Sunday, 15 July 2018

Minister bids to stop new homes

THE Government is challenging a judge’s decision to overturn a failed appeal over plans for 110

THE Government is challenging a judge’s decision to overturn a failed appeal over plans for 110 homes on land near Henley.

Communities minister Greg Clark believes the Planning Inspectorate was within its rights to dismiss the appeal over Thames Farm in Shiplake.

He has asked the Court of Appeal to reconsider the decision made by High Court judge David Holgate QC to allow a second appeal.

Claire Engbers, who owns the  15-acre site off the A4155 Reading Road, applied to South Oxfordshire District Council in 2013 for outline planning permission for a development of flats and houses, of which 40 per cent would be “affordable”. The council’s planning committee turned her down, so she appealed and an eight-day hearing was held at Henley town hall late last year.

Mrs Engbers argued that the council did not have enough land immediately available to meet demand for homes over the next five years which would have invalidated its local plan. The authority disputed this. However, the inspector Ian Jackson refused permission for highways and aesthetic reasons, even though it had been agreed that these could be overcome with planning conditions.

Mrs Engbers then took her case to the High Court for a judicial review, where last month Mr Justice Holgate ruled that Mr Jackson had been wrong to dismiss the appeal on these grounds.

The application is opposed by Shiplake and Harpsden parish councils, dozens of residents and the district council’s own planning officers.

They fear the development would damage the area’s rural character, increase traffic on Reading Road and put too much pressure on local services and infrastructure.

This week Tudor Taylor, chairman of Shiplake Parish Council, said: “We’re still considering the implications of this latest news but it seems to be pretty positive for us.

“It appears the Secretary of State is appealing on behalf of the Planning Inspectorate and arguing that they can consider specific issues independently, irrespective of previous judgements.”

He said villagers would be relieved at the prospect of not having to fight another planning appeal. “A lot of people put a lot of time into opposing the original application and the subsequent appeal,” said Councillor Taylor.

“We paid for consultancy and put at least 20 or 30 working days into the process. Additionally, the district council paid well into six figures to defend its case, not to mention all the time and effort put in by its planning department.

“We believe this is a lost planning cause. Everyone’s against it and there are more suitable sites for meeting the district’s housing needs.”

County councillor David Bartholomew, who lives in Shiplake, said: “I’m pleased that local opinion seems to be prevailing.

“When the inspector was conducting the appeal hearing, he was extremely diligent in listening to local voices and evidence that was put forward.

“We were pleased when refusal was upheld and very dismayed when this was  overturned on what seemed to be a fairly obscure legal  technicality.

“Residents will feel relieved if the Secretary of State is successful. So much effort has been put into opposing it by volunteers and local, democratically elected representatives.

“We really don’t want to have to go through the appeal process all over again.”

Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said: “I was shocked by the High Court judge’s decision and not at all surprised by the Secretary of State’s aggrieved reaction.

“I can’t imagine what was going through the learned gentleman’s mind when he quashed the inspector’s ruling and wonder whether he was in some way misinformed.

“I’m delighted that the minister recognises the value of parish council input into this case. We made an astonishing effort and hope this matter will be put straight again.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “The reason for the Secretary of State’s intervention is to challenge what was seen as an unnecessary interference with a planning inspector’s decision.

“It is solely designed to protect and clarify the Inspectorate’s position as it could be difficult if decisions are being overturned in the court. It is quite right that he is doing this.”

Mrs Engbers argues that the site is “ideal” for housing as it is not in the green belt or the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, nor does it have high value as farm land.

She says Shiplake is suitable for development because it is one of only three settlements in the district, along with Henley and Didcot, with a station.

Mrs Engbers declined to comment on the minster’s action.

South Oxfordshire District Council said it would not be appropriate to comment before the next hearing.

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