Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Chairman fumes over secret talks on 'legacy' homes land

THE chairman of Harpsden Parish Council says he is “outraged” that land in his parish is being considered for affordable housing without his knowledge.

Kester George said the 16-acre greenfield site next to Waterman’s allotments was “inappropriate” for development.

Last week, the Henley Standard exclusively revealed that Henley Town Council had held secret talks with the owner of the two fields off the A4155.

The council believes the site could be used to replace some of the land for affordable housing that was lost due to the number of applications for care housing.

The owner is said to be interested in selling or even gifting the land to the council on the assumption that it would only be developed for quality, affordable housing.

Councillor George said he was unaware of the negotiations until he read our front page.

“I was stunned,” he said. “I thought it was quite extraordinary behaviour by the owner and Henley Town Council. They should have come directly to me as a partner in the neighbourhood plan.”

Both councils worked together in preparing the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which names locations for about 500 new homes to be built by 2027 and was approved in a referendum in March.

Cllr George said: “The site wasn’t included in the neighbourhood plan.

“It’s a greenfield site, liable to flooding and has flooded very badly for months at a time in recent years.

“It’s also a very useful green belt between Henley and Harpsden.

“It’s certainly an inappropriate site for development and should stay as it is but we’ll see how things turn out.”

He hoped that relations between the two councils had not been damaged.

Cllr George said: “I suspect that it went wrong from the beginning and that it was a mishap. I shall be pursuing enquiries to confirm whether that was so. It’s most unlike your excellent Mayor to have anything to do with such a happening.

“You can say I was outraged. I’ve been approached by other residents in Harpsden who were similarly taken aback by your article.”

The landowner, a woman who doesn’t live locally, has already turned down several offers from developers of “substantial” sums of money for the plot. She is said to want to leave a “lasting legacy for local people”.

Covenants would be placed on the land title to restrict the type of development that could take place.

Christopher Newns, the woman’s agent, said she was “disappointed” not to have had a chance to liaise with other parties before the news was broken.

He added: “It remains the intention of the owner to promote the use of the land for the greater good of the residents of Harpsden and Henley.”

Doug Richards, site manager at the allotments, said he welcomed the plans, providing the housing was for first-time buyers who lived locally.

“I can’t understand why it hasn’t been proposed before,” he said. “I’ve got all confidence in the lady suggesting it and I think it’s a wonderful idea.

“If you have got people overlooking the allotments you would save a lot of vandalism.

“I do believe if that goes ahead they have got no argument further down the road at Thames Farm because, personally, I think that’s a whole load of Nimbyism. We could then have a footpath and a cycle path all the way through to Shiplake.”

Mr Richards said if the site was developed the housebuilder would need to take into account the River Harp, which had flooded in the past.

Equestrian talent spotter Susie Pragnell, from Harpsden, confirmed she had rented the fields for more than 30 years to keep her horses there but wouldn’t comment further.

Dieter Hinke, chairman of the neighbourhood plan steering group, pointed out that the town had been allocated 500 new homes, adding: “If we keep providing homes we’re going above our limit. If that’s going to happen then the town council may need to review the neighbourhood plan.”

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