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Homes target could rocket
Published 23/06/14

HUNDREDS more homes may have to be built in the Henley area following a proposal to increase Oxfordshire’s housing targets.

A Government-backed report says between 14,500 and 16,500 should be built in South Oxfordshire by 2031.

But the district council’s local plan, which was published less than two years ago, makes provision for only 10,600 by 2027.

Now the authority is asking residents for their views on how the extra 3,900 to 5,900 houses could be distributed. It has drawn up a list of eight options and has launched a public consultation which runs until July 23. The options are:

• To distribute the new homes using the same formula that was used to draw up the 2012 local plan. This means 55 per cent would be built at Didcot, leaving between 1,755 and 2,655 to be shared across the rest of the district. Of these, 60 per cent, or between 1,053 and 1,593, would be split between Wallingford, Thame and Henley. Under the current plan, Thame must accommodate 775 new houses whereas Wallingford must take 555 and Henley 400. If the extra houses were shared in the same proportions, Henley’s quota would increase to between 640 and 760. The remainder, between 702 and 1,062 homes, would be divided between 12 larger villages including Sonning Common, Benson, Goring, Watlington, Woodcote and Nettlebed. At the moment these villages must take a combined total of 540 houses. Shared the same way, they would have to take between 864 and 1,031.

• To build 60 per cent of the extra homes in the “Science Vale” near Abingdon, Didcot and Wantage. The remaining 1,560 to 2,360 would be split between 11 towns and villages including Watlington, Benson, Henley and Sonning Common. The district council describes these as “sustainable settlements” with enough infrastructure to take a larger influx of housing. Divided the same way, Henley would again have to take 240 to 360 extra homes while Watlington, Benson and Sonning Common would have to take 205 to 312. There would be no additional increase for Goring, Woodcote and Nettlebed.

• To build all 3,900 to 5,900 houses in the Science Vale, leaving Henley and surrounding villages untouched.

• To concentrate all these homes in a single new town to the north-east of the district. This could be near Benson or Watlington or it might be further north towards Chalgrove, Chinnor or Thame.

• To disperse the housing more evenly by introducing a more “permissive” approach to infill development. This means more small-scale developments would be allowed in the smallest villages but not hamlets or open countryside. If this option was pursued, Henley, Sonning Common, Woodcote, Goring, Nettlebed, Benson and Watlington would still have to have some extra housing.

• To concentrate development on the outskirts of Reading and Oxford. This means some housing could be built in or near villages to the north of Caversham and Emmer Green.

• To fit more homes on smaller areas of land by encouraging higher densities. At the moment the district council’s minimum density is 25 dwellings per hectare, which it says is “quite low”. It says Perpetual House in Station Road, Henley, is a good example of a high-density development. The building, which was renovated in 2009, contains offices and 44 flats at a density of 96 dwellings per hectare.

• To prioritise development in places where it would help fund projects. If a developer builds a large housing estate, the district and county councils can demand that it pays for new amenities, such as roads and schools. The district council says communities could take advantage of this if they had areas in need of improvement. Feedback from the consultation will be used to shape a new local plan, which will run until 2031. This will also set policies on creating new jobs and improving town centres and public transport.

Councillor Dieter Hinke, chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee, said he favoured creating a new town.

He said: “It would mean you could plan infrastructure instead of just throwing a load of new houses together. Henley and villages across South Oxfordshire have numerous problems with traffic and school places so it doesn’t make sense to put further pressure on them.

“Henley, for example, is a small market town — we can’t widen our roads, so where would the extra traffic go? There just isn’t the room. Putting even more houses into settlements which are struggling doesn’t work. Someone has to say, ‘this is enough — we are full’.”

Henley and Harpsden are currently consulting on a joint neighbourhood plan that outlines where up to 450 homes could go by 2027. Woodcote has completed its neighbourhood plan while both Sonning Common and Watlington are in the process of creating one.

The district council has said they should continue working to the old targets until new figures are confirmed. Cllr Hinke said: “People have been working on neighbourhood plans all around the country and this is saying, ‘thank you for your hard work but we need you to start again’.

“When the core strategy was published, the inspector gave clear reasons why Henley should not take any additional houses [beyond 450].

“Our working groups have done a great job allocating sites for Henley and Harpsden and it makes no sense that we’re now faced with an even higher target.”

Woodcote parish councillor Geoff Botting, who chaired his village’s neighbourhood plan steering group, said: “If Woodcote has to up the number already agreed, it will destroy neighbourhood planning as a national policy.

“It took two-and-a-half years to put our plan together and we have become a national case study because we did it so quickly and for very little money. No community is going to bother putting in that amount of time and effort if they think it can be so easily overridden. It would be an enormous breach of trust.”

The report calling for the increase, known as a strategic market housing assessment, was commissioned by Oxfordshire’s four district councils and Oxford City Council to meet Government requirements. It was carried out by consultants G L Hearn.

South Oxfordshire District Council says it opposes the higher allocation but is looking at where the extra houses could go if it is forced to accept the figure. Councillor Angie Patterson, cabinet member for planning, said: “We worked hard to get our current local plan adopted and this put us in a strong position.

“The SHMA is simply new evidence for us to consider and test. I anticipate that these housing numbers will be reduced by the end of the process.

“However, we need to move forward now to ensure that we don’t fall foul of the duty to co-operate and remain in control of our own plan.

“It’s important to test the numbers because once the housing requirement is set in the new plan, we will be measured against it. If we fail, we can lose our ability to resist developers’ schemes that don’t meet our policies.”

Henley MP John Howell wrote to planning minister Nick Boles calling for a review of the methods used to calculate the new figures.

Mr Boles replied, saying that it was a “local matter” and should be opposed at district level.

Mr Howell said: “By holding this consultation, the district council is offering a solution with which it can robustly challenge those figures. Those numbers have been set out with no idea of where development might be constrained.

“The council has to be able to identify those constraints so it’s absolutely essential that local people who know where they are come forward.

“Those who have a good idea of the restrictions on development are the ones who will help the council rebut the figures.”

To take part in the consultation, visit www.southoxon.gov.uk/ newlocalplan

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk

Published 23/06/14

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