Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Developer and council to go head-to-head

COUNCILLORS in Woodcote are to oppose a planning appeal which they fear could undermine the village’s neighbourhood plan.

COUNCILLORS in Woodcote are to oppose a planning appeal which they fear could undermine the village’s neighbourhood plan.

Developers Jumquest, from Henley, and Beenlore, from Whitchurch, were refused outline permission for 10 homes at Goats Gambol in April.

The 0.89 hectare field off Beech Lane was not earmarked for housing in the neighbourhood plan, which was published a few days later.

Now the companies have appealed to the Planning Inspectorate to overturn South Oxfordshire District Council’s decision, resulting in a three-day public inquiry from April 22 to 24.

Woodcote Parish Council fears that if the appeal is successful, the plan would lose its legal standing and developers would be able to build wherever they wanted.

The document names five sites where up to 76 houses should be built in the village to meet its share of the district’s housing quota by 2027.

It was approved by 91 per cent of villagers who took part in a referendum, so it is a legally binding document that forms part of the district council’s planning policy.

The parish council is to write to the inspector explaining that residents were consulted at every stage of the plan being drafted. More than half the village took part in the referendum.

Furthermore, Goats Gambol was only put forward as a possible site when the plan was submitted for independent inspection in 2013.

Speaking at a council meeting last week, chairman Robin Peirce said: “Our strongest card is how we conducted the process. We can prove beyond all doubt that this site was not submitted in the proper manner.

“It came out at the 11th hour, when the landowners thought they could just whinge about it to the inspector when he was scrutinising the plan.

“They thought they could just throw a spanner in the works more than 12 months after the initial call for sites.

“We have to demonstrate that we gave people endless opportunities to come forward right from the very beginning.”

The council will contact conservation groups such as the Chiltern Society and the Campaign to Protect Rural England to request support.

It will also conduct a leaflet and door-to-door canvassing campaign urging residents to attend the inquiry.

Cllr Peirce said: “I am sure inspectors are influenced to a degree by bums on seats. If we have lots of chairs out and there are only three people and a dog in the room, it doesn’t exactly look good.”

Councillor Geoff Botting, who led the plan’s steering group, has already written to the inspector outlining his objections to the appeal.

He pointed out that Woodcote was one of the first places in the country to complete a plan, adding: “If this appeal is allowed then it will not only fatally undermine Woodcote’s neighbourhood plan but also that key element of the localism policy nationally.”

In their original application, the developers argued Goats Gambol was brownfield land as it was used by a number of animal care businesses.

They also said they would offer four homes to a housing association as affordable housing.

The district council said the development would erode the character of the area and there was not enough information about the impact on traffic and wildlife.

The companies say they are appealing because they claim the council does not have a five-year supply of housing land that can be developed immediately. The council denies this.

David Denham, the developers’ agent, said: “The site is located within a defined wedge of development within the village... and is considered to be an infill site within the built-up area.

“[It] is completely surrounded by trees and dense woodland and would not detract from the landscape setting of the village. It is largely concealed from the surrounding area.

“Several of the sites identified in the neighbourhood plan are not realistic, nor could they be immediately developed and the plan falls short of providing enough housing sites.

“The appellants are small development companies actively providing housing in the area and if consent is granted house building can proceed without delay.”

Neighbourhood plans were introduced in 2011 as part of the Localism Act, which Henley MP John Howell helped to draft. So far the concept has not faced any legal challenges.

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