HENLEY Town Council has withdrawn its support for the development of 170 homes at Highlands Farm.
The move comes amid concerns about the archeological impact of the plans put forward by Crest Nicholson.
The 12.8-hectare site off Greys Road is one of 11 included in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan for 500 new homes to be built by 2027.
The plans include housing, a community hall, three junior sports pitches and up to 2,000 sq m of office or warehouse space.
The existing trading units on the light industrial estate, which is owned by Henley businessman Alan Pontin, would be demolished.
The council had supported the plans but reversed its decision at a meeting of the council’s planning committee on Tuesday.
A survey carried out by Cotswold Archaeology and archaeologists from Southampton University in May found that parts of the site have high potential for evidence of the Paleolithic era, about 2.6 million years ago. Councillor Jane Smewing said she thought the developer was being complacent about the archaeological aspect of the site.
“They have done a report with the appropriate appendix missing,” she said. “They’re being so aloof and complacent about this stuff. One can’t have any confidence with how they are going to deal with archeology on the ground.”
The archeologists’ report says Highlands Farm was the most abundant area of the Caversham-Henley Ancient Channel which contains Palaeolithic artefacts.
It says: “The site is one of the most prolific in the county and one of the three or four most prolific in Britain. Over 4,000 artefacts have been recovered from the site, mostly flint flakes and cores, although more than 250 hand axes have also been found.” The report says that parts of the site are as dense as any river gravel in country for the number of finds.
Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton said he was concerned about recommending the application for refusal.
He said: “We’ve recommended approval here and then we’re changing that at this stage. I do not think it is right. English Heritage felt it was of insufficient quality and low national interest.”
Mayor Julian Brookes said he would be happy to go back to supporting the application once the issues with the archaeology had been resolved.
He said: “We need to get this issue resolved quickly. It is very easy to change back from refusal to acceptance. Once this has been done properly we will be happy to do it. This is a sensitive issue but we need to make it happen.”
Councillor Sara Abey said: “This is not just any old archaeological site. It’s more significant than that but I do support the development.” Cllr Smewing said: “The fact that people are going to live there at some point is not a good reason to build houses right now before we destroy everything.”
The committee agreed to recommend the application is refused by South Oxfordshire District Council.
In March conservation groups called for some of the 500-year-old buildings on the site to be maintained as part of the development.
The buildings include the original farmhouse and barn, thought to be from the mid-18th century, and the stable from the 19th century.
The opposition came from the Ancient Monuments Society, the Henley Society and the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group.
The collection of buildings would be bulldozed under the plans and Crest Nicholson says that the farmstead is of “limited architectural and historical interest”.
English Heritage said the “degree of alteration is such that the buildings now lack sufficient interest to merit listing”.