Friday, 18 August 2017

Parish unsure whether to team up on housing plan

A WORKING group has been formed to help decide whether Peppard should join the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan.

A WORKING group has been formed to help decide whether Peppard should join the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan.

It will be made up of three parish councillors, who will consider the potential benefits and downsides.

A site on the edge of the village is one of 14 earmarked by South Oxfordshire District Council as suitable for development in order to meet a target of 152 new homes in Sonning Common by 2027.

Peppard Parish Council had rejected the opportunity to link up with its neighbour but has agreed to reconsider following a meeting with Beryl Guiver, principal planning policy officer at the district council.

Speaking at last week’s parish council meeting, Councillor Fiona Berry said that agreeing to a joint plan would not mean the whole parish would be considered for housing.

“There are designated sites that have already been specified for development,” she said. “If we don’t work with Sonning Common we will go to the default position. If we do work with them then we can potentially get the best for the development of the area.”

However, she warned that there might be problems agreeing a joint plan due to the villages’ different characteristics.

Councillor Tony Cotton said he supported the idea of co-operation but had concerns about doing so at this stage.

He said: “These neighbourhood plans haven’t been tested yet. We don’t know how inspectors are going to look at them and I feel it would be better to wait six to 12 months until a few have been through the mill.

“I don’t like being a pioneer, it’s much better to be a follower.”

Councillor Clive Mills said Peppard might want to develop its own neighbourhood plan in the future but may not be able to if it was already part of another plan.

He suggested drawing a new boundary around the earmarked site, which is north of Blounts Court Road, next to Johnson Matthey.

He said: “If we hive off that area, it leaves the rest of our parish untouched but as a parish we’re still in the neighbourhood plan to make sure that people in that area get a fair hearing.”

Councillor David Hammond, who chairs the council, said the site would then have to be excluded from any future Peppard neighbourhood plan.

He added: “One of the questions we have to consider is are we better served having housing allocations in Sonning Common determined by the district council or by Sonning Common residents?

“Once we’ve made a decision, it’s irreversible. The decision we’re faced with at the moment is if we include some of Peppard we need to decide under what terms that’s reasonable.

“The very crude issue for us is if we say ‘no’. No one can force us but the outcome could be that Sonning Common is unable to proceed with its neighbourhood plan, which will then be blamed on us.

“But we have to look at what’s in the interests of the residents of Peppard.

“The simple thing is for us to come up with a different proposal. We could come up with a solution that says the whole of Peppard should be included in the neighbourhood plan with Sonning Common as a totally equal partnership.

“Ultimately, once the plan has been written it has to go into public referendum for residents to approve. There’s a lot more of them in Sonning Common than in Peppard.”

Cllr Hammond said it would cost about £20,000 for Peppard to make its own plan and Sonning Common Parish Council was keen to press on with its plan.

He added: “It’s a dilemma — we’re being told that if we don’t work with them it will probably stop their plan. Sonning Common believes we’re holding everything up at the moment and wants to get to a quick resolution.”

Cllr Berry said the council should take into account the views of residents. “I understand the pressure we’re under but for us to embrace a neighbourhood plan without consulting just seems a bit hasty,” she said.

Councillor Valerie Ross said: “We’re here to represent our parishioners, not Sonning Common’s parishioners.”

The working party of Cllrs Mills, Berry and Cotton will discuss the issue with their counterparts in Sonning Common and report back at the next council meeting.

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