Friday, 23 March 2018

Village identifies another six sites for possible development

SIX sites in Woodcote where another 67 new houses could be built have been shown to the public for the first time.

About 500 residents attended a consultation on proposals to update the village’s neighbourhood plan, which was held at the village hall on Friday and Saturday.

The sites could be developed in addition to the seven plots for 76 homes earmarked in the existing plan, which passed a referendum in 2014.

The document is being updated because South Oxfordshire District Council is revising its own local plan to cover the period until 2033 and housing quotas for most areas are likely to increase.

The council believes Woodcote could take up to 160 additional properties but the parish council insists the village’s capacity is much lower.

Its neighbourhood plan advisory group, which consists of volunteers, shortlisted the six new sites from a list of 25 put forward by landowners last year.

They are:

• A one-hectare field off Reading Road, opposite the village hall. This could take 30 houses, of which 12 would be “affordable” while eight would be sold on the open market and 10 would be retirement properties. A public car park with 40 spaces could go on a 0.16-hectare field next door to alleviate congestion on the main road.

• Two fields immediately east of Greenmore measuring 0.35 hectares and 0.33 hectares respectively. The first could take 11 units and the second could take 10, with four affordable on each. These could include traffic-
calming measures and a car park.

• A 0.28-hectare field behind Yew Tree Farmhouse, off Behoes Lane. This could take three affordable homes and five market homes.

• A 0.15-hectare wedge of land behind the Black Lion in Greenmore, which could take five regular houses.

• The former Woody Nook restaurant in Goring Road, which could be converted into three homes.

This would increase the proportion of three- and four-bedroom properties from 40 and 10 per cent respectively in the old plan to 50 and 15 per cent while reducing the number of two-bedroom homes from 40 per cent to 25.

This is to help tackle the “challenges” of an aging population as the number of people living in Woodcote has fallen since 1991 due to a drop in the number of those aged 19 and under, meaning the proportion of over-60s has increased. It is thought that building larger homes would attract more families as couples with even one child prefer at least three bedrooms.

However, the advisory group says smaller houses must be of a high quality to encourage downsizing, freeing up existing large properties.

The group could also form a “community land trust” which could buy plots and build affordable housing, effectively acting as a housing association.

The plan could also include three new employment sites:

• To the rear of the proposed car park in Greenmore (0.07 hectares, enough for two medium-sized units).

• An extension to the Church Farm industrial estate off Reading Road (0.41 hectares).

• Bishop’s Yard in Greenmore (0.33 hectares).

Most visitors to the exhibitions filled out surveys that will shape the final document.

Charlotte Nash, of Greenmore, said: “I know this has divided opinion in the village but we have to agree enough common ground to move forward.

“We’re stronger working together on an acceptable level of development.”

David Self, of Birchen Close, said: “Some sites might be okay but there’s a lot of development off Greenmore and that road already attracts a lot of speeding and parking by Wards Farm. This would make it worse.”

Sinead Archer, of Whitehouse Road, said: “It’s good that they’ve explained the reasoning behind the site selections as the initial leaflet drop started some lively debate. It makes more sense now and generally I think it will work but I still don’t understand some choices and think Greenmore is being overdeveloped.”

David Athey, of Birchen Close, said: “If the district council keeps asking us to take more houses, there will be fewer and fewer people who agree with the proposal so the neighbourhood plan becomes less likely to pass a referendum, meaning the district council’s own plan will rule. It’s destroying local democracy.”

Charlotte Nichol said: “They’re talking about all these extra sites but it seems pointless when so few of the sites from the first plan have been developed yet.

“I would also like to know why the public didn’t get a say on all the sites that were put forward.”

Carol Parson, of Beech Lane, said: “We can’t avoid taking extra houses and should be grateful that our council is so switched on. Other villages haven’t been so forward-thinking and they’ve had to take loads of housing.”

Parish councillor Geoff Botting, who chairs the steering group, said: “We haven’t analysed the questionnaires yet but at first glance there’s a lot of support for our initial suggestions.

“A couple of sites were less popular and the advisory group will study the responses of those that didn’t like them along with other suggestions received to see how, if possible, we can respond.

“Overall the spirit was very positive with lots of compliments on the enormous amount of work done and the quality of the displays.

“There were a couple of very vocal critics who were landowners presumably disappointed that their land wasn’t included in these initial suggestions. This is unsurprising given the difference in value between land with and without planning permission for housing.

“Many visitors did not appreciate that the existing plan has secured permission for more than 50 houses but that’s as much as we can do. We can’t actually build the houses ourselves.

“The district council is going to push housing through somehow and you can either ignore it, in which case you have no say and just get built all over, or you can produce a neighbourhood plan and influence development in a way that benefits the community.”

He said sites ruled out by the steering group weren’t included in the consultation as they could not be developed by law.

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