Monday, 25 September 2017

More calls to challenge Thames Farm decision

More calls to challenge Thames Farm decision

PRESSURE is mounting on South Oxfordshire District Council to seek a judicial review of the decision to allow 95 homes to be built at Thames Farm, near Shiplake.

But the decision will be taken by the council’s cabinet rather than the whole council, meaning that its Henley members, Stefan Gawrysiak, Lorraine Hillier and Joan Bland, will not have a say.

A planning inspector granted Claire Engbers’ application to develop the land off Reading Road on August 2 following an appeal and public inquiry, meaning the district council has until September 12 to seek legal action.

In an email send to all its members this week, the council said: “We are very disappointed with the inspector’s findings and conclusion and are currently taking advice to determine whether there are grounds to challenge the decision.

“We will confirm our position in due course. The fact that we have received this appeal decision does not mean that we have to accept the position set out by the inspector.”

Councillor Gawrysiak said he was concerned that the cabinet might decide not to make a challenge based on legal advice.

He said: “Before the September 12 deadline we need a special full council to debate, discuss and decide this matter.

“This decision is so important that eight people behind closed doors should not make it. It should be done in the full glare of democratic publicity because this decision has huge and wide implications.

“I am not a lawyer but I think there are sufficient inaccuracies and holes in the inspector’s decision to warrant a judicial review.

“The district council has a strong case and should go for a judicial review to protect all neighbourhood plans.”

Cllr Gawrysiak, who represents Henley Residents’ Group on the Conservative-controlled council, added: “I don’t think we’re divided on party lines on this. I think there are members of all parties who are really very concerned about this.”

Councillor Hillier, a Conservative, said: “I have faith in the cabinet but I do think that a big issue such as this should come to full council for all members to speak.

“I support going for a judicial review. It’s the legal implications for the neighbourhood plan moving forwards. That is the salient point at the heart of this as the land wasn’t in the neighbourhood plan.”

Councillor Bland said the inspector had made the wrong decision.

She said: “Shiplake doesn’t want it, Henley doesn’t want it, the district council doesn’t want it and the majority of people in the area don’t want it. The whole idea of this development is wrong and we’re opposed to it.”

However, she added: “It’s an incredibly complex thing now because if we take it further it’s going to cost a lot of money.

“The district is taking legal advice and if the lawyers think that we don’t stand a chance then it obviously won’t go ahead.

“If the district council makes a decision to not pursue it I think I’m going to have to agree with them because of the expense. There’s no point throwing money away.

“However, it should be discussed with the people of Henley as well and I think [council leader] John Cotton and the chief executive will have to come and explain if they decide not to challenge this.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who is a member of the council’s cabinet representing Woodcote and Rotherfield and a Henley town councillor, said he wanted the council to challenge the inspector’s decision.

Mrs Engbers’ application was refused permission by the district council in September but this decision was overturned by planning inspector John Braithwaite.

He stated that the new houses were urgently needed to counteract a shortage across Oxfordshire and that objectors’ concerns about road safety could be overcome.

Mr Braithwaite also disputed claims that developing the land, which is in Harspden parish, would harm the surrounding countryside as it is not in the green belt or the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

His decision has been strongly criticised by councillors of all parties and levels of local government. They say it undermines the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum last year and did not earmark the land for development.

The news has also caused widespread concern in the communities of Shiplake and Harpsden with almost 600 people signing a petition calling on the district council to challenge the decision.

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