Thursday, 23 November 2017

DEVELOPERS 'NOT PAYING ENOUGH'

DEVELOPERS aren’t being charged enough for the right to build new houses in Henley, say town councillors.

David Nimmo Smith says the statutory contributions should be increased to offset the expected cost of tackling the town’s growing traffic problems.

He spoke out as Henley became the first town in South Oxfordshire to benefit from the community infrastructure levy, which was introduced by the Government to help fund public facilities such as new roads, schools and libraries.

It has received almost £5,000 out of more than £20,000 paid under the levy scheme by the Air Group for being allowed to convert and extend an office block in Station Road into homes.

At the same time, the town has been praised by the Prime Minister in Parliament for adopting a neighbourhood plan.

South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, has set its community infrastructure levy at £150 for every square metre of residential development.

But Wokingham Borough Council has agreed a rate of £300 per square metre.

Councillor Nimmo Smith, leader of the ruling Conservatives on the town council, says Henley requires a higher rate in order to mitigate the impact on traffic of more housing.

The town must take about 500 new homes by 2027 in order to meet targets.

Councillor Nimmo Smith, who is also a district and county councillor, said he had carried out “rough calculations” showing the levy would produce revenue of about £1 million, which would not be enough to pay for many of the highways changes.

He said: “The figure the district seeks to apply will not generate enough developer income to fully fund the infrastructure that is needed.

“I’m thinking primarily of highways works in Henley, where quite a lot needs to be done. The county [council] doesn’t have funding for many improvements but money from developers could deal with it.

“The more we have, the more we can do and we have a rough idea of what we would like to see, which we will announce soon.

“We’ve worked out roughly how much we’ll get based on the average house size and it’s not going to be anywhere near enough.”

According to a study commissioned by Henley Town Council last year, about 120 more cars will pass through the town at peak hours if all the new homes are built, an increase of 12 per cent.

For many years, levels of the toxic exhaust gas nitrogen dioxide have been above the minimum safe levels set by Air Quality England.

The study, carried out by Peter Brett Associates, recommended a range of measures including a 20mph speed limit in the town centre, chicanes or speed bumps as well as additional crossings, signage, street lighting and a cycle path network.

Other suggestions include parking restrictions or residents’ permit parking schemes in busier streets, electric vehicle charging points and cheaper rates in under-used car parks.

A transport strategy group established by the town council is now considering which of these is feasible.

Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton, who chairs the transport strategy group, said: “The rate is far too low on this side of the river and we are taking this up with the district council.

“However, while we all know the county council is short of money, it too must look at its budget and find the necessary funds to fund the quality of roads and pavements that we all expect.”

Ian Reissmann, who represents Henley Residents’ Group on the town council, said: “We should make strong representations to the district council to increase the payment from £150 per square metre and also make sure there are payments on affordable housing and other applications that are built.”

The district council says it could review the figure as more planning applications come forward.

It adopted its levy rate in April following independent scrutiny by a government planning inspector who said it was supported by detailed evidence and was “robust and proportionate”.

District council leader John Cotton said the charge could be re-evaluated once the council had completed its new local plan to cover the period to 2031.

He said: “For any big-ticket investment in infrastructure, funding will undoubtedly have to come from other sources but it was always our intention to evaluate the charge with the new local plan in place.

“We wanted to get something in place as soon as possible and pitched the rate at a level that we were reasonably confident would get through a public inquiry.

“My view is that we could still push it higher and not affect the viability of many schemes. We can hopefully revisit it in a year or so.”

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

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