NETWORK Rail and its former chief executive have objected to plans for a care home in Henley
NETWORK Rail and its former chief executive have objected to plans for a care home in Henley.
Developer Henthames, from Essex, wants to build an 80-bed, three-storey complex at the former LA Fitness gym site in Newtown Road, which backs on to the railway line.
Network Rail says the development would encroach on its land and could affect line upgrades.
Sir David Higgins, a former chief executive of Network Rail and now executive chairman of the HS2 rail project, claims a new entrance to the site from Mill Lane, where he lives, would increase traffic in the road. A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “Our remit is to maintain and operate a safe and reliable railway and we will therefore always take an active interest in any proposed development on or adjacent to our property.
“In this case some of the proposed development would be on Network Rail-owned land in close proximity to the railway line.
“As a result we have concerns this would affect our ability to carry out future work that may be required to update the network in this area.”
Electrification of the Henley branch line is due to be carried out by the end of 2018.
Henthames’s plans, submitted with care home operator Hallmark, of Wokingham, include 32 parking spaces and the new entrance.
Delivery lorries, contractors and staff would use the current access from the Newtown industrial estate.
The developer claims there would be a “very small additional increase” in traffic in Mill Lane but less traffic in Newtown Road.
But objectors say there would much more traffic which would cause congestion, particularly when Henley Town FC play home games on Saturdays and with people using the Mill Lane car park when visiting Mill Meadows.
Sir David and his wife Ros are among hundreds of people to respond to the application to be considered by South Oxfordshire District Council.
They said: “The planning application references a study on a single day in September 2014 but fails to take account of the substantial traffic generated by match days at the adjacent soccer field vis a vis to Mill Meadows.
“This, together with the increased demand from the proposed development on the old [Jet] service station and existing residents, will put substantial demand on a small lane.
“We ask that you reconsider this planning application in the light of these concerns.”
Henley Town Council has objected to the plans on the grounds of traffic generation, access and safety issues in Mill Lane.
It also pointed out that the 0.47-hectare site was not designated for a care home in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan and that it has been registered as an asset of community value by the district council following the closure of the gym and pool.
LA Fitness, which had 2,500 members, shut in August, meaning the only alternative gym and pool in the town is at Henley leisure centre, which is at capacity and there is a waiting list for swimming lessons.
More than 1,200 people signed a petition to keep a gym at the site with signatories including Henley Mayor Lorraine Hillier and GB rower Will Satch.
The petition was started by the Keep Henley Active pressure group, which wants the application turned down, claiming it is against district council planning policy to lose a leisure facility without a suitable alternative.
The district council is due to make a decision next week.