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More housing sites needed
Published 28/07/14

MORE housing sites are needed in Henley than those named in its draft neighbourhood plan, South Oxfordshire District Council has warned.

The planning authority says the nine plots identified in the document may not be enough to ensure the town’s requirements are met.

It made the comments in response to a seven-week consultation on the plan, which also covers Harpsden parish. This closed on July 4.

The draft, put together by a series of volunteer working groups, allocates space for between 400 and 485 homes to be built by 2027.

Landowners in the two parishes offered 17 sites late last year and the groups assessed each one before announcing a shortlist in April.

Eight are presumed to be available and fit for development and could take 400 dwellings in total.

This is the absolute minimum that Henley must take by 2027 under the district council’s core strategy.

The ninth is Gillotts School, which wants to sell a 3.4 hectare playing field for housing to fund a 10 million refurbishment.

It has applied for the Government’s permission to dispose of the land.

The site has space for at least 50 units but this could increase to 85 if the school could prove it was needed.

The district council has pointed out that its core strategy says Henley should take at least 450 homes if land can be found.

It says “it is clear there is land free of constraints” and a reserve site should therefore be named in case Gillotts’ proposal is rejected.

It says this is also necessary in case any of the other eight sites prove unavailable.

Officers said this was particularly important considering the high densities suggested, adding that “plans... should have flexibility for foreseeable change”.

They named the former Jet and National Tyres garage off Reading Road and removal firm Wilkins’ offices in Deanfield Road as two sites that could pose problems.

Inland Homes is looking to build 55 homes on the former while the latter has been earmarked for 19.

The council said: “Some of the sites have rather ambitious numbers proposed... this is fine if the community is aware that it will be challenging to accommodate this along with necessary parking, gardens etc.

“The allocations will likely result in a high proportion of flats so a wide choice of homes may be difficult to achieve.”

The council has also criticised the document for earmarking a 2.5-acre parcel of woodland off Gravel Hill for 15 homes.

The copse, between Parkside and Pack and Prime Lane, has been covered by a tree protection order since 2004.

Developer Millgate Homes argues the woodland is “generally low quality” but officers say it “still has a collective amenity value that warrants its continued protection”.

It says the site is “not consistent with, but contrary to” planning policy and the neighbourhood plan’s own criteria, which prioritises development of brownfield land.

Officers claimed there was “no evidence” that an ecological assessment of the site had been conducted.

They said: “A very robust case would have to be made as to why this site has been allocated in preference to other sites which may have a lesser ecological value.” In 2002 a planning application for a single house on the site was rejected on appeal because of its impact on the woodland.

Meanwhile Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, has expressed concern over plans for 190 homes at Highlands Farm.

The draft plan has earmarked the industrial estate off Greys Road for 130 homes and 60 care units for the elderly.

The county council says it will be “extremely difficult to provide a meaningful bus service” to the site due to ongoing budget cuts.

Developers can be required to give one-off grants to improve local infrastructure but cannot be asked to fund ongoing costs.

The council says a “binding arrangement to generate an ongoing revenue funding stream” for buses must be agreed before the site is accepted.

Cllr David Bartholomew, county councillor for Harpsden, said: “I am generally supportive of the proposals as they focus on brownfield sites.

“However, what is far from clear is how the additional traffic is to be managed as it seems much of it will be concentrated on Reading Road, Greys Road and Gillotts Lane.

“All of these roads are already over-used during peak times.”

Henley Town Council, which is overseeing the plan, is now reviewing all responses with its consultant Nexus Planning.

It will not release the results for another week or two, saying it needs more time to analyse the data.

The working groups will then be reconvened to discuss whether any changes need to be made.

There may be a second public consultation if there are significant revisions.

Cllr Dieter Hinke, chairman of the council’s neighbourhood plan governance committee, said: “Everything is going forward as it should.

“The councils have had their say but if the working groups really feel their proposals are better for Henley then a discussion will need to begin.

“However, we are a long way from that at the moment and are still waiting to see all the other results from the consultation.

“Nexus is working hard to put it all together before the working groups come back together.

“I think there will be some alterations to the draft but that is to be expected. It’s why it’s called a draft, after all.

“This is democracy in action; the people of the town want one thing but the district council has other thoughts, so we have to get together and sort it out.

“At the end of it we will hopefully have a result that keeps everybody happy.”


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