Monday, 25 June 2018

Developer wins final court battle over Thames Farm

Developer wins final court battle over Thames Farm homes

A LAST-DITCH bid to stop 95 homes being built on a field between Henley and Shiplake has failed.

South Oxfordshire District Council has had to abandon its fight against the development at Thames Farm, off Reading Road, after being denied the right to challenge a planning inspector’s decision to approve it.

The council had filed for a hearing at the Court of Appeal after being refused a judicial review by the High Court in November. But last week judges said it didn’t have a valid case and refused to consider the issue further.

Shiplake’s district councillor Paul Harrison said the decision was “disappointing” and could affect neighbourhood plans across South Oxfordshire.

He said: “Shiplake residents will be devastated but, sadly, it seems planning inspectors have carte blanche to make their own decisions without many options for those who disagree.

“The danger is that the green gap between Shiplake and Henley is eroded because there are also plans to develop the old garden centre site next door while Bremont is building its new headquarters at the other end of Reading Road.

“Mount Ida, opposite Thames Farm, has also been put forward and I can imagine that getting through.

“It will be interesting to see how other inspectors interpret this decision, particularly as there have been more recent appeals which found in our favour.

“We’ve spent about £500,000 on neighbourhood plans across South Oxfordshire and I hope this doesn’t weaken them.

“Building at Thames Farm restores our three-year land supply but the starting date for the three-year threshold is constantly shifting so it doesn’t make us secure forever.

“The plans for 3,000 homes at Chalgrove Airfield are caught up in a legal dispute and that could increase the pressure elsewhere.”

The scheme was put forward by landowner Claire Engbers in 2016 but was refused permission by the council, which said the land in Harpsden parish wasn’t earmarked for housing in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan and there were road safety issues.

Inspector John Braithwaite overturned the decision when Mrs Engbers appealed. He said the council had failed to secure enough housing sites to meet demand for the next three years, making the neighbourhood plan unenforceable.

The council then sought a judicial review at the High Court, saying the inspector’s methodology was flawed but judges argued this was a matter for his discretion.

Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said: “The court’s decision draws attention to the absurdity of the planning system, whereby a district council’s failure to maintain an adequate land supply can let an application through when it would have been ruled out on all other relevant grounds.

“It’s as though we’re being blamed for something they’ve done wrong, which is ridiculous and I hope our political masters can get their game together and do better in future.

“We are now awaiting the district council’s guidance on the implications for our joint neighbourhood plan and will decide whether we wish to take part in its renewal.”

Shiplake Parish Council chairman Tudor Taylor said: “There’s a real depth of sadness given the very public dismay towards the application in the community and its elected representatives.

“We worked very hard but were up against a second-to-none legal team with massive financial backing from a developer who wasn’t prepared to take public opinion into account.

“I think building on a green field when nobody else wants it is a sad way to make money. People talk about the cost of opposing this but I imagine the developer has spent a good deal more on pushing it through.

“We’re still progressing with a neighbourhood plan as it’s better than having no protection.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “This still leaves the district council with a problem as to whether it has a three-year land supply or not and it will have to work hard to resolve that. Neighbourhood plans as a whole remain secure and it would be wrong to attack them based on one example.”

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