Friday, 15 December 2017

Residents claim victory as homes plan is thrown out

PLANS for 30 homes off Kennylands Road, in Sonning Common, have been rejected by South Oxfordshire District Council

Scores of villagers protested against the application by T A Fisher, of Theale, at a planning committee meeting last week

It was recommended to be approved by planning officers but, in the end, councillors voted against it despite some members being in favour.

They said they saw no planning reasons to refuse the application and asked it was approved but this was voted down.

Members later agreed to reject the application with six members voting in favour and three against with chairman Councillor Toby Newman abstaining.

The 1.5-hectare site is earmarked for 22 homes in the village’s neighbourhood plan, which passed referendum last year.

Councillor Barrie Greenwood, chairman of the plan’s working party, said the group was pleased with the outcome.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “We were relieved that the application was eventually turned down by councillors. 

“The decision was going to be deferred but the councillors did not like that so they voted for refusal.

“The planning officers will be left to put together the strongest possible refusal with reasons for rejection. 

“We feel there are problems with sustainability and problems with spatial distribution. 

Althought T A Fisher wanted a higher number the maximum we were not prepared to go above a we did not consider it sensible. It would have been a 36 per cent increase over the allocated numbers.”

Planning officer Paul Lucas had recommended the application to be approved.

He said the development would not harm the AONB, not cause highway safety problems and would not harm the residential amenity of those living nearby.

Speaking at the meeting in Didcot last week, Councillor Greenwood said the neighbourhood plan was originally worded to allocate “up to” 22 homes on the site but the district council had advised this should be removed and final numbers agreed at planning permission stage.

The working group agreed but now believes that, in fact, it had the right to keep that wording and regrets taking it out as it didn’t realise T A Fisher would push for an increase.

He said: “If approved, it will seriously undermine our neighbourhood plan and set a precedent for made and emerging plans throughout South Oxfordshire.

“After long and detailed consultations with T A Fisher we reluctantly agreed this site would be included in the plan as a response to the SHMA in 2014.

“We settled on a figure of 22 homes which reflects the sensitivity of the site because of its proximity to the AONB and its possible impact on neighbours. 

“We didn’t know about our legal right to retain the wording on our policy for that site and agreeing to remove it has rebounded badly on us. It has also opened the door for similar increases on other sites in our plan.

“This is a dense and very poorly-designed development in such a sensitive area and far too many aspects have been left to the reserve matters stage. It shouldn’t be an outline application – all matters should be under discussion tonight.

“Rejection would send a strong message to the developers that they should work with the parish council to develop something appropriate. An increase of eight homes may not sound much but it’s huge in the context of this site and there is a principle at stake.”

Paul Mullin, a resident of Kennylands Road, said: “The need for new, sustainable housing in our community is accepted on appropriate sites. However, the planned density on this site is unacceptable.

“The developer has shown little regard for creating a balanced and attractive layout and should stick to the original allocation.”

Katherine Miles, representing T A FIsher, said: “Whilst the neighbourhood plan did initially seek to restrict the number of dwellings, this was found to be contrary to the advice of the district council.

“The wording was removed before publication because it was seen as premature and unduly restrictive with no substantial evidence against it.

“This proposal strikes the right balance between making the most effective possible use of the site while respecting the sensitivity of the area and will not harm the landscape.”

Councillor Will Hall, one of Sonning Common’s district councillors, said: “This committee should be upholding the principle of the democratic exercise that is producing a neighbourhood plan. Additionally, the site is very close to the AONB so it needs to be treated as a special instance.”

Councillor Sue Lawson proposed approval, saying she had “reservations” but couldn’t see a valid planning reason for refusal. She was seconded by Councillor Ian White, who shared his view and was “profoundly uneasy” about the idea.

However, the motion was voted down and Councillor Lorraine Hillier then proposed refusal, seconded by Councillor Richard Pullen.

The committee was going to defer the decision as members couldn’t agree on valid reasons for refusal.

However, it decided to vote for refusal and let Councillor Toby Newman, the chairman, confer with officers on the matter.

They will now work together to present the strongest possible case for refusal of the application.

The result marks a second victory for the parish council in defending the Sonning Common neighbourhood development plan.

In Februrary more than 100 residents of the village attended a meeting where Gallagher Estates had an application for 95 homes refused.

The company had applied to build on land off Kennylands Road, which is earmarked for just 26 in the village’s neighbourhood plan, which outlines sites for 200 homes across the village.

It was unanimously rejected due to impact on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and affect on traffic and amenities.

Cllr Greenwood added: “We feel this is a vindication of our plan and it was a victory for the democratic process.

“The majority of councillors felt our plan should be followed.”

ENDS

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