23 homes it was originally allocated.

And Henthames, an Essex-based developer, wants to convert the old LA Fitness gym in Newtown Road into an 80-bed care home.

Dieter Hinke, a former town councillor who chairs Henley’s neighbourhood plan steering group, said a covenant on the No Limits site was vital as it is the only one the authority owns.

He said it would be harder to build high-density, affordable units for young people elsewhere.

“The people of Henley voted for this plan and expect the council to support it,” he said.

“I hope any deal on this site meets our future need. Its sale should include a clause preventing a developer from using it as a care home or anything else, like retail.

“The council must make sure the spirit of the plan is kept alive, even under extreme pressure from developers.”

Simon Smith, the chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee, said: “It is a concern. In an ideal world, that site would be protected by a covenant. 

“Unfortunately, because of planning laws, you couldn't write it in a way that prevented a care home while permitting regular housing.”

Henley Mayor Julian Brookes said: “Perhaps we can’t protect our site with a covenant but we should investigate thoroughly to ensure that is the case. Having too many care homes will undoubtedly make it harder to achieve our affordable housing target.”

Henley MP John Howell, who introduced neighbourhood planning as part of the 2011 Localism Act, said he was talking with ministers about closing the loopholes.

This would make a covenant more enforceable and make it easier for South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, to refuse care home proposals elsewhere.

He said: “The planning system has been changing over the past few years as we try to tackle the enormous problem of people having nowhere to live. I’m taking this up with the Government as a national concern and especially on Henley’s behalf.”

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