RETAIL giant Marks & Spencer could be coming to Henley.
The company has earmarked a site next to Tesco, off Reading Road, for a development that would include a Simply Food store with 28 flats above it plus parking for residents and shoppers.
It would mean the demolition of both the AFC Henley and Henley Hockey Club clubhouses and changing rooms, the former Exclusively Ladies gym, which closed in 2010, and a council depot.
A second offer to develop the land has been made by Inland Homes, which owns the neighbouring Jet garage and former National Tyres and Autocare centre where it wants to build 50 to 60 homes.
The site, which is owned by the town council, was put forward as part of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.
Details of Marks & Spencer’s plans were outlined by Barwood, the company’s agent, at a meeting with members of the plan’s working groups last week.
Dieter Hinke, chairman of the neighbourhood planning governance committee, said: “Marks & Spencer have been looking at a site in Henley for quite a while.
“When the council put the site up they became interested so they contacted the council and it was suggested a presentation be made to the housing working group.
“They are proposing housing with the retail as well — a mixed development. The site would have to be cleared if this was to be delivered.”
Councillor Hinke said the clubhouse and changing rooms would be relocated to Jubilee Park but without reducing the size of the pitches there.
“It’s fantastic really because the hockey and football clubs would get new facilities,” he said. Inland Homes has proposed building about 45 units on the site with no retail.
The company had already revealed its plans for the site of the Jet garage, which is to close this month, and former tyre centre, which closed in January after the lease expired.
Cllr Hinke said: “They would rather plan it as one site than two.
“The housing working group will make the decision on that site and the others. That will go into the draft neighbourhood plan.”
Trevor Howell, vice- chairman of AFC Henley, said: “For a long time we have been wanting to have a pavilion on the ground, on the actual grass.
“We would be delighted if they could find a way of building a joint pavilion for the hockey club and football club on the grass, on Jubilee Park itself. We have been labouring with a clubhouse 100 or 200 yards from the pitches.”
At present, players including children have to cross a road used by drivers going to and from Tesco in order to get from the changing rooms to the pitches.
Chris Baker, president of Henley Hockey Club, said: “The fact that the club would transfer to the other side of the road would be quite helpful from our point of view.
“I believe there have been quite a few discussions with potential builders but until the neighbourhood plan goes through a referendum we’re not going to know anything exactly.
“As a club I don’t think we have in principle a problem with moving. As for M&S, my wife would welcome it.”
Other developers attended the meeting last week to answer questions from representatives from each of the neighbourhood plan working groups.
Cllr Hinke said most of the questions focused on traffic and related issues.
A Marks & Spencer spokeswoman said: “We are always looking for good store locations and have had an interest in Henley for some time. Reading Road is a site we’re looking at.”
Mark Gilpin, planning director for Inland Homes, said: “Inland Homes has expressed an interest to the town council with regards the site they are promoting through the neighbourhood plan process.
“At the moment, our focus is very much on our own plans for the Jet garage site, which we believe can make a valuable contribution towards the plan’s housing requirement.”
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 neighbourhood plan will recommend where and what type of properties should be built.
A draft will be submitted to the district council after consultation with residents and businesses and the final version is expected to be put to a public referendum in the autumn.
* What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email firstname.lastname@example.org