Friday, 20 July 2018

Revised plans for Thames Farm unveiled

REVISED plans to develop disused farmland between Henley and Shiplake have been submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council.

REVISED plans to develop disused farmland between Henley and Shiplake have been submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council.

Claire Engbers wants to build 95 homes at Thames Farm, a 14-acre plot off the A4155, which she owns.

She claims that many residents support her application.

Her agent, DPDS, of Swindon, sent a leaflet with a Freepost reply form to 3,700 households in Shiplake, Binfield Heath, Harpsden and south Henley in February and launched a website so people could comment.

The company says 131 residents responded and 80 supported the proposal.

Mrs Engbers initially sought planning permission for 110 units in 2013, prompting objections from dozens of residents and Harpsden and Shiplake parish councils, but that application is on hold amid legal wrangling with the Government.

This was initially rejected by the district council because Thames Farm isn’t earmarked for housing in its core strategy and a planning inspector upheld that decision when Mrs Engbers appealed.

A judge overturned the inspector’s ruling when Mrs Engbers took her case to the High Court but now communities minister Greg Clark is challenging that ruling. A date for a hearing is yet to be announced.

Mrs Engbers is now seeking outline permission, meaning means she only wants to agree the principle of development and a housing quota.

In her plans, 40 per cent of the houses would be sold or rented at “affordable” prices below their market value while the rest would be offered at the asking rate.

DPDS says the development would be a “high-quality, residential urban extension” with more than 15,000 sq m of green space and housing no more than two storeys high.

It says the site is “species-poor” grassland with little agricultural or scenic value but with good bus and train links and a low flood risk.

The development would have three play areas, 330 sq m of allotment land, two ponds to improve drainage and two pedestrian crossings and a new right-hand turn lane on the main road.

DPDS says shrinking the scheme has made room for extra planting around the edge of the site to screen it.

DPDS says the development could “integrate effectively with the existing village area”, adding: “The site combines excellent levels of access to the village and its transport facilities while providing opportunities to enhance the wellbeing of residents, who will benefit from convenient access to community facilities and high quality green infrastructure.”

The company says that although the site is not earmarked for housing in the district council’s local plan, nor the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan, the development should be approved because the council has failed to secure a five-year supply of immediately available housing land.

The inspector in Mrs Engbers’ appeal accepted this argument but the district council disputes it, as does the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Opponents say the scheme would add to existing congestion at Henley’s southern entrance, put excessive pressure on GP surgeries and schools and create a hazard for pedestrians crossing Reading Road.

Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said: “I have no doubt that councillors will be adamantly against it. This is becoming very tiresome — we simply do not want development at Thames Farm.”

Councillor Geoff Thomas, chairman of Shiplake Parish Council’s planning committee, said the survey was “spurious” as Thames Farm was not part of the neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum last month.

He said: “You’d hope more weight would be given to a publicly approved plan that was conducted over two years with due diligence and oversight.”

David Bartholomew, Shiplake and Harpsden’s county councillor, said there was “no material difference” between the new application and the previous one.

He said: “There’s a nominal reduction in the number of houses but the key issue remains that it’s outside the district council’s core strategy. Shiplake and Harpsden aren’t ‘larger villages’ and shouldn’t be subject to large-scale new development.

“Additionally, we now have a neighbourhood plan.”

Mrs Engbers put the site forward during the plan’s early stages and 55 per cent of residents who took part in a consultation supported building houses there.

It was joint 10th most popular site out of 17 but didn't make the final draft. The former Wyevale Garden Centre, which is next door, was also excluded despite coming seventh but was ultimately earmarked for commercial development.

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