Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Fears over new 110 homes bid

TWO villages are bracing themselves for a second legal battle over plans for 110 homes on farmland near Henley.

TWO villages are bracing themselves for a second legal battle over plans for 110 homes on farmland near Henley.

A High Court judge has quashed a planning inspector’s decision to forbid the development at Thames Farm, between Shiplake and Harpsden.

Claire Engbers, who owns the 15-acre site off Reading Road, may now launch a fresh appeal against South Oxfordshire District Council’s original refusal of the scheme.

Mrs Engbers applied for outline permission to build a mixture of flats and houses on the land in June 2013.

The district council unanimously rejected it amid opposition from residents, Shiplake and Harpsden parish councils and its own planning officers.

Objectors said the development would damage the area’s rural character and erode the green boundary between Shiplake, Harpsden and Henley.

They also feared an increase in traffic on Reading Road and said it would put pressure on school places and other infrastructure. Mrs Engbers appealed and a public inquiry was held at Henley town hall in December last year.

During the hearing, her solicitor David Cook told inspector Ian Jackson it was an “ideal” site for housing as it was not green belt or in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

He also argued that the district council had failed to supply a district-wide, five-year land supply for homes.

Mr Jackson accepted this last point, which the authority disputed, but said the scheme would have a “severe, adverse, residual, cumulative effect on the safety and convenience of highways users”.

Delivering his verdict in May, he expressed particular concern over visibility at a proposed pedestrian crossing near the village’s war memorial.

He also said the development would have “an adverse effect on the character and appearance of the area” which outweighed any benefits.

But on Monday this week, High Court judge David Holgate accepted Mrs Engbers’ argument that the decision was “legally unfair” and he ordered the communities

nister Greg Clark to allow another appeal.

Mrs Engbers’ counsel Christopher Lockhart-Mummery said that, prior to the inquiry, Mr Jackson didn’t give “proper or sufficient” indication that highways issues would be “determinative in the appeal.”

He argued it had not been a main issue before the inspector and that Mrs Engbers and the district council had agreed these concerns could be dealt with at a later stage in more detailed designs.

Mr Justice Holgate said: “Crucially, these issues were not raised by the inspector with the claimant, the highway authority or any other party.

“It cannot be said that the claimant ought reasonably to have been aware from the material available and from what took place at the inquiry that the matters relating to the pedestrian crossing point, on which the inspector dismissed the appeal, should be addressed.”

If the scheme gets the all-clear, there are concerns that it could undermine the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which is expected to go to a referendum next year.

The document, which was written by volunteers under Henley Town Council’s supervision, names 11 sites in the two parishes where 450 homes are to be built by 2027 to meet Government targets. It will become legally binding if more than half of voters approve it.

Mrs Engbers put Thames Farm forward for inclusion in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan in 2013 but it was rejected.

Councillor Kester George, the chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said: “That application has caused us a lot of trouble and I’m appalled by this news.

“So many villagers have volunteered their time towards fighting it and will be sickened that it’s come back again. I think it would be devastating for the area if it went ahead.

“I wasn’t entirely content with the appeal inspector’s report as I disagreed with his statements on the land supply. However, I hope we can get this back on the straight and narrow, not least because the people of Henley and Harpsden worked jolly hard on the neighbourhood plan.

“I don’t believe we can take 450 more houses because of the pressure on our infrastructure. However, we accepted this quota and put a great deal of effort into calculating the least damaging way to accommodate them.”

David Bartholomew, Shiplake and Harpsden’s county councillor, said: “The people who put so much time into fighting this will be bitterly disappointed.

“I spoke against the development so it was opposed at all three levels of local democracy. It’s very sad that we will have to go over the same old arguments all over again.

“I still believe the development is totally inappropriate and an unwanted intrusion into the natural separation between the villages.

“I also think the volunteers who helped with the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan will be wondering whether it was worth getting involved if local decisions can just get tossed around on legal arguments.

“There’s still a strong case for rejecting this as there is no logical argument against the impact it will have on the character of the area.”

But Dieter Hinke, who was chairman of Henley Town Council’s neighbourhood planning governance committee before losing his seat in May’s elections, said it might be more productive for Mrs Engbers and the district council to enter negotiations.

He said: “This judgement is quite a strong vindication for the site because I can’t see the district council going through this whole process again â?? it’s going to be so expensive.

“There’s clearly been a lot of friction but it has dragged on for so long and now is the time for both parties to sit down and begin working towards some form of reasonable compromise.

“I also think the neighbourhood plan must be approved as quickly as possible because other developers of sites that weren’t included may now feel encouraged to put something forward and see what happens.”

However, Henley MP John Howell said: “The neighbourhood plan committee will want to look at this very carefully but planning permission has still not been granted. It is too early to say what the effects will be, if any.

“It will be important to study the written judgement in detail as soon as it is available.”

Henley town councillor Will Hamilton, who took over the chairmanship from Mr Hinke, said: “We are aware of the court case but are awaiting the full judgement before deciding on the appropriate action.

“In the meantime, until we hear anything further, the neighbourhood plan is simply progressing as usual.”

Geoff Thomas, deputy chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said: “This is naturally very disappointing news and we remain firmly opposed to the application. We will study the court’s judgement carefully before determining our next steps.”

A South Oxfordshire District Council spokesman said the authority was also awaiting the written judgement.

He added: “We do not believe there are any major implications for the neighbourhood plan as no planning permission exists for development on the site.”

Mrs Engbers did not respond to requests for comment.

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