Monday, 25 September 2017

College offers land for homes

Henley College offers land for housing
THE Henley College has offered its land for housing development in the hope of being able to relocate.

It has offered its Deanfield and Rotherfield campuses for inclusion in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

The move comes as the extended public consultation on the draft plan ends today (Friday).

The college says it has been approached by several developers who have offered to build a new single campus, which could cost up to £50 million.

It believes its current sites, along with a smaller plot it owns behind Henley Youth Centre in Deanfield Avenue, could take 400 homes.

This figure almost matches Henley’s full allocation of new housing over the next 13 years for which nine sites have been earmarked in the plan. The youth centre site, which is not included in the plan, is also due to be sold for development.

The Rotherfield campus measures 9.54 hectares and includes the college’s playing fields to the west of the main buildings. The college says the pitches would be upgraded and set aside for use by the whole community.

The Deanfield site measures 1.72 hectares and the third plot, which is currently grassland, measures about 0.1 hectares.

Principal Tom Espley, who announced his retirement this week, said the college was offering the land in principle to avoid planning challenges if a move became possible in future.

The college has long wanted a single site but has been unable to find a suitable location. In 2008, it considered moving to the Highlands Farm industrial estate, off Greys Road, but this plan was scrapped after the Government cut its funding for college relocations following the credit crunch.

The site has now been earmarked for 190 homes under the neighbourhood plan.

The college’s land was valued at about £28 million six years ago. Mr Espley said “five or six” developers had approached the college.

He said: “Until the neighbourhood plan consultation started, there had been no talks about relocating since Highlands Farm fell through.

“As the plan has been brought into the public domain, we have been approached by a number of developers who have asked if this is something we could pursue.

“I’m sure they are doing that to many organisations because of the heightened publicity surrounding the plan.

“We are just clarifying that, in the fullness of time, we’d like to be on one site and would not exclude the possibility of talking with developers because that would not make sense.

“In these years of austerity, we do not know when it will be possible but we felt it was unwise not to say it in case it blocks development in future.”

Mr Espley said he would be willing to consider offers but added: “The neighbourhood plan has got developers very excited but we are not looking at anything happening very quickly.

“I think they want us to come forward so that we are one possible option further down the line.

“There is no scheme ready to go and no money being put forward. We are just protecting the college’s future interests at this stage.”

The neighbourhood plan was put together by a series of volunteer working groups supervised by Henley Town Council and its consultants Nexus.

Cllr Dieter Hinke, chairman of the council’s neighbourhood plan governance committee, said Nexus would investigate the likelihood of the college sites becoming available.

If it was considered a strong enough possibility, the working groups would discuss the issue and might revise the draft plan following more .public consultation.

Cllr Hinke said that if any of the college land was earmarked for housing, some sites in the draft plan would be removed or have their allocations reduced.

He said: “With new sites coming forward, the plan takes on an even greater significance to prevent the overdevelopment of Henley and Harpsden and breaking point of their infrastructure.”

So far 350 people have responded to the current consultation. A final draft will be sent to South Oxfordshire District Council for independent inspection before going to a public referendum.

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