Sunday, 22 October 2017

Henley area's homes target could still increase

HUNDREDS of additional new homes may have to be built in Henley and the surrounding villages

HUNDREDS of additional new homes may have to be built in Henley and the surrounding villages.

South Oxfordshire District Council says it needs to find space for at least 3,600 extra houses on top of its current quota of 11,487.

It has launched a second public consultation on a government-approved report, called a strategic housing market assessment, which says the new target should be between 14,500 and 16,500. The council had disputed the highest estimate when it was published in May but now supports a smaller increase and wants to know where residents think the extra housing should be built. Under the authority?s current local plan it must find land for 547 new homes every year in the period 2006 to 2027.

Henley must take at least 450 homes and is compiling a neighbourhood plan to identify suitable sites.

Sonning Common, Woodcote, Watlington, Benson, Goring and Nettlebed, which are classed as ?larger villages?, must take a combined total of 540. Now the district council wants to increase its quota to at least 15,087 homes between 2011 and 2031, or 754 a year, as part of a new local plan.

This figure could go even higher if the district is made to take any overspill from Oxford, which is struggling to find space for new housing.

The council says most of the extra houses should be built in the ?science vale?, an area between Didcot and Abingdon with a large number of research companies, but that other towns and villages should take their share too. It says the best approach would be to share them out in roughly the same proportions as the existing local plan, meaning Henley, Thame, Wallingford and the larger villages such as Woodcote, Sonning Common and Watlignton would have to take more.

People are being asked to comment on possible housing sites in Goring, Benson and Nettlebed because they have not produced neighbourhood plans whereas the others have done or are doing so.

The council could relax planning rules so that ?infill? developments in smaller villages can obtain permission more easily. The authority says: ?We believe planning for a further 3,600 homes will help provide the extra housing needed to support our business community and its plans for economic growth.

?Our strategy in a nutshell is to focus change and development in the science vale and elsewhere plan for some smaller-scale change to make sure that our towns and villages remain vibrant.

?For our own housing need, we think the growth potential of the science vale and the opportunity to support the vitality of the market towns and larger villages make these the most appropriate places for locating most of our additional homes.

?Putting all the additional housing [in the science vale] could mean that other locations in the district miss out on the opportunity to achieve stronger populations, to secure the future of their services and facilities, to build affordable homes and to use developer contributions... to pay for new or expanded infrastructure.

?By supporting the development of some new housing within our larger villages we will have ensured that our rural communities can continue to thrive and everyone has access to services within a short  distance.?

Councillor Angie Paterson, the council?s member for planning policy, said: ?This is not a time to sit back ? we need to move forward with the local plan to make sure we are on the front foot in countywide discussions about the level of housing need and the highly contentious issue of overspill from Oxford.

?Sometimes it is better to be first than last with such discussions.

?The response to our initial consultation last summer and other evidence studies has helped us draw up these more defined options.

?Local people clearly recognise the need for more housing and this is an additional phase of consultation to help us gather views on the best way of distributing the new houses across the district.

?We are aware that the market towns feel they have already been allocated enough but I would stress that no decisions have been made at this stage.

?You have to explore every possible option and that is what we are doing ? we are thinking spatially and will get to the finer detail of numbers later on.?

Henley Town Council has spent almost £80,000 compiling its neighbourhood plan, which names up to 11 sites where its 450 homes could go.

The second draft is currently the subject of a public consultation which closes on March 20.

The council has also earmarked £50,000 for a traffic survey to find ways of reducing the impact on the town?s roads.

Dieter Hinke, chairman of the town council?s neighbourhood planning governance committee, said: ?My view remains the same as always ? quite simply, Henley should not have to take any more homes.

?We have struggled to find sites for 450 homes and will be spending a lot of money on the traffic survey. Any increase will cause further problems that will ultimately become insurmountable.

?The town is full and struggling to deal with what we?ve got ? to pile any more on would be intolerable and I will be responding to the consultation to that effect.?

Henley MP John Howell said he supported the district council?s conclusions but was opposed to accepting any of Oxford?s overspill.

He said: ?The 3,600 figure has come about following the first consultation, which was held to start a genuine debate and identify constraints on development.

?They have not accepted the maximum number proposed by the SHMA so it shows that the process was worthwhile ? it was all about questioning the figures.

?It is correct that most homes should be built in the science vale as they will be linked with jobs.

?However, Oxford City Council has been absolutely abysmal in building houses over the past few years and I shall be lobbying the Government on this issue as it would be wrong to reward them for such appalling behaviour.

?I would urge all communities that do not have neighbourhood plans to start producing them as it gives them more control over the planning process.

?For those which have already done so, an increased allocation does not represent a setback as they can continue to build on their work.?

Residents can take part in the consultation by visiting any library or online at www.southoxon.gov.uk/options

There will also be a series of drop-in events where people can talk to planning officers. These will take place at Benson village hall on March 9 (3pm to 8pm), Nettlebed village club on March 21(10am to 2pm) and Goring village hall on March 28 (10am to 2pm).

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