Saturday, 21 July 2018

‘We’ll fight attempts to nullify plan’

A GROUP set up to enforce the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan says it will resist any

A GROUP set up to enforce the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan says it will resist any attempts to render the document obsolete, writes Jamie Presland.

Last week, the Henley Standard revealed that the document, which cost £90,000 to compile and was approved in a referendum in March, no longer has the legal weight to protect the area from unwanted development.

This is because South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, has failed to identify enough land across the district to meet housing demand for the next five years. It means that new sites must be considered to make up the shortfall.

The neighbourhood plan steering group says it will ask for any applications which are approved against the plan’s recommendations to be “called in”, meaning that a planning inquiry is required.

It argues that the lack of a five-year supply should not override a neighbourhood plan and that a government minister had previously stated this.

The group also says it has the support of the Department for Communities and Local Government in the case of the former Jet garage site in Reading Road where the district council has approved a plans by McCarthy & Stone for 53 “extra care” flats for the elderly.

The development will have no affordable element, which goes against the neighbourhood plan’s target of 40 per cent for all new builds.

The petrol station shut in 2014 after being purchased by Inland Homes, which was granted planning permission to build 55 ordinary flats in accordance with the neighbourhood plan before selling the land to McCarthy & Stone.

At a meeting of the steering group on Thursday last week, Henley Mayor Julian Brookes said the department had confirmed it was considering calling in the application.

“They have made it clear they have all the information they need to review this case,” he said. “We say the site was specifically allocated in the neighbourhood plan for the original planning application for 55 ordinary homes and that assisted living is a direct contravention of that.”

Harpsden Parish Council chairman Kester George said he believed the lack of a five-year supply of housing land should not override the plan.

He said: “It’s my conviction that the Government really didn’t mean to nullify its policy on neighbourhood plans.

“Validated plans are valid for the period under which they are undertaken, no matter what the state of the relevant planning authority’s land supply.”

Dieter Hinke, a former chairman of Henley Town Council’s neighbourhood planning governance committee who now chairs the steering group, said the plan was first drafted with the belief that the district council had land supply figures.

He said: “The first thing we asked the district council is did they have a five-year plan because we were advised not to have a neighbourhood plan without that.

“They argue that they did until March this year when they admitted they didn’t but we were told throughout the process that they had a five-year plan in place so this came as a surprise to us.”

Town councillor Ian Reissmann asked what the committee was going to do to ensure the neighbourhood plan would still apply.

Speaking from the public gallery, he said: “We were told that passing the neighbourhood plan would give us control over our destiny but it appears this is no longer the case.

“I’ve always said Henley needs a good neighbourhood plan but it appears that we have one which is not well written. We should consider rewriting the neighbourhood plan, not from the start but to tighten up the guarantees we were promised.”

Town clerk Janet Wheeler said: “I’ve been talking to other clerks in Oxfordshire and beyond with neighbourhood plans and there’s a lot of concern that what we are experiencing here will happen in other places with neighbourhood plans or planning to have them.

“Going forward it might be good to get some of the parishes together and request a meeting with the district council. I do think the district council need to answer some questions on this.”

Henley MP John Howell has urged the Government to call in the McCarthy & Stone application.

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