Monday, 23 July 2018

Residents urged to vote yes in referendum

RESIDENTS are being urged to vote in favour of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan in next week’s referendum.

RESIDENTS are being urged to vote in favour of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan in next week’s referendum.

Campaigners claim that if the document isn’t approved, developers will enjoy “open season” and the people will have no say.

The referendum will take place on Thursday with the polls open from 7am to 10pm.

The plan, which names 11 sites in the two parishes where about 500 homes should be built by 2027 to meet Government targets, will become legally binding if it is approved by 50 per cent of voters.

Members of the “yes” campaign group, which was launched last month, have leafleted every home in Henley while Brakspear is paying to print 2,500 “vote yes” beer mats which will be delivered to the town’s pubs and cafés at the weekend.

The group is chaired by Rebecca Chandler-Wilde, whose daughter Helen is a Conservative town councillor and who sat on the housing working group which helped create the plan.

Dr Chandler-Wilde, of St Andrew’s Road, said: “I would urge people to vote and to vote ‘yes’.

“This plan has been two years in the making and it’s not just the residents on the working groups who’ve shaped it, there were wider focus groups and the public consultations so this really is the ‘people’s plan’.

“It meets the needs of Henley’s residents and has been written in accordance with their wishes. I strongly believe that this is the very best plan given the constraints the town faces.

“So far, neighbourhood plans have almost always passed their referendums but if we vote against ours we will lose all control and be at the mercy of developers. There is a lot at stake and this is our only shot at getting it right.”

Mrs Chandler-Wilde said the leafleting had raise awareness of the plan and referendum, adding: “We’ve been backing it up with a social media campaign for several weeks now and we’re seeing a growth in followers on our Twitter and Facebook pages.”

The group has also taken over an empty shop in Market Place temporarily.

Mrs Chandler-Wilde said: “Overall, I’m very pleased with how everything is going. We’ll be giving out plenty of beer mats at the weekend and we’ll be getting the message out door-to-door .”

Dieter Hinke, a former town councillor and chairman of the neighbourhood planning governance committee, said: “People have to realise that this is a huge decision.

“When the Localism Act was brought in in 2011, it gave local communities a say in planning decisions that affected them.

“This referendum gives residents a rare chance to have a say in what goes on in and around the town, particularly in relation to planning decisions. It’s a chance to have a say in what happens to the many houses which are coming to our area.

“I would argue that even if people don’t like one particular site, they have to realise that this is the community taking some degree of control. We are a small town and don’t often have that kind of opportunity.

“If we vote ‘no’, we will have no say over how many developments will be built or where they will go.”

Former Henley mayor Barry Wood, who was also a member of the volunteer working groups that drew up the plan, said: “The neighbourhood plan isn’t such a big turn-on for people. However, it’s crucial for the future of this town that supporters turn out to vote because opponents have a strong motivation to vote whereas if you’re in favour it’s easy to become apathetic. We are playing for the big stakes here.

“My message is: please come out and vote because it’s your town and if the plan fails the district council will inflict housing upon us and it will be open season for developers.

“This isn’t gesture politics — it’s a very real issue and people should be concerned about how Henley might look in 30 or more years’ time. If we get this wrong, God help us."

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