Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Mayor devises tactics to prevent approval of more care homes

A PLANNING consultant is to be used to help prevent another care home being built in Henley.

The Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan steering group has adopted a “tactics” guide to try to stop unwanted development.

It comes as an application by B&M care to redevelop the former Henley Youth Centre site in Deanfield Avenue into a 64-bed home is due to be submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority.

The site is earmarked for 23 houses in the neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum in March and names locations for about 500 new homes.

The district council has already approved an application by Henthames, of Essex, for an 80-bed care at the former LA Fitness gym in Newtown Road and plans by McCarthy & Stone for 53 “extra care” flats for the elderly and disabled at the former Jet garage site in Reading Road.

The latter was earmarked for 55 ordinary flats in the neighbourhood plan.

Henley Mayor Julian Brookes has written the tactics guide, which includes a £5,000 budget for a consultant who would:

l Tell the district council’s planning officers of the views of the steering group beforethey make a recommendation on an application.

l Help prepare arguments to be presented to the district council’s planning committee.

l Present the case for objectors at the committee’s meetings.

Councillor Brookes said: “This is how we’re going to defend our neighbourhood plan and ensure that planning applications comply.

“We need to be prepared before an application is submitted as after that there are only three weeks to comment and we need to get to the planning officer before they decide.

“I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do. These people have been experts on planning.”

The strategy also involves lobbying the district council and Department for Communities and Local Government and asking residents to do the same by writing letters of objection.

Dieter Hinke, chairman of the steering group, said he felt members’ views could have been better represented at the committee meetings where the two previous applications were approved on the casting vote of the chairman. He said the consultant would help “put things together in a planning way rather than a haphazard way”.

He added: “We need to do this if the officers are going to recommend approval.”

Councillor Malcolm Plews, from Harpsden Parish Council, will head up a mini-team from the group to challenge B&M’s imminent application.

Mr Hinke said: “I will liaise with him after Christmas to get a group together to go through what we need to find out, like the demographics of the town.”

Patrick Fleming, a community representative on the group, said he was concerned about the cost of a consultant.

Cllr Brookes said one would only be used in cases where applications did not comply with the neighbourhood plan.

Henley Town Council’s planning committee has agreed a spending cap of £1,500 on each application.

Mr Hinke also called for the development of a playing field at Gillotts School to adhere to the neighbourhood plan even if it is not the most profitable option.

He warned against the possibility of a care home being built on the 3.4 acres of land, which has been allocated for 50 homes in the plan.

One of the plan’s strategies is to “support the refurbishment and enhancement of Gillotts School”. Mr Hinke claimed a care home would be the most profitable use of the land.

He said: “I don’t know how many homes the school needs to build to completely finish their renovation but we limited them to 50 homes, so we want that adhered to.

“We don’t want a care home there. If they want to make the most money then the best way to do that is build a care facility.

“They don’t have to pay any community infrastructure levy, section 106 contributions or comply with 40 per cent affordable.

“I know there are advantages to doing it but we have to say that enough is enough.”

Cllr Brookes, who has met representatives of the school, said: “I’m not aware of any thoughts to diverge from the neighbourhood plan.

“There are some issues to be resolved, starting with the access issues on Blandy Road. At this time, that is their focus.

“They want to move ahead as quickly as possible. I believe they are in the process of hiring a professional advisor to help.”

l What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AA or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk

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