Monday, 23 July 2018

Plan the work starts

NOW the hard work really begins - that is the message from councillors and campaigners after the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan received overwhelming support.

NOW the hard work really begins - that is the message from councillors and campaigners after the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan received overwhelming support.

A total of 2,105 people voted for the plan compared with 471 against in a referendum of residents of the two parishes on Thursday last week.

This represented a majority of 81.7 per cent, easily beating the 51 per cent majority required for the plan to be approved. The turnout was 28.19 per cent. The result means the plan, which names 11 sites where about 500 new homes should be built by 2027 to meet Government targets, becomes legally binding and South Oxfordshire District Council must take it into account when deciding planning applications.

David Nimmo Smith, chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee, said the document could now be properly considered to be a “people’s plan”.

“This will be our legacy to communities we love and cherish,” he said. “The overwhelming support for the plan is a clear mandate, telling developers what we want — and don’t want — for the future of our two communities. This shows that the hard work, over three years, by countless people has not been in vain and that what we put forward is exactly in tune with the electorate.

“Having got this far, it is now vital that both communities monitor the outcome, comparing each and every planning application against the plan.”

Rebecca Chandler-Wilde, who led the campaign for a “yes” vote, said: “I’m absolutely delighted.

“It’s a strong mandate from Henley residents for the neighbourhood plan and I’m very grateful to all those people who turned out to vote. The important thing is to ensure this is implemented. It does have legal force but it’ll be very important to ensure the district council keep to the terms of it. We will have a monitoring group in place.

“This is the view of the residents of Henley — this is what we would like, this is how we would like our town developed and we have that written in a legal document and therefore it has to be complied with.”

Mrs Chandler-Wilde, whose daughter Helen is a Conservative town councillor and who sat on the housing working group which helped create the plan, had warned that if it wasn’t approved, there would be “open season” in Henley for developers and the community would have less control over where the new homes went.

Dieter Hinke, a former town  councillor who chaired the neighbourhood planning governance committee, said: “Obviously I’m very pleased. I was the councillor who, four years ago, started and introduced this process to the people of Henley.

“The important thing now is that councillors and residents get together and form some sort of steering committee to make sure the developers and district council actually follow this legal planning policy document.

“We can’t all sit back and say the job’s done. We have to be vigilant to make sure what we actually voted for is what we get. It’s an ongoing process.

“The plan isn’t something which can be stuck in a filing draw. As a legal document, we need to make sure it’s enforced.”

Former Henley mayor Barry Wood, who was also a member of the volunteer working groups that drew up the plan, warned that infrastructure improvements would be vital if developments were to have as little damaging effect as possible.

He said: “If the non-housing components of the plan are not realised then I believe you’ll get a very large backlash by the people of this town.

“Chief among these is the traffic and it now beholds Henley Town Council to get this transport strategy and to start implementing it as soon as possible.

“It’s all about roads. It’s about trying to stop congestion and the worsening of air quality. People on Greys Road have a right to fear, people on Reading Road have some right to fear.”

Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said he was “very pleased” that the plan was endorsed.

But he added: “This is by no means the end of the journey. We have had to agree to things that we don’t think are very well advised and which will call for essential follow-up.

“I’m thinking if houses are to be built on Highlands Farm then both Gillotts Lane and Sheephouse Lane will need major reinforcement and traffic calming constraints.

“At the moment Gillotts Lane is a country track without a proper basis for road traffic. It needs to be properly laid and kerbed and altogether improved if they want more traffic to use it. It’s in a disgraceful state.”

He said Greys Road was also a “concern” and that areas should not be forced to accept new homes before improvements to the road network.

Cllr George added: “It would have been awful if the plan had failed and we must make the best of a bad job.”

Town councillor Will Hamilton, who was also on the working groups, said: “The big thing now is to ensure the infrastructure is developed. We need to get on to the transportstrategy.”

The votes were counted at Henley town hall immediately after the polls closed at 10pm and the result was declared at 11.20pm by South Oxfordshire District Council’s deputy counting officer Steven Corrigan.

The announcement was greeted by a round of applause from the handful of members of the public and town councillors who had been watching.

They included developer Alan Pontin, the owner of Highlands Farm, a light industrial estate off Greys Road, which is earmarked for 170 homes in the plan and for which Crest Nicholson has already submitted an outline planning application.

Also included in the plan are the former Jet garage site in Reading Road, which is earmarked for about 55 homes and is now the subject of an application by McCarthy & Stone for 53 “extra care” retirement flats, the former youth centre in Deanfield Road, which was said to be able to take 23 homes but where a care home is now planned, and the site of removals and storage firm Wilkins in Deanfield Avenue, which was earmarked for 20 homes and where Oakford Homes wants to build 23 flats.

The document also identified the following sites for development: Henley Enterprise Park (about 42 homes); the site of the Chilterns End care home (27); the Makower textiles offices in Greys Road (13); a site south-west of Fair Mile (about 60), the former Royal Marine Reserve headquarters in Friday Street (10); the former Exclusively Ladies gym opposite Tesco (30) and a playing field at Gillotts School (50).

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