Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Residents put planning trio under ‘pressure’

THREE former councillors who resigned from a group guiding Watlington’s neighbourhood plan were placed under “enormous pressure”

THREE former councillors who resigned from a group guiding Watlington’s neighbourhood plan were placed under “enormous pressure” by residents from one estate.

The claim was made by former parish councillor Tim Horton against residents of the Marlbrook estate in front of more than 100 people at the town’s annual meeting.

Rhian Woods, Nick Hancock and Neil Boddington — who had sat on the council’s neighbourhood plan core committee — urged people not to vote for them earlier this year.

The trio decided they no longer wanted to be on the council because of what they claimed was “uncertainty” over the plan and the number of houses. The process has since stalled.

They tried to withdraw from the poll but only after the closing date for nominations, so their names still appeared on the ballot paper. Mrs Woods received 322 votes, Mr Boddington 214 and Mr Hancock 212, none of them sufficient to gain re-election.

Mr Horton, who failed to be re-elected in May, told the meeting that some of the members of the old neighbourhood plan core committee were “placed under enormous pressure by a group who grew up in the Marlbrook area”.

“Some of us were enormously concerned for our fellow members,” he added.

Mr Horton also claimed that several people from a “few roads elevated a piece of ‘nimbyism’ to effectively become a major group within the parish council”.

Four people from the Marlbrook estate — Terry Jackson, Jo Read, Jane Bryant and Jeremy Bell — were elected to the parish council in May.

Eight people in total with addresses on the estate had sought election, according to the ‘statement of persons nominated’.

This came two months after about 80 residents of the estate attended a public meeting to complain that they had not been properly consulted on the neighbourhood plan.

The town has been allocated 79 new homes to be built by 2027 under South Oxfordshire District Council’s core strategy but this number could rise. The residents were also concerned a new link road could be built through the estate.

Mr Horton said they were now faced with a “political dilemma” but was interrupted when Cllr Read, who was in the audience, said: “Are you questioning the integrity of the new councillors? I strongly object!

“You need to sit down, Tim, and you need to sit down now. We don’t want to hear from you.”

After the heated exchange people at the meeting overwhelmingly said they wanted to continue with the neighbourhood plan process rather than abandon it.

This was agreed by the council on Tuesday night. New members of the neighbourhood plan core committee have not yet been appointed but an ‘ad hoc’ group will look at how to proceed and report back to the council.

At the annual meeting Cllr Hill said that having a plan allowed a “degree of control” over what happened in the town over the coming years.

He said to tackle the uncertainty over housing numbers the council could over-allocate reserve housing sites to accommodate extra properties. There were figures of 200 to 250 homes “floating around”, he said.

The plan could also be subject to review. But he said its preparation required a “huge amount of time and effort” and would cost money and called for more community involvement. About £16,500 has been spent so far on the plan.

Anna Badcock, Watlington’s district councillor, told the crowd if they continued with the neighbourhood plan process it would take another 18 months to two years to complete and finalise.

She warned that if the process was halted developers could submit applications for development.

“We’re in a relatively vulnerable situation and it’s important to protect ourselves. Developers are getting bold and they are pushing and I think it’s very important that as a community we are in control,” she said.

The meeting also heard that communities with an approved neighbourhood plan received 25 per cent of the community infrastructure levy revenues arising from development in their area rather than 15 per cent.

After the meeting Cllr Read told the Henley Standard: “For Tim Horton to say what he did is completely out of order.”

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