Sir, — You might like to read a letter I sent a few weeks ago to David Buckle, John Cotton and Adrian Duffield, chief executive, leader and head of planning at South Oxfordshire District Council respectively, following its planning committee’s decision to approve McCarthy & Stone’s application to redevelop the former Jet garage site in Reading Road, Henley.
A truncated version of my letter read: “I understood that the nearer a neighbourhood plan was to ratification the more weight it would carry during the planning application process.
“Given how close the initial pre-application enquiries were to the referendum itself, the people of Henley and Harpsden are surely entitled to expect their plan to carry full weight. I also understood that, by definition, a neighbourhood plan was the new local plan and had legal status.
“In this context, I write to complain about the unprofessional conduct of your planning officers. They were dishonest in the way they positioned the application and in how they advised and directed the councillorsâ€¦ ignoring the plan’s overarching and clearly stated objectives and policies (which are applicable to every site) and refusing to assess the application in the context of the plan as a whole.
“(They) were clearly unwilling to acknowledge the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan as the legally binding new local plan, rejecting it as a valid source of ‘planning’ guidance for assessing an application for planning permission. This has rendered our plan potentially toothless and sets a dangerous precedent for its other 16 sites.
“(They) insisted that the only ‘material’ information relevant to the application was that contained in the plan’s site-specific statement and since this did not detail the type of housing required for the site, they asserted that there was no obligation on the developer to provide affordable homes.
“The £800,000 goodwill donation from McCarthy & Stone was presented as a legitimate method for developers to buy their way out of affordable housing provision.”
Mr Duffield replied: “I am sorry that you have had cause to complain about the conduct of my officers and to hear that you feel there has been a dereliction of their duties. “The joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan is a ‘made plan’ and its policies carry weight in the determination of applications. It is one of four documents that form the development plan for our district, the other three being the council’s core strategy, the saved policies South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2011 and the Minerals and Waste Local Plan 1996, Oxfordshire County Council.
In addition, planning proposals have to be assessed against the National Planning Policy Framework, which contains a presumption in favour of sustainable development.
“I acknowledge that this scheme would not meet one of the primary objectives of the plan in so far as it doesn’t secure the delivery of affordable housing as an integrated part of the developmentâ€¦ it is a recognised planning practice to accept a commuted sum in lieu of the provision of affordable units on site.
“My officers were right to question those councillors that moved the motion for refusal as they did not clearly explain what planning harm would arise from the development and how that would outweigh the benefits of the scheme.
“If the council is to refuse planning permission and successfully defend that position at appeal it has to identify not only a conflict with adopted policy but also the planning harm that arises from that conflict.“This case has emphasised the need for greater liaison during the planning application process so that the various parties can have a better understanding of their respective positions at the earliest possible stage.”
In December, I also sent an email to Councillor Cotton, which was published by the Standard, to which I did not receive even an acknowledgement. It was his opportunity to assure the residents of Henley that our neighbourhood plan was safe in the district council’s hands.
Is it not therefore the height of hypocrisy for John Cotton to now write to berate you for being “destructive”, sanctimoniously attempting to convince us that his council is right behind our neighbourhood plan when all evidence points to the contrary (Standard, September 9)?
The ostensible reason for the planners’ approach to the contentious Thames Farm planning application was the shortfall in the council’s five-year land supply. Local authorities were said to be under pressure from government departments and developers to push through more housing to meet government targets.
This may well be at the root of their response to this particular application but having witnessed the planners’ tactics during the debate on McCarthy & Stone, I can only conclude that they simply resent having to defer to Henley’s neighbourhood plan and are desperate to cling on to the planning status quo, where they can call all the shots.
Their strategy appears to be to marginalise our plan, if not neutralise it completely. This they partly achieved in the case of McCarthy & Stone by making only selective references to it and bullying planning committee members into submission.
Buoyed by this success, they then went for the jugular in the debate on Thames Farm, their true colours unfolding as planning officer Emma Bowerman declared Henley’s plan “out of date”.This was clearly too much for the planning committee. Smarting from their first skirmish over McCarthy & Stone, the members finally rumbled the planners and unanimously ignored their “professional” advice.
Mr Duffield disagreed with my view that his planners had been dishonest and misleading in their handling of the McCarthy & Stone case.
However, that Henley Town Council felt it necessary to escalate the matter to the Secretary of State shows that I was not alone in my assessment. — Yours faithfully,
Laid back and incompetent
Sir, — Councillor John Cotton, the leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, says about the failure of his council to identify enough land in the district to meet demand for housing over the next five years: “It’s impossible to have every planning decision tick every planning policy box — that’s true for the council’s local plan as much as for neighbourhood plans.”
To regard this potentially disastrous failure to identify enough land as nothing more than the failure to tick a box says a great deal about the laid-back attitude and incompetence of his council and goes some way towards explaining why it happened in the first place. — Yours faithfully,
Vote yes for levy revenue
Sir, — In the wake of the latest Thames Farm controversy, the future of neighbourhood plans has emerged as the focus of several key articles and a raft of letters in recent issues of this newspaper.
Encouragingly, although not yet widely reported, is new housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell’s letter of September 8 to the National Association of Local Councils in connection with the neighbourhood planning bill currently going through Parliament.
He stated: “Yesterday we introduced a new Bill that will go even further in strengthening neighbourhood planning and which puts more power in the hands of local people to decide where development gets built.”
He went on to say: “It strengthens the neighbourhood planning process by ensuring that decision-takers must have regard to advanced plans and that plans come into force as soon as they have been approved by local people.”
Against this backdrop, the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan is going to referendum on September 29 after four years in the making.
Despite the uncertainty created by some of the questions currently being posed to South Oxfordshire District Council, it is my firm belief that it is better to have a plan than not because without it residents have far less say in development matters — witness what has been happening in other parts of the district where plans are either non-existent or nowhere near to being regarded as having weight in planning terms. In short, developers are having an absolute field day in these places.
To my knowledge, no other neighbourhood plan in South Oxfordshire is as close to referendum as Sonning Common’s.
That is testament to the grit and determination of the tiny focus group which has got us to this stage.
I am only one of the hundreds of local people who have supported the efforts of this group but I am sure I speak for all of us in urging Sonning Common residents to cast a “yes” vote on September 29 to ensure our plan is formally adopted.
Last but not least, as pointed out by Councillor Barrie Greenwood (Standard September 16), a village with an adopted neighbourhood plan receives 25 per cent of the community infrastructure levy that is paid by developers whereas one without receives only 15 per cent. — Yours faithfully,
Bird Wood Court,
Keep Reading well away
Sir, — The Sonning Common referendum date approaches fast.
It is essential that our neighbourhood development plan has the fullest possible support of the Sonning Common residents.
Vote “yes” on September 29 for a plan which has: l Had full consultation within the community;
• Identified suitable sites for South Oxfordshire District Council’s allocation of new homes; l Included the requirement for 40 per cent affordable homes within these sites;
• Included provision for a village sports and recreation facility;
• Emphasised the need for more smaller homes for local families; l Identified improvements to safety through better traffic flow and parking;
• Endeavoured to maintain the rural nature of the village.
Vote “no” if you want the developers to have free for all access to our beautiful greenfield sites and a gradual integration into a “greater Reading”.The choice is yours, but I strongly urge all Sonning Common residents to vote “yes” on September 29. — Yours faithfully,
Less bad site for housing
Sir, — May I respond to the letters about Thames Farm (Standard, September 16)?
Your correspondent Leslie Plumb described Thames Farm as an eyesore and said I was wrong to describe it as a green field in the valley separating Henley, Shiplake and Harpsden.
This is quickly answered because he has simply confused the now derelict former Wyevale garden centre site with Thames Farm, which is the 14-acre field on the Reading side of Wyevale.
While Leslie Plumb’s view is a matter of mistaken identity, Odette Moss’s views seem to me conditioned by the fact that she lives in Gillotts Lane.
Nearly everyone would agree that Gillotts Lane is a poor thoroughfare for almost any kind of traffic and is therefore a big snag in any plan to build houses on the land above it at Highlands Farm.
But in the eyes of most people who have studied the matter in depth, on balance, Highlands Farm is a less bad place to build houses than Thames Farm for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that Thames Farm is a green field site while at least 11 acres of Highlands Farm is brown field and deep brown at that!
The other reasons given by Mrs Moss to support her contrary view obviously convince her but, despite exhaustive consideration by councillors at many levels, very few others.
Where I personally believe that Mrs Moss is absolutely right is her view that it was wrong of South Oxfordshire District Council to allow a new factory access to the A4155 near the junction at the foot of Sheephouse Lane.
A much better plan, from the public’s point of view, would have been to put the Bremont watch factory on the Wyevale site, set back far enough to give the factory the peace it needs but with the properly engineered safe access that the original garden centre always lacked.
How marvellous it would be if the landowners concerned could come to terms to bring this about! — Yours faithfully,
Councillor Kester George
Harpsden Parish Council
Rush towards urban creep
Sir, — As an invited resident, I attended Gladman Land’s public consultation at Highdown School on Thursday last week, where they worked hard to sell us the benefits of their proposal to build 270 houses on green belt land at the northern edge of Emmer Green. The site is made up of three arable fields, currently part of Bryant’s Farm, stretching between Peppard Road and Kiln Road with proposed vehicular access from both of these roads.
Why should the people of South Oxfordshire be interested in this proposal?
Well, the land in question is currently part of South Oxfordshire but if Gladman wins planning permission it will no doubt be incorporated into Emmer Green, part of Reading borough, so bringing Sonning Common and the surrounding villages within the clutches of the inevitable “City of Reading”.
Gladman describes itself as a family-run business with more than 25 years’ experience within the development industry.
It also says that it is the most successful land promoter in the UK, obtaining planning permission on more than 90 per cent of applications. It is not your average local developer — it is extremely good at what it does, so beware! If your desire is to live in a nice rural village surrounded by beautiful countryside and you live in Sonning Common and surrounding hamlets you need to get involved because the urban creep is rushing towards you with Gladman leading the way. — Yours faithfully,
Take more care on roads
Sir, — As a motorist, I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the way we are treated. We have to abide by very strict rules and regulations and are subject to remonstration and fines for offences.
I would like to make two particular points here.
I have to drive to my gym at around 8.30am two days a week. Traffic is heavy at that time and on more than one occasion I have observed several cycling children, presumably on their way to Gillotts School in Henley, without helmets.
Surely it is the duty of parents to ensure the safety of their offspring by insisting that one is worn? I also feel that the school should take some responsibility here.
I cannot understand why the wearing of helmets is not compulsory as, apart from the fact that an injured cyclist without a helmet is going to cost the NHS more time and money, it is undeniable that such a cyclist will sustain more serious injury.
The other point I would like to make is regarding pedestrians walking on busy roads.
Yesterday I was driving along Horsepond Road in Gallowstree Common.
The weather was damp and cloudy and on a stretch of the road where there are overhanging trees, meaning less visibility, there was a girl with dark hair dressed completely in black walking on the left hand side of the road.
Fortunately, I saw her just in time.
I know the public are advised to walk on the right side of the road but this advice is very often not taken.
Please, authorities and schools, be more vigilant in educating and advising the public of these very sensible rules, which I strongly feel should be statutory. — Yours faithfully,
No need for yellow lines
Sir, — As a resident who opposes the painting of yellow lines in Grove Road, Sonning Common, and considers a spend of £4,300 a waste of council taxpayers’ money (Standard, September 16), may I ask how the restrictions will be enforced?
Will the necessary explanatory signage be easy to understand while parking without diverting the driver’s attention?
Will the restrictions apply during school holidays, teachers’ strike days and inset days?
Will residents or their visitors be asked to move their cars during the restricted hours and then re-park when the restriction is lifted?
Will the lines be painted on both sides of the road as the current guide marks do not indicate this?
Will the restrictions apply to coaches and taxis?
Has a child been involved in a traffic-related accident?
Yes, Grove Road is congested for short periods each day but it seems that with a little tact and good humour any difficulties are quickly resolved. — Yours faithfully,
Grove Road, Sonning Common
Shameful delay tactics
Sir, — As an elected member of Henley Town Council’s finance committee, I’m very disappointed that the committee voted the way it did on Tuesday with regards to giving consent to the relocation of Physiolistic to a new premises to be built at Henley Rugby Club.
The venture has already been given planning consent by South Oxfordshire District Council and we were assured by the town clerk and the Mayor that, according to the rugby club’s lease, it has every right to sub-let.
I’m all for transparency and ensuring that due process is followed but I believe that the motion proposed by Councillor Ian Reissmann to delay giving our consent until he has seen the legal advice was simply designed to be disruptive and for political point- scoring.
I also believe that it was supported by Councillor Lorraine Hillier because she has a childish grudge against the rugby club because she was not invited to the new clubhouse opening, as was so clearly demonstrated by her interventions after a question raised during public participation.
I think it is very sad that these two councillors obtusely disregarded the effect their petty actions may have on a small local business.
The unnecessary delay and uncertainty means that local people face being served their redundancy notices the month before Christmas — it is just shameful.
I hope members of the rugby club and clients and employees of Physiolistic will let their displeasure with the actions of these two councillors be known by attending and speaking during public participation at the special full council meeting that must now be held. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor Dylan A Thomas
Henley Town Council,
Councillors Reissmann and Hillier reply: “At the meeting of the finance strategy and management we proposed and seconded a proposal that (while agreeing with the proposal in principle) allowed us to be sure that the arrangement legally protected the council and the town’s assets as well as the rugby club and Physiolistic.
“We had previously been told that the council’s lease to the rugby club did not allow sub- leasing. We felt that it was important to make sure we had read and understood the changed advice from our solicitors. This was not available.
“We felt this was legal, proper and prudent. Other councillors from both parties supported our proposal, which was voted through.
“Once it became clear that Physiolistic could not wait for this to be ratified by the full council on October 11, we included a proposal that a special meeting be held on Tuesday.
“This combination of practicality and propriety seems very sensible and we are glad the committee agreed. In any case the committee did not have the power to approve the proposal which would (without our proposal) have had to wait until October 11. Therefore our proposal actually speeded up the council’s decision.
“We spent some time this summer talking with Physiolistic, helping to smooth the path of this proposal, which we fully support. As ever, we try to do our best for Henley, its residents and businesses.
“P.S. This issue of invitations is not related. The council has worked with the rugby club and we echoed the query from public participation about invitations to the council, so we were able to see how the £200,000 we gave them has been used in what we understand to be a splendid development.”
Questions for believers
Sir, — Following Lt Col Peter Blaker’s Thought for the Week (Standard, August 26), in which he appeared relaxed in accepting that the Christian god will condemn unbelievers to an eternity of “terrifying loneliness”, we now have Pastor Tom Brand’s contribution (September 16) making clear that “salvation” (presumably from an eternity of suffering in one form or another) is dependent upon confessing our sin to God, repenting and believing in Jesus.
On this basis, a large majority of your readers, I estimate, are heading for a very unpleasant time in the hereafter.
It is important that this belief is challenged. It would be interesting to know Lt Col Blaker’s and Pastor Brand’s considered responses to each of the following points:
1. If we are born in a state of original sin which alienates us from God and inevitably results in sinful behaviour, why should we “confess” and “repent” a condition for which we are not responsible?
2. If a state of personal sinfulness is inevitable why should “salvation” from its alleged consequences be conditional and not automatic?
3. Why are the stringent conditions for “salvation” not made so perfectly clear that every human being is aware of them and knows them to be true and necessary?
Pastor Brand complains that 40 per cent of people in England do not even believe that Jesus was a real person. Are they wilfully refusing to accept something they know is true or is God’s communication system disgracefully inadequate and defective?
4. The sentence of eternal “exclusion/damnation” for unbelievers fits very unhappily with the Christian concept of a god who loves humanity as a father loves his children. If an earthly father horribly mistreated his children because they wittingly or unwittingly displeased him, the children would be taken into care and the father sent to prison. — Yours faithfully,
Fawley Court code-breakers
Sir, — May I ask if any readers have knowledge of the code-breaking activities that took place at Fawley Court during the Second World War?
I was aware of the training of agents by the Special Operations Executive in the use of Morse code at Fawley but not code-breaking.
I read an article about the superb renovation of Fawley Court, where the owner Aida Dellal Hersham graciously hosted a group of code-breaking veterans and their families. — Yours faithfully,
Sir, — After a very successful members’ open day at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading on Saturday, I would like to remind readers that there is still an opportunity, until September 27, to stand for election to the post of public governor representing South Oxfordshire on the foundation trust. This is a most rewarding and interesting position and it is open to people of any background over the age of 16 who live in this area.
New governors are also being sought for East and West Berkshire and Reading.
You would be welcomed and encouraged to make the most of a great opportunity.
For more information, call 0118 322 5364 or apply online at www.royalberkshire.nhs.uk/openelections.htm — Yours faithfully,
Become a volunteer
Sir, — If you’ve been considering doing a few hours of voluntary work this autumn, Riverside Counselling Service could certainly use your help.
Riverside is a charity that has been providing affordable counselling in Henley and the surrounding areas for more than 25 years.
We have grown from just three counsellors and three clients to 30 counsellors seeing up to 90 clients every week.
We are looking for people who can give a few hours to work as a receptionist in the late afternoon and early evening — a vital role to ensure the safety of our clients and counsellors.
If you would like to learn more, please email Sheridan Carr at email@example.com or leave a message on 07879 381334. — Yours Â faithfully,
Riverside Counselling Service,
Thanks for farewell gifts
Sir, — A big thank-you to the pupils, staff and parents of the Oratory Preparatory School in Goring Heath for the fantastic send-off I received upon my retirement after 27 years.
My family and I were overwhelmed by all the gifts.
The gazebo is now up and decorated with lights etc.I have joined the world of modern technology by buying a tablet. I am still learning but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I have still to use the theatre vouchers, so that’s something to look forward to.I am now enjoying myself on my bike, spending time with my husband and looking after grandchildren.
Once again, a big thank-you. — Yours faithfully,
‘Bumble bee’ was drone fly
Sir, — R E Cooke’s photograph of a “bumble bee” feeding on ivy blossom (Standard, September 9) is indeed wonderful but it’s not a bee.
It’s a drone fly, very likely the common species Eristalis tenax that is thought to have evolved to mimic hive bees. — Yours faithfully,
I have never seen clouds like these
Sir, — This is the sky over Henley the other evening. Can someone please tell me what sort of clouds these are? I don’t think I’ve seem them before and I’m 82 years old! — Yours faithfully,
Adam Court, Henley
Town looks attractive
Sir, — Driving over Henley Bridge last week, just before the weather broke, the flowers and bunting in Hart Street and Market Place looked magnificent.
Congratulations and thanks to everyone who makes our town look so attractive. — Yours faithfully,
Greys Road, Henley
We’re so proud of rowing prowess
Sir, — Last weekend saw a heroes’ welcome home parade for Henley’s Olympians and marked a time when we can all feel proud to be from the town.
As crowds of adoring fans filled the streets and the Mayor and our MP John Michael Howell joined in to congratulate the athletes, you could not help but feel inspired to reach for a pair of blades and a boat and try the sport for yourself.
It was also a chance for many, including GB’s most successful rowing coach JÃ¼rgen GrÃ¶bler, to think about who among the town’s residents were the Olympians of the future.
It was with such huge pleasure then that the rowing clubs of Henley were given a special opportunity to help attract new people to the sport by setting up stands in front of the town hall before the parade.
The town’s oldest clubs of Leander and Henley Rowing Club were there representing the finest senior and junior clubs in the country.
In fact, as we cheered on our Olympic athletes in Brazil, there were similar cries of joy when Henley Rowing Club was crowned the top junior club in the country after winning the Victor Ludorum at the British Junior Rowing Championships with almost twice as many points as its nearest rival.
A measure of the town’s rowing prowess was shown by the enthusiasm with which the residents were dropping their shopping bags and jumping on a rowing machine to compete in the Henley Rowing Club challenge.
In fact, it even grabbed the attention of JÃ¼rgen himself, who popped down to the stand after the ceremony to congratulate the club and ask what the fastest time was — clearly he never misses an opportunity to find local rowing talent.
As the new rowing season begins, Henley Rowing Club once again opens its doors to new members, young and old, and to the Olympians of the future — roll on Tokyo.
For enquiries, call (01491) 573943 or email firstname.lastname@example.org — Yours faithfully,