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Revealed: nine sites for 479 new homes
Published 22/04/14

NINE sites where up to 479 houses could be built in Henley and Harpsden over the next 13 years are revealed by the Henley Standard this week.

The list, compiled by a volunteer working group, will be included in the first draft of the parishes’ joint neighbourhood plan.

It almost certainly rules out the possibility of a Marks & Spencer store on land owned by the town council near Tesco, off Reading Road.

The plan is due to be published next month and will go out for a six-week public consultation before a second draft is produced. This will then be inspected before going to a referendum and will become legally binding if more than half of voters approve it.

The sites were narrowed down from a list of 17 which were offered for development by landowners last year.

The largest is Highlands Farm, an 83-acre light industrial estate off Greys Road, owned by property developer Alan Pontin.

When Mr Pontin put the site forward, he was looking to build about 140 homes in partnership with house builder Crest Nicholson. He had previously proposed a 244-bedroom “care village” for the elderly in partnership with operator English Villages but this was put on hold.

The housing group says the site would be suitable for 130 homes and a care home with 60 bedrooms. It says this would be small enough to avoid clashing with plans to move the Chilterns End care home to the redeveloped Townlands Hospital site.

The group says another 25 dwellings could be built at the site of the care home in Chilterns End Close.

The third, and second largest, site is a 3.4-acre field on the eastern edge of Gillotts School, which the group says could take up to 85 homes. It has allocated 55 homes for now but says it will consider an additional 30 if it is felt they are needed.

The school, which became an academy in 2012, has refused to speculate on the value of the land but says selling it will pay for urgent improvements.

It wants to build a new, larger hall, a creative technologies centre and a learning support centre. It also hopes to refurbish its science block, improve its sports facilities and move its car park off site.

The fourth site is the Jet petrol station and former National Tyres garage in Reading Road, which the group says could also take 55 homes.

The 1.34-acre site, including a large patch of overgrown wasteland behind the garage, is now owned by Inland Homes.

The company wants to build a three-storey development of mostly flats with one or two bedrooms.

National Tyres closed earlier this year and the Jet garage is due to shut at the end of next month. The fifth site is the former Empstead Works industrial estate, off Greys Road, now Henley Enterprise Park.

Pump manufacturer Stuart Turner bought the site when it merged with commercial property firm Walden & Son in 2012.

It believes the site is suitable for up to 38 homes but the housing group says it could take 50 with additional space for retail.

The group says 30 homes could fit on the former Exclusively Ladies gym opposite Tesco in Reading Road.

The site is still used as a clubhouse and changing rooms by AFC Henley and Henley Hockey Club as well as several businesses.

Henley Town Council, which owns the complex, believes it could make 4million by selling it. It says it would use part of the sale money to build new sports facilities on the fields behind Jubilee Park.

Inland Homes says that if it is granted permission to build on the neighbouring garage site, it would also be willing to buy and develop the council’s land. This was the same site that Marks & Spencer had expressed interest in for a development of 28 flats above a Simply Food store.

However, it is understood that the working group would prefer M&S to set up at Empstead Works and will ask the company to consider this.

Businesses still based at the site, including the Chi Hair salon and beauty therapist Sheer Indulgence, have said they intend to remain in Henley.

Site number seven is the offices of removals and shipping firm Wilkins in Deanfield Avenue. The company has been based there since 1880 but wants to leave the 0.8-acre site for bigger premises in Newtown Road.

It says there would be room for up to 19 homes, which the housing group agrees with.

The group also says 15 homes could be built on a 2.5-acre parcel of woodland at Parkside, south of Gravel Hill.

Millgate Homes, of Twyford, owns the site and wants to built a block of 15 flats aimed at young professionals.

In 2003 the site was the subject of a failed planning appeal for a two-storey detached house with an outdoor swimming pool.

It failed as it was outside the built-up area of Henley, which at the time went against South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning policy.

The final site is the former Royal Marines Reserve headquarters in Friday Street, which the group says is suitable for 10 homes. The detachment is to vacate the building and move to new premises under plans announced by the Ministry of Defence last year.

The MoD says it will not sell the property unless a new home can be found for Henley’s army and sea cadets, who still use it.

Highlands Farm, the Jet garage and Parkside will be available from next year while Chilterns End, the former ladies’ gym and Wilkins can be developed from 2017.

The Empstead Works and Friday Street sites will not be available until at least 2020. It has not been revealed when work could start at Gillotts.

The list was disclosed in a confidential email to the housing group from consultants Nexus Planning, who are helping Henley Town Council to oversee the plan.

Consultant planner Anna Chew said the figures were agreed “almost unanimously” at a group meeting.

She said the finished draft plan would also explain how employment would be managed in both parishes.

She said: “[It will] seek to address early challenges from landowners on individual sites, particularly where sites have not been allocated, which is a highly sensitive issue.

“Nexus will continue to work with landowners whose sites have a draft allocation to address remaining issues and develop the supporting evidence.”

Councillor Dieter Hinke, chairman of the neighbourhood plan’s governance committee, refused to comment, saying that not all the landowners had been informed.

Henley and Harpsden have to find room for 400 or more homes by 2027 to meet government’s housing targets.

The neighbourhood plan will also suggest ways to improve the environment, traffic, education, green spaces, leisure facilities and the economy.

• The Open Spaces Society, which is based in Henley, has called on residents to ensure the plan protects natural beauty spots within the parishes. To qualify, sites must be close to the communities they serve and be special for their beauty, historic significance, recreational value, tranquillity or abundance of wildlife.

Published 22/04/14

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