Thursday, 19 July 2018

No room for more homes

HENLEY’S housebuilding targets cannot be increased because the town has no more room, says South Oxfordshire District

HENLEY’S housebuilding targets cannot be increased because the town has no more room, says South Oxfordshire District Council.

Instead, villages in the district may have to accept hundreds of additional homes between them.

On Monday, the planning authority will launch a consultation on proposals to raise the number of homes that must be built across the district to meet Government targets by 2032.

Its “preferred option”, which it revealed to town and parish councils at a confidential meeting, is to raise the allocation at Thame, Wallingford and 12 “larger villages” including Goring, Sonning Common, Benson, Watlington, Woodcote and Nettlebed.

Henley, which must take at least 400 dwellings by 2027 under the district council’s current local plan, would remain untouched.

The Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum in March, names 11 sites where about 500 homes should go and the council says this is enough.

It says the town has limited space to expand as it is bordered by the River Thames to the east and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the west.

Its medieval road network is highly congested, which is generating unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide in parts of the town centre, and the streets cannot be widened as they are bordered by listed buildings.

Instead, the council says Thame’s allocation should go up from 775 dwellings to 1,369 and Wallingford’s from 555 to 983, the equivalent of a 10 per cent increase on the total number of homes in the towns in 2011.

The same formula has been applied to the larger villages, which are now earmarked for an extra 1,759 houses on top of their current quota of 1,154.

If these were shared out in the same proportions, Goring’s total would go up from 105 to 265, Sonning Common’s from 138 to 348, Benson’s from 125 to 315, Watlington’s from 79 to 199, Woodcote’s from 73 to 184 and Nettlebed’s from 20 to 50.

The district council says the villages should write neighbourhood plans and these would determine the final quotas, which could be lower if valid constraints on development were identified.

It says those which have already published plans, such as Woodcote, should reconvene their working groups to determine how many more homes can be realistically accommodated.

The consultation follows the release of a Government-backed report in 2014 which said South Oxfordshire’s housing targets should increase from 11,487 new homes by 2027 to between 14,500 and 16,500 by 2031.

The district council accepts a figure of 15,750 plus an overspill of 3,750 from Oxford, which the city cannot accommodate.

However, it believes 11,424 of these have either been built or granted planning permission so it needs to find space for 8,076.

Council leader John Cotton said: “At this point we are only asking people whether they believe those figures are appropriate.

“Five hundred new homes for Henley is already a large amount given the limited space and its proximity to the Thames flood plain. However, others might feel it can take a modest increase.

“The 10 per cent figure for the larger villages is just a guideline. Some may grow by a larger margin and others by less. I want us to stop setting allocations — it is for neighbourhood plans to decide what is possible and desirable based on local circumstances. Residents are best placed to make those judgements.

“Those plans have to pass independent examination so people cannot reduce their quota without a valid reason and supporting evidence. Additionally, if a village fails to produce one or falls behind, we will have the fall-back position of making specific allocations.”

Henley MP John Howell, who helped to introduce neighbourhood plans under the 2011 Localism Act, said: “The district council is adopting a first-class approach that fits in perfectly with the spirit of the legislation.

“Its proposal for Henley is an accurate reflection of the limitations on development in the town. I’m glad to see those have been acknowledged and I’m sure it will be well received when it goes to consultation.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee, said: “There are constraints on development both immediately outside Henley and in the town centre.

“The district council has taken a pragmatic view of the situation and while we may have to accommodate some additional windfall sites, it’s good to see no further increase in strategic development.

“It also means that our neighbourhood plan doesn’t need to be amended for the time being.”

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