GILLOTTS School in Henley has been given the go-ahead to sell one of its playing fields for housing,
GILLOTTS School in Henley has been given the go-ahead to sell one of its playing fields for housing, writes James Burton.
The Department for Education has said the academy can dispose of a 3.4-hectare sports pitch to make way for up to 85 homes.
The field on the school’s eastern boundary is one of 11 sites earmarked for development in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan’s second draft.
Governors say the school needs £10million for major refurbishment and selling the land could help raise the money.
However, according to the results of a public consultation on the plan, which were published on Wednesday, this is the least popular option.
Only 41 per cent of the 605 people who took part supported building at Gillotts whereas at least 80 per cent backed the four highest-ranking sites.
The document, drawn up by volunteers under Henley Town Council’s supervision, states where 450 or more homes should be built by 2027. It is expected to go to a referendum later this year and will become legally binding if it passes.
More than three-quarters of respondents agreed with its overall conclusions during the consultation, which ran from February 6 until March 20.
Seventy-seven per cent were in favour, a significant increase on the 54 per cent who supported the first draft last year.
The most popular site was the offices of removals firm Wilkins of Henley, in Deanfield Road, which 85 per cent backed. This has been earmarked for 20 homes.
Eighty-two per cent backed proposals for 27 homes at the Chilterns End care home off Greys Road, while 81 per cent supported 10 homes at the former Royal Marines Reserve headquarters in Friday Street.
Eighty per cent supported building 30 homes at the former Exclusively Ladies gym off Reading Road and 79 per cent were in favour of 23 homes at the former Henley Youth Centre in Deanfield Avenue.
Joint sixth with 78 per cent support were plans for 55 homes at the former Jet petrol station and National Tyres garage in Reading Road plus 42 at Henley Enterprise Park and 13 at the Makower textiles offices, both off Greys Road.
Plans for 140 homes at Highlands Farm, a light industrial estate also off Greys Road, were supported by 76 per cent.
The second least popular site was a field south-west of Fair Mile, which is earmarked for 40 homes. Only 57 per cent backed this.
When the second draft was published it was not known whether Gillotts would be allowed to sell its field.
To ensure the plan hit its quota of 450 homes, an additional 30 were allocated to Highlands Farm as a reserve while 20 were allocated to Fair Mile. Seventy-three per cent of respondents supported the former and 55 per cent the latter.
Sport England, which was a statutory consultee, has also opposed building at Gillotts. It says the school has failed to prove the land is not needed and has not proposed new facilities to replace it.
Principal Catharine Darnton said the school had in fact drawn up plans for new community facilities including a multi-use games area but did not tell Sport England as it did not realise it would be commenting.
She said: “We had expected to engage with them later at the planning application stage and did not expect them to respond to the neighbourhood plan consultation.
“Clearly we need to show them everything we’ve presented to the plan’s working groups so that they are aware of all the exciting things we want to do.
“We are just as concerned to make sure we end up with the same or better sports facilities.”
Ms Darnton said the school would take no further action until the neighbourhood plan had gone to a referendum.
She said: “We’re delighted to have permission to sell the land. With the election coming up, we weren’t sure whether it would happen beforehand.
“However, we have always seen our proposal as working in parallel with the neighbourhood plan so we anticipate waiting for the referendum. We also need a bit of time to reflect on the decision.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “Every school must, by law, have access to enough playing field space to meet its sports and curriculum needs.
“Disposals of playing fields can only proceed if there are strong reasons for doing so and only so long as the needs of the school can still be met.”
Councillor Dieter Hinke, chairman of the town council’s neighbourhood planning governance committee, said: “Although Gillotts has been allowed to dispose of the land, that doesn’t mean South Oxfordshire District Council will give planning permission for housing to go there.
“I would have preferred it if the Secretary of State had waited for the consultation results before making a decision as you can see there’s clearly a swing away from building on that field. They’d only need to have given it a few more days.
“The school still has a long way to go to get Sport England on its side but it will have problems getting planning permission if it does not because Sport England will oppose it.”
Cllr Hinke said he was happy with the number of people who took part in the consultation as fewer than 250 people voted in Thame’s successful neighbourhood plan referendum two years ago.
The process was publicised in a leaflet sent to every household in Henley and Harpsden and eight exhibitions and roadshows in various locations.
“We were ever going to get thousands of people voting,” he said. “However, I would imagine the number of people who took part in this consultation is statistically significant.
“You have to make sure everyone is aware of their right to vote, and I believe we did. It’s a massive turnout for a second consultation.”
“I think more people were in favour this time because we’ve listened to their concerns. We have changed the draft plan based on feedback from the first consultation so more people now agree with it.”
On top of the 605 participants from the two parishes, there were 106 from surrounding villages but their responses cannot be counted.
Cllr Hinke said: “Comments must come from within the parish boundaries. I think people living in places like the Assendons or Rotherfield Greys are likely to be affected by what happens here but that is what the legislation states and we must follow that.”
The draft plan will be submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council for independent inspection by the end of May.