Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Confusion over sites being considered for new homes

A SIXTEENTH site could be considered in Sonning Common’s neighbourhood plan.

A SIXTEENTH site could be considered in Sonning Common’s neighbourhood plan.

South Oxfordshire District Council has added the site at Blackmore Farm in its strategic housing land availability assessment.

The report sets out the council’s findings following research into potential locations for new housing.

It says the aim is to “identify as many sites as possible with housing potential in and around settlements” but does not determine whether a site should be allocated for development.

The findings bear little resemblance to the recommendations of the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan working group, although the process is still at an early stage.

For example, three sites at Bishopswood Farm have been included by the working group in the design stage of the plan but the district council says they are “not considered suitable in principle” as they fall within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Philip Collings, clerk of Sonning Common Parish Council, said: “They have made suggestions about sites that are completely at variance with what is being locally agreed. There does seem to be an element of right hand and left hand not being too well co-ordinated but we’re not sure until we sit down with them properly.

“We might have to take on board this newly formed site near Blackmore Farm.”

He claimed the district council’s report was wrong to say that SON 3, one of the Bishopswood Farm sites, had not been submitted for development when it had.

However, he added: “It’s not the worst thing in the world what’s happened. We go through our process and come up with our own recommendations so at the end of the day it’s a question of what the inspector thinks.

“We were quite upset when we first saw the report because it looked like they had been trampling all over what we’ve been doing but we had meetings with the district council and now we understand more about it. We haven’t fallen out with the council, it’s just a bit of confusion.” Mr Collings said the working group would meet with the Chilterns Conservation Board to discuss the issues.

The group has recommended nine sites for different types of development, including housing, office space and recreational use.

The district council’s report says there are six sites that are suitable and available for housing. It says these could accommodate up to 341 homes, although the target number is 152, to be built by 2027.

Two of these locations — by Kennylands Road and Widmore Pond — have not been taken forward by Sonning Common.

The report says the site by Kennylands Road, which is currently used as pony paddocks, has “no overriding constraints” despite recognising that an electricity pylon on the site could be a problem. There are tree preservation orders on the land by Widmore Pond.

The land at Blackmore Farm, a one hectare site opposite the Johnson Matthey laboratory, is said to be available but not suitable for development because it is in the AONB.

The district council report says: “The development of this site, however, will also be considered through the plan-making process, during which its acceptability will be judged by comparison with other potentially suitable sites.”

The report also uses different reference numbers for the sites to those that have been used by the working group.

Mr Collings said: “It’s very annoying because we have volunteers who know the SON numbers off by heart and all of a sudden these have been changed.

“We have to do an audit trail so need to keep it consistent in all our documentation for the planning inspector.”

The district council is to writing to all the site owners to ask if they want to be considered in the plan.

Meanwhile, a public referendum on the neighbourhood plan looks set to be delayed.

It was hoped this would take place in May next year but it is now more likely to happen next October.

Peppard councillor Fiona Berry, a member of the working group, said: “There’s an awful lot to get through.”

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