Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Parishes set to disagree over joint housing plan

PLANS for Henley and Harpsden to work together in choosing where development should take place could fall apart.

PLANS for Henley and Harpsden to work together in choosing where development should take place could fall apart.

The two parishes have agreed to co-operate on producing a neighbourhood plan in response to a requirement that 400-plus homes are built in Henley by 2027.

But the deal was dependent on only parts of Harpsden parish being considered for development and Henley Town Council being responsible for the majority of the cost of the plan, which could be up to £100,000.

Now Henley has resolved that the whole of Harpsden is included, which the parish council seems unlikely to agree to.

Three of the six possible sites earmarked for development by South Oxfordshire District Council are in Harpsden parish — Treetops, Highlands Farm and Gillotts School. Between them, they could accommodate 260 homes.

Speaking at last week’s meeting of the town council, Harpsen Parish Council chairman Kester George said: “We only accepted the offer of a joint neighbourhood plan with Henley because our small village exemption from development was withdrawn and the terms offered by Henley’s representatives seemed very reasonable in the circumstances.

“But I have no doubt we did so under duress, not from Henley but from the district council. Now we still have the duress but may also be asked to accept less attractive terms from Henley.

“Redrawing the boundary to include the whole of Harpsden would be another matter, primarily because our main concern is to protect Harpsden Valley and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that covers the valley and the ancient woodland around it.

“As we see it, Henley has already exceeded its natural boundary to the south of Rotherfield Road and further expansion would spoil countryside that is already designated for protection and yet still enjoyed by Henley Golf Club and the many users of Harpsden’s cricket and football fields among many others.” Cllr George said he would not object to development of the 11-acre Highlands Farm site, off Greys Road.

He suggested Gillotts School could be rebuilt on the site and the current school site off Gillotts Lane used for housing.

Speaking from the public gallery, former town councillor Barry Wood said the whole of Harpsden parish should be included in the neighbourhood plan and that it would be “unfair and unjust” if the parish council didn’t accept its share of responsibility.

Mr Wood, who lives in Blandy Road, Henley, and chairs UNITED, a group of householders formed to influence development said: “There’s not even a token donation to Henley in terms of an amount of money. It looks like it will cost between £50,000 and £100,000.

“A token donation would show enthusiasm for the neighbourhood plan from Harpsden.”

John Lake, also of Blandy Road, said Henley was built to its boundaries apart from in the conservation area.

He said: “Harpsden is one of the largest parishes in the country and one of the least populous. To restrict just the three sites in Harpsden is crazy. I approve of development because extra housing will be great for the town and the community and we need it badly.

“But housing without infrastructure improvements will lead to problems with congestion and parking. I just hope the council is going to fight for all of these things that ought to be a necessary pre-condition for development.”

Hugh Crook, of Rotherfield Road, Henley, said not having a neighbourhood plan would be “catastrophic” as housing sites would then be imposed on the two parishes by the district council.

He said the whole of Harpsden parish should be included in the plan to ensure there was “flexibility”.

But Robert Simister, a district councillor who represents Shiplake and lives in Harpsden Bottom, said small villages were exempt from the district council’s core strategy but Harpsden had been drafted in anyway.

He added: “It’s very easy for the larger community to say to the smaller community, ‘we would like to use your land for our development’.”

Councillor Dieter Hinke, who chairs the town council’s planning committee, said neighbourhood plans were meant to bring communities together rather than cause divisions.

He said: “What could happen in 20 years’ time is more important than geography. Unless the full boundary of Harpsden is included there is an element of risk because if we do the plan and take it to the inspector, he could say, ‘it’s not right’.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann said: “The choices are that we have a neighbourhood plan in which we attempt to look at how houses can be accommodated or allow the district council to use its planning department and system to impose how and where it goes.

“We need housing in Henley for young and old people. It’s in short supply and we need to make sure where, if we can, it meets the needs of the whole of the town and that we influence as much as we can the way in which it’s dealt. I hope Councillor George can go back to Harpsden and impress on them that we want to work together.”

But Councillor David Nimmo Smith said: “It’s not up to Henley to tell Harpsden what boundary it should have.”

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