PLANS to build houses on farmland between Henley and Shiplake have been rejected for the second time by South Oxfordshire District Council.
Claire Engbers, the owner of Thames Farm, off the A4155 Reading Road, had requested outline permission for 95 homes, sparking opposition from Harpsden and Shiplake parish councils, Henley Town Council and more than 200 residents.
At a packed meeting of the district council’s planning committee last night, members unanimously voted against it on grounds of highways safety and the impact on the surroundings — against their planning officers’ advice.
They shared objectors’ concerns that the development was “unsustainable” as it would be isolated from the rest of Shiplake and new residents would have to cross the busy A4155 to reach the village centre.
They said most people would drive to Henley, putting more pressure on the local road network, because there are no direct cycle links and Shiplake station is on the other side of the main road.
More than 100 opponents attended the meeting in Crowmarsh Gifford and cheered loudly as the committee made its decision. Many had to wait in a corridor because there was not enough space in the committee room.
A previous application by Mrs Engbers for 110 homes will be the subject of a planning appeal in November. The council’s officers recommended approving this latest scheme after it emerged there is not enough housing land in South Oxfordshire to meet the next five years’ demand.
Thames Farm is not one of 11 sites earmarked for housing in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum in March and identifies where about 500 new homes should go by 2027 to meet Government targets.
The document, which cost more than £90,000, is supposed to be legally binding but the officers said it was no longer valid because the land shortage rendered the district’s own local plan out of date.
However, in a letter to every committee member, Henley MP John Howell insisted they could still reject applications not on the list.
He said the High Court recently upheld a decision to refuse consent for 111 homes on a site in Broughton Astley in Leicestershire, which has a neighbourhood plan.
There is also a housing land shortage in Harborough district, where the village is located, but the court ruled its plan was still enforceable if the harm from development outweighed the benefits.
Henley town, district and county councillor David Nimmo Smith urged the committee to reject the Thames Farm proposal, as did Harpsden Parish Council chairman Kester George, Shiplake's chairman Tudor Taylor and Shiplake's country and district councillors David Bartholomew and Paul Harrison.
Afterwards, Councillor George said: “I’m relieved that common sense prevailed as the arguments against this scheme were overwhelming. I feel sorry for the officers but I believe we’ve pulled them out of a difficult situation and hopefully put the neighbourhood plan back on track.”
Mrs Engbers' spokesman said: "We're naturally disappointed at the committee's decision, particularly as the council's professional planning officers had recommended that permission be granted.
"However, given the hysteria whipped up by the opposition, we are not surprised by the decision and we will be lodging an appeal which we always knew was the probable way forward."
For the full story, see this week's Henley Standard