Monday, 16 July 2018

Street to remain in public ownership

A BID to remove highway status from a Henley street has been rejected.

A BID to remove highway status from a Henley street has been rejected.

The decision not to support a stopping-up order for part of Bell Street was made by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin following an inquiry.

It was welcomed by members of the town council’s ruling Henley Residents’ Group who opposed the proposed order, sparking years of debate about the status of the street.

The three-day inquiry was held in August to discuss a proposal by Oxfordshire County Council to take the land into private ownership.

Marlow developer Chesterton Commercial was given planning permission to create a new layout for nine parking spaces outside Nos. 94 to 102 Bell Street in 2011.

This would have meant losing a small section of a green triangle of land with trees on it.

There were 39 objections to the draft order while those in favour included South Oxfordshire District Council and some Bell Street residents who said that it would make access to the parking spaces easier, improve pedestrian safety and make more efficient use of the space.

Resident Amanda Chumas, who bought two of the parking spaces in 2008, said the availability of on-street parking was very limited as demand exceeded supply.

DfT inspector Stuart Nixon, who heard the inquiry, concluded that the area should remain a public amenity.

He said: “Regarding highway and pedestrian safety, it is clear that the arguments are very strongly in favour of retaining the highway in public ownership and control.

“The control of its usage and that of Bell Lane and Bell Street south of the order land are positive public benefits. Crucially, perpetuating obvious safety risks is unsupportable.

“Added to these points must be advantage to the immediate frontagers and the fact that it would be difficult to ignore their existing rights, not to mention the reasonable expectations any road frontager might value.

“The downsides of the street remaining public highway are very few and generally private/ personal — the inability of the applicants to implement their permission and the loss of dedicated parking space for those who purchased them in good faith.

“Dependant on how Bell Street is managed in the future, there could be less on-street parking available, though this could be available at all times, thereby maximising public usage.”

Deputy Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said he was “delighted” at the outcome.

Speaking at a meeting of the town council on Tuesday, he said: “The town council took a principled stand on this matter on the grounds of public/residents’ safety, public parking, public amenity and preserving the historic part of Henley under public control.

“It was due to the courage of some town councillors that this resulted in a victory for the people of Henley.

“The inspector made clear his high regard for preservation of the green triangle and the potential loss of this attractive and historic part of Henley.

“He noted that the scheme, if approved, would have encroached on the green triangle and would have destroyed mature trees.

“It shows that Henley Town Council was absolutely right to pursue this, it was absolutely right to stand up for the people of Henley and it was right to oppose the stopping-up order.

“Mr Nixon, in his splendid, fantastic, brilliant 38-page report, has vindicated this stance.”

However, Conservative opposition councillor Lorraine Hillier said the town council was not unanimous in opposing the order.

Speaking after the meeting, she said: “We were not all delighted about the outcome of the inquiry.

“There have been some neighbours there who have behaved atrociously — they have not paid for their car parking and have been using the spaces in a cavalier fashion.”

Christopher Russell, who lives in Bell Street, said: “We are very pleased that common sense and honesty was allowed to finally prevail over what has clearly been a long and painful decision-making process.

“The whole saga started over some gross mismanagement by Oxfordshire County Council which was then exacerbated by a drive for commercial gain.

“Huge thanks to the Henley Residents’ Group councillors and Henley Town Council who were motivated simply by what is right and not what might be politically expedient.

“Particular thanks to Councillors Ian Reissmann and Stefan Gawrysiak who never gave up the battle.

“Also, massive thanks to many individuals and associations, including the Henley Historical Society and the Open Spaces Society, who campaigned so hard against this ridiculous order.

“They could see the importance of preserving this exceptional Georgian terrace and the green triangle for the people of Henley as well as for all future generations.

“Clearly there is a message here for other councils who don’t follow the protocols when dealing with public highway and when individuals will not give up fighting for what is right, fair and honest.”

David Parry, who represented the Henley-based Open Spaces Society at the inquiry, said: “We are delighted that the rights of residents and the community have been recognised and respected.

“We were concerned that pedestrian rights along this length of Bell Street were to be violated by Chesterton’s plan.

“This is a pleasant, green corner of Henley and it is excellent that it has been saved for all to enjoy.”

Chesterton Commercial declined to comment.

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