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Don't build on green spaces
Published 10/02/14

HENLEY and Harpsden should meet their future housing needs by building on brownfield land rather than in the countryside, say residents.

Almost 500 people had their say on 17 sites where 400 or more homes could be built under the parishes’ joint neighbourhood plan. The results of the questionnaire, which was completed over Christmas and the New Year, were published this week by the plan committee.

The nine most popular sites were supported by at least 70 per cent of residents and have all been previously developed. Six of the remaining eight, which were backed by 55 per cent or fewer, are green fields or farmland and the other two belong to private residences.

According to varying estimates by developers, South Oxfordshire District Council and the planís consultants Nexus Planning, the nine sites could accommodate between 344 and 517 houses.

The most popular site was the offices of removals firm Wilkins in Deanfield Avenue, opposite Henley Collegeís Deanfield campus, with 87 per cent of respondents supporting redevelopment. The company says between 15 and 19 flats of one- or two-bedrooms homes could be built there.

Eighty-six per cent backed development on the site of the Jet garage and former National Tyres and Autocare centre in Reading Road, which closed last month after the lease expired. Inland Homes, which took over the site, believes it could accommodate 50 to 60 homes of mostly one or two bedrooms.

The third most popular site was the Chilterns End care home off Greys Road, Henley (84 per cent). The home is due to move to Townlands Hospital when is it redeveloped and the Order of St John Care Trust, its owner, says 25 homes could go in its place.

The former Empstead Works, off Greys Road, now the home of Henley Enterprise Park, was fourth choice with 82 per cent.

Owner Stuart Turner believes there is space for 38 homes but the district council says 25 is a more reasonable figure.

Fifth was Highlands Farm, a light industrial estate off Greys Road, which 81 per cent backed. Owner Alan Pontin and house builder Crest Nicholson have proposed building 140 houses but the district council says the site could take up to 245.

Eighty per cent of people supported redevelopment of the Royal Marines Reserve headquarters in Friday Street.The Ministry of Defence is considering moving the detachment and says the site could take 15 homes.

However, it will not be available for at least two years and Nexus says its capacity is in fact between four and eight.

The former Exclusively Ladies gym, opposite Tesco, was backed by 79 per cent of residents.Henley Town Council owns the land and says it could take between 20 and 25 homes.

Seventy-eight per cent were in favour of the former Wyevale Garden Centre between Henley and Shiplake, which shut in 2009. Planning consultant Jeffrey Charles Emmett says 50 to 75 homes could go there in principle but favours building fewer than this.

Ninth most popular was land at Parkside, off Gravel Hill, which 70 per cent supported.Millgate Homes, of Twyford, has proposed building a block of 15 flats for young professionalst.

The remaining eight sites have room for between 400 and 577 homes.

Fifty-five per cent of residents supported development at Mount Ida and Thames Farm, both off Reading Road, near Shiplake, and a field to the north-west of Luker Avenue, Henley.

Nexus says Mount Ida, a private residence, could take 15 to 25 homes while Claire Engbers, the owner of Thames Farm, says her land could take 110. However, the district council rejected a planning application for 110 homes at Thames Farm in November.

The field off Luker Avenue is jointly owned by three developers who say it could take up to 90 homes but the district council says the figure is 60 to 75.

Fifty-four per cent backed development at Waterman’s Spinney, a parcel of woodland behind the Waterman’s allotments, off Reading Road, Henley. The town council owns the site and says it could take between 40 and 60 homes.

Fifty per cent said Sheephouse Farm, a private house off Reading Road to the south of Henley, was suitable. Nexus says the site could take 25 to 30 homes but it would not be available for at least 10 years.

Another residence, Treetops in Gillotts Lane, was supported by 35 per cent of residents. Owner Robert Hale has proposed building 47 houses on the site, more than double the 15 to 20 recommended by the district council.

The least popular sites were a sports pitch at Gillotts School and an adjacent field at Lucy’s Farm on Drawback Hill, off Blandy Road. Thirty-four per cent said the former was acceptable while only 26 per cent supported the latter.

The academy school needs £3 million for improvements and selling the land could help raise the sum. It describes the pitch on the eastern edge of its estate as “poor quality” and says it could take 25 to 85 homes.

Pat Hiscock, the owner of Lucy’s Farm, has offered his northernmost field to Bloor Homes for development.The company has proposed building 110 to 130 homes with two play areas and a footpath between Blandy Road and Rotherfield Road.

The results will be discussed by the neighbourhood plan’s housing working group, which will announce its own preferences at the end of the month.

Councillor Dieter Hinke, who chairs the group, said the feedback would be considered alongside the group’s nine selection criteria.

These are proximity to local services, prioritising brownfield development, traffic impact, integration with existing development, benefit to the town, flood risk and impact on archaeology, wildlife and the landscape.

At least 73 per cent of residents agreed that each of these criteria was important. The most popular was building on brownfield land, which 93 per cent supported.

Cllr Hinke said: “We have had an amazing response and are very pleased with how the process is going.

“It is too early to discuss our own site preferences as there is still more work that needs to be done. We are working towards a referendum and whatever we come up with will have to meet the expectations of the town.

“I believe the public are now more aware of neighbourhood planning. It has taken a while to get the message out but people are now interested.”

The group received 495 questionnaires, of which 419 were from residents of Henley and Harpsden. The rest came from people just outside the parishes, most of whom lived in Shiplake.

The highest concentration of responses came from residents of Blandy Road and Makins Road, which back on to the Gillotts field and Lucy’s Farm sites.

Cllr Hinke said: “You would expect clusters where a high density of homes is anticipated but I am sure the working groups will take that into account. It was a very open consultation; we made sure that everyone in the area was aware of it and had a chance to give their views.”

Henley and Harpsden must find space for at least 400 new houses by 2027 under South Oxfordshire District Council’s core strategy.

The exact figure will not be known until a government survey known as a strategic housing market assessment for Oxfordshire has been completed.

The survey is being carried out by London property consultant G L Hearn and the results were due to be revealed last month but this was delayed and no new date has been set.

The Jet garage is to close at the end of May. Manager Tony Stevens said it would cease trading once its pumps ran dry following its final delivery of the month.

Published 10/02/14

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