Sunday, 17 December 2017

Taxpayers face bill for road inquiry

TAXPAYERS may have to foot the bill for the long-running dispute over parking spaces in Bell Street, Henley.

TAXPAYERS may have to foot the bill for the long-running dispute over parking spaces in Bell Street, Henley.

Last week, a government inspector ruled that public highway status should not be removed from one section of the street where residents park.

Stuart Nixon, who held a three-day inquiry last year, said the “stopping-up” order applied for by Marlow developer Chesterton Commercial was not in the interest of safety for drivers and pedestrians.

The town council’s ruling Henley Residents’ Group welcomed the decision, which went against the position of South Oxfordshire District Council and some residents.Now Conservative town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith has called a meeting of stakeholders amid fears the dispute could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands.

Cllr Nimmo Smith said: “The cost will be decided by lawyers, who at the end of the day will be the only real winners.

“There is certain to be litigation involving Chesterton and those resident who had ‘bought’ parking spaces.

“The issue has split the immediate community. The county council took independent advice, which suggested that the land in question could be stopped up, but this resulted in a town council veto.

“Chestertons applied directly to the Secretary of State to have the land stopped up and we now have the outcome. Both sides will have to sit down and discuss the what and wherefore of the decision.”

Cllr Nimmo Smith said the county and district councils had sought to avoid cost to the public purse but the town council had refused offers to negotiate a “fair and balanced compromise”.

He added: “Is this really the community victory proclaimed last week?The money spent to date could have been spent on a whole range of environmental and community projects in Henley.”

Amanda Chumas, who lives in Bell Street and supported the road becoming privately owned, claimed the district council could be liable over advice that the road was already privately owned.

Anne McWilliams, of Bell Lane, spoke at the inquiry and was upset at the result.

She said: “The land was given to the residents of Bell Street in the 1800s and the county council has done nothing about it.

“The fact that it is ancient public highway does not mean that it is public highway today. It is a cul-de-sac.

“There is going to be a huge cost — people have hired lawyers because they were all told that it was private land.”

Chesterton Commercial said it would not be appropriate to comment while an appeal was possible.

An Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said: “The recent application to stop up Bell Street was made by a developer, not the county council, and it remains to be seen what action it will now take.

“At this stage, it is not possible to quantify possible costs. As things stand, the highway status of Bell Street, as determined by the county council, remains upheld by the inspector and we are currently assessing the implications of this.”

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