Saturday, 21 July 2018

Council officials to decide on homes plan in private

PLANS to build 170 new homes on the outskirts of Henley will not be decided in public.

PLANS to build 170 new homes on the outskirts of Henley will not be decided in public.

Crest Nicholson’s outline proposal for Highlands Farm, a light industrial estate off Greys Road, will be assessed by South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning officers behind closed doors next week.

Most planning applications are processed this way but can be “called in” by the council’s planning committee, which then has the final say after receiving officers’ advice.

However, this one has not been called in because the site is earmarked for about 170 houses under Henley and Harpsden’s joint neighbourhood plan, which names 11 sites where about 500 new homes must go by 2027 to meet targets. The plan passed a referendum in March so is a legally binding aspect of the district council’s planning policy.

In addition, Henley Town Council has recommended the scheme for approval while Harpsden Parish Council, whose boundary the sites falls within, says it is acceptable with conditions to offset the impact.

The plans, which were submitted in January, include housing, a community hall, three junior sports pitches and up to 2,000 sq m of office or warehouse space.

The existing trading units on the 12.8-hectare estate, which is owned by Henley businessman Alan Pontin, would be demolished.

The exact type and size of the houses would not be determined until full consent is sought. The outline application is seeking agreement on the principle of development and the access arrangements.

There would be a “village green” at the south-eastern edge of the site with the sports pitches and a play area.

The main entrance and exit would be via Highlands Lane, off Greys Road, which would be upgraded with a 1.8m wide pavement.

Following public consultation in the spring, Crest Nicholson has revised the plan to include extra tree planting, landscaping and minor changes to the internal street network. Conservation groups including the Ancient Monuments Society, the Chilterns Conservation Board, the Henley Society and the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group have called for several farm buildings, including the original 18th-century farmhouse, barn and stable to be retained.

However, the developer says they are not listed and points out that Historic England has not objected.

It says keeping them would restrict construction and the buildings “possess only limited historic and architectural value and have been greatly altered both internally and externally”.

Oxfordshire County Council has repeatedly objected, saying the location is too remote and poorly served by buses.

Crest Nicholson says it will accept planning conditions requiring “appropriate and proportionate provision in this regard”.

It says: “[There is a] contradiction between, on the one hand, the county council removing funding for bus services while at the same time referring to the availability of such services as a reason to object.

“It is likely that a service between the site and the town centre could be operated as a circular service using a small bus.”

Councillor Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said the estate needed more parking spaces and the community hall should be moved to the centre of the site.

“Highlands Farm is fundamentally the wrong place for housing unattached to an institution,” he said.

“An institution, whether a hospital, school or college, would be much more appropriate but since the neighbourhood plan could not find enough room for the decreed number of houses without using Highlands Farm, we have to make the best of a bad job.

“I would have been much happier if the application had been called in. Harspden’s view may not be entirely compelling but we need to be assured that the scheme has received proper consideration.

“To me, that seems a valid reason for elected councillors to decide it in public.”

A district council spokeswoman said it was not unusual for officers to determine a planning application if it complied with planning policy and the town or parish council didn’t formally object.

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