Friday, 23 June 2017

You should take 177 more homes

"You should take 177 more homes"

HENLEY might have to take an additional 177 new homes on top of its current quota.

The town has agreed to accommodate about 500 units by 2027 under its joint neighbourhood plan with Harpsden, which passed a referendum last year.

But now South Oxfordshire District Council is suggesting an increase as part of its new local plan to run until 2033.

The draft plan, which went out to consultation on Wednesday, could also increase allocations in the district’s 12 “larger villages” by 15 per cent of their homes total in 2011.

This means Goring’s quota would increase from 105 to 251, Nettlebed’s from about 20 to 60, Watlington’s from 79 to 238 and Woodcote’s from 76 to 135.

Sonning Common’s target would go up from 138 to 169. However, the village’s neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum in September, anticipated an increase and identified five sites for 195 homes.

Benson must accommodate at least 125 homes under the current local plan but this would not increase as the village is already facing almost 1,100 new homes under planning applications already approved or pending.

The district council’s proposals follow the publication in 2014 of a government-backed report, known as a strategic housing market assessment, which said the current local plan hadn’t earmarked enough housing land to meet demand.

The plan allocates sites for 11,450 homes between 2006 and 2027, a rate of about 545 per year, but the SHMA report said between 14,500 and 16,500 would be needed between 2011 and 2031, or 725 to 825 annually.

The council now wants to see 17,050 homes built by 2033, or 775 per year, which it says is an “appropriate response to meeting our housing needs”.

It says: “Not only does this go beyond the committed economic growth requirement for South Oxfordshire, but it also provides an uplift to deliver affordable housing identified in the SHMA.”

It proposes building 3,500 homes on land near Culham Science Centre, 3,000 at Chalgrove Airfield, about five miles from Watlington, 2,100 on green belt land at Berinsfield and 300 at Oxford Brookes University’s Wheatley campus.

Much of the remainder would be shared between Henley, Thame, and Wallingford, which would collectively take at least 1,355 homes, and the larger villages while smaller villages would take at least 500.

The total could increase further as Oxford says it is struggling to meet its quota due to a shortage of employment land. The city’s four surrounding districts are legally obliged to help with the overspill.

The district council does concede that targets in certain towns and villages may be restricted if there are valid planning reasons for doing so.

It says: “[Our proposal] does not take account of social, economic and environmental factors that may impact upon the ability of settlements to accommodate the amount of development that has been calculated.

“Similarly, it does not take into account the availability of suitable and deliverable sites which may also impact on how much development a settlement may accommodate.

“Development in the larger villages should be proportionate, appropriate and dependent on the existing infrastructure. It is considered that the most appropriate mechanism for allowing housing in villages is by
preparing a neighbourhood plan and allocating development should be allowed through that process.

“This level of growth will support local services and facilities and result in a sustainable and balanced distribution of development… allowing communities to have their say on where development in their area will go.

“Some villages are constrained by factors such as the green belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and flood zones.

“In these villages a 15 per cent growth may not be fully achievable while other villages are unconstrained and can plan for more than 15 per cent.

“The level of growth should be evidenced within the neighbourhood plans, with local communities helping to shape the development of their village.”

Dieter Hinke, chairman of Henley’s neighbourhood plan steering group, said he was disappointed at the higher figure and hoped it could be reduced.

He said: “A year ago, we were told it was unlikely that Henley would have to take any new homes.

“However, we’re constantly reading about the need for new homes in the South-East and it’s looking increasingly likely that our neighbourhood plan will have to be amended.

“It’s early days as the new local plan is still a long way from being adopted but I had expected something like this.

“I imagine we would have to reconvene the original working groups and ask developers to come forward with sites, as we did during the original plan process.

“We are very stretched. The Government hands down these figures but no one takes any notice of infrastructure like roads, schools, parking or ongoing issues like air quality. All these matters should be resolved before new homes are allocated.

“It’s easy to just say ‘build more homes’ but we’re constrained by the Thames to the east and the Chilterns AONB to the west and the town is full to bursting already. We all know about our existing traffic problems so why add more?

“When the last local plan was drawn up, we were initially allocated 750 homes but the inspector saw we couldn’t meet that because of various constraints so our final quota was smaller. It will be our job to push as hard as we can for as much of a reduction as possible.

“It’s interesting that, five years ago, an inspector said we could take a maximum of 450 homes yet here we are having the same argument again. I think we have a difficult fight ahead.”

Henley MP John Howell, who introduced neighbourhood planning as part of the Localism Act in 2011, said: “I would stress that this proposal is the district council’s decision and not that of the Government, which has had nothing to do with determining housing numbers for the past six or seven years.

“I share Dieter’s concerns as I agree that Henley is quite forcefully constrained by the river and the AONB, so I would resist any significant increase in housing numbers.

“I do not accept the figures in the SHMA and do not believe the district council does either.”

Woodcote’s neighbourhood plan, which was adopted in 2014, is to be updated after the parish council reconvened the volunteer working groups that wrote it.

According to a recent survey, almost half of villagers believe some extra housing is needed but they only want to see small-scale development and don’t want to exacerbate the village’s problems with speeding and congestion.

Goring’s neighbourhood plan is being drafted in line with the current quota but its working group is conducting additional research to determine whether the village could take any more.

Benson’s draft neighbourhood plan, which is currently under consultation, identifies land for 365 houses.

A plan is also being prepared for Watlington and a list of sites is expected to be announced shortly.

Nettlebed has not prepared a plan so the district council will decide where new housing should go.

To respond to the district council’s consultation, visit www.southoxon.gov.uk and search for “emerging local plan”. Comments must be received by May 17.

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

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