Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Thames Farm decision facing legal challenge

CAMPAIGNERS opposed to plans for 95 homes at Thames Farm have welcomed a legal challenge to the granting of planning permission.

South Oxfordshire District Council is to seek a judicial review of the decision to allow development of the 14-acre site off the A4155 Reading Road, near Shiplake.

As the Henley Standard’s website exclusively revealed on Saturday, the council claims that planning inspector John Braithwaite made “legal errors” in his decision, which followed a public inquiry.

Mr Braithwaite overturned the council’s decision to refuse landowner Claire Engbers planning permission, saying the new houses were urgently needed due to a shortage across Oxfordshire and the district council didn’t have the required three-year supply of land.

He also said that objectors’ concerns about road safety could be overcome.

The council, which has been under pressure to take the case to the High Court, took legal advice before serving papers this week.

It will argue that the inspector failed to address the development’s conflict with the council’s core strategy and local plan and the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

It also claims Mr Braithwaite failed to address the council’s arguments concerning the application of a 20 per cent buffer of housing, as outlined in the national planning policy framework.

Councillor Lorraine Hillier, who represents Henley on the council, said: “The future of all neighbourhood plans are at stake with this.

“The site wasn’t in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan and that is why we’re pursuing this course of action.

“We have got to be positive about it because it’s not an easy step to seek a judicial review. There’s quite a bit of money involved so it’s not a decision that’s taken lightly.”

Her colleague Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “I’m extremely pleased and relieved that the district council is going for the review of the decision because if they didn’t it would have meant all neighbourhood plans, not just Henley’s, would be put in jeopardy regarding the three-year rule on land supply.

“Personally, I found the decision by the inspector ridiculous. I hope common sense will prevail.”

Councillor Joan Bland, another district councillor representing Henley, said: “If that development does go ahead the people there are going to be prisoners unless they can drive. It’s not safe to cycle along that road, let alone walk.”

Tudor Taylor, chairman of Shiplake Parish Council, said: “We felt the inspector’s decision was flawed and certainly needs a challenge and the district council has decided the right approach.

“We feel there are incredibly strong arguments for this to be overturned.

“We would argue that the sustainability issues relating to highways safety and the impact on the rural character were somewhat glossed over.

“I’m actually extremely confident — there’s a will for justice to be seen to be done.”

Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said: “It struck me as a very odd decision based on very shaky mathematics and I’m delighted there’s at least a chance of the decision being reconsidered.

“It’s terribly important to not overlook the future of neighbourhood planning in the country, the future of the Government’s policy on planning and localism.

“There’s a provision in the national planning policy framework which affords special consideration to neighbourhood plans regardless of land supply of the relevant district council planning authority. I think it’s important that it’s used.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “This is a not an issue about the neighbourhood plan, it’s about whether the council has a three-year supply.

“I was really disappointed to see the arguments that the inspector used and it’s appropriate that the decision should be challenged.”

Mrs Engbers first sought outline consent for 110 homes in June 2013 but the district council refused that amid opposition from Harpsden and Shiplake parish councils.

At about the same time, she submitted Thames Farm for inclusion in the neighbourhood plan but was unsuccessful.

The site went out to public consultation with 17 others but didn’t make the final draft.

Mrs Engbers appealed against the refusal of planning permission in June 2014.

After a public inquiry, planning inspector Ian Jenkins found in the council’s favour but Mrs Engbers then took her case to the High Court where the appeal verdict was overturned.

A judge agreed that Mr Jenkins hadn’t warned her that highways issues would sway his judgement so she didn’t have a fair chance to present her case.

As the case was continuing, Mrs Engbers submitted the proposal for 95 homes, which she argued was “greener”.

The council’s planning officers recommended approval, saying the authority had failed to secure enough immediately available housing land to meet the next five years’ demand and this invalidated the neighbourhood plan.

But members of the planning committee rejected the scheme, saying the site wasn’t in the neighbourhood plan and reiterated the road safety concerns.

Mrs Engbers then decided to appeal this decision rather than the earlier application.

The approved scheme includes 38 “affordable” units, with rents or purchase prices fixed below the market rate, which meets the district council’s 40 per cent target for new developments.

Mrs Engbers also proposes to include more than 15,000 sq m of public open space, 330 sq m of allotments, three play areas and two flood drainage ponds.

This week she declined to comment on the

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