Monday, 11 December 2017

Judges allow new appeal on Thames Farm plan

PLANS to build 110 homes on farmland between Henley and Shiplake will be the subject of another planning appeal.

Claire Engbers’s outline proposal for Thames Farm, a 14-acre field off Reading Road, was rejected by South Oxfordshire District Council in 2013 and again last year following a public inquiry.

She took her case to the High Court, which ruled the inspector’s decision was flawed as it was based on road safety concerns despite the district council agreeing that there were no highways issues.

Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, had reached the same conclusion so the court quashed the appeal, arguing Mrs Engbers didn’t expect to lose on these grounds and didn’t have the chance to properly argue her case.

This cleared the way for it to be heard afresh. The Department for Communities and Local Government then intervened, urging the Court of Appeal to reverse the High Court judgement and reinstate the inspector’s decision.

However, following a hearing on Thursday last week, the Appeal Court has upheld the judgement.

Lord Justices Lewison, Hamblen and Henderson agreed with Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid that inspector Ian Jenkins was entitled, in principle, to base his decision on highways matters. They said residents had reported concerns about a proposed pedestrian crossing near the war memorial island on Reading Road. The inspector could have taken this into account and Mrs Engbers ought to have been aware of this.

However, they said Mr Jenkins failed to consider whether any problems might be overcome by imposing planning conditions, so his decision could not stand.

Lord Justice Lewison said: “In my judgement, it ought to have been clear enough to the developer that [road safety] would be among the issues the inspector would take into account. Although the Secretary of State succeeds on the first ground, which was being argued, the judge’s order must stand.”

Mr Javid will decide how the new appeal is dealt with.

Mrs Engbers’s scheme includes a 40 per cent “affordable” element.

She argues that although the site is not earmarked for housing in the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, it’s ideal as Thames Farm is not high-quality farmland, has little landscape value and is not in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Earlier this year she submitted an outline application for 95 houses, which she described as a “greener” plan.

The district council’s officers recommended approval, saying a shortage of housing land took precedence over the neighbourhood plan, but the planning committee rejected it.

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