Monday, 14 June 2021

Villagers celebrate as plan for 120 homes is rejected

RESIDENTS celebrated after plans for 120 homes in Benson were thrown out.

South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee voted by six votes to one to reject the application by architect WestWaddy to develop land south of Watlington Road.

About 30 villagers attending the committee meeting at Didcot civic hall cheered when the decision was made — against the advice of a planning officer.

The site, which is owned by Ray Stiles, has not been included in Benson’s draft neighbourhood plan, which will go to referendum in late summer.

Planning officer Sharon Crawford had recommended the application should be approved, saying the neighbourhood plan had “limited weight” as it was still at the “early stages”.

But there were angry shouts from the public gallery when she said the district council needed to provide housing in Benson.

“We’ve done it!” shouted one woman. Another said: “We don’t need any more houses.”

The neighbourhood plan names three sites for about 350 homes to the north of Benson and the parish council has agreed with developers that they will contribute to an “edge street”, or bypass, through the sites to help alleviate traffic in the village centre.

In addition, WestWaddy has already secured permission for 400 homes on land north of Littleworth Road which is also owned by Mr Stiles.

Jon Fowler, chairman of the village’s neighbourhood plan team and vice-chairman of the parish council, told the committee that WestWaddy’s plan would provide no benefits.

He said the application undermined Benson’s neighbourhood plan and the emerging district council local plan, which recommended a 15 per cent growth in housing for the village, or about 255 new homes.

“The neighbourhood plan makes provision for approximately 340 new dwellings on three sites to the north of Benson, on top of the 400 already approved as part of the Littleworth Road plans,” said Councillor Fowler.

He said granting permission would undermine the relationship between housing allocations in the plan and the provision of the bypass.

It would mean an equivalent number of houses would need to be removed from the allocated sites, which would jeopardise the delivery of the new road.

Cllr Fowler also said the village was already at its limit on the number of extra school places that could be realised with the developments being built and those allocated in the neighbourhood plan.

Stewart Fryatt spoke against the application on behalf of the residents of Brook Street and Blacklands Road, which are near the site, saying the development would threaten their close community and WestWaddy was showing a “flagrant disregard” for the wishes of villagers.

He raised concerns about the impact on shops, the road infrastructure and school places as well as the increase in air pollution, particularly on Blacklands Road.

“The proposed development will actually detract from, rather than enhance, our village,” said Mr Fryatt.

“As residents, we very much enjoy living and working in Benson — we’re excited about its future.

“However, plans such as these are not of benefit to the village. On behalf of my friends here, pretty please respect our people and our wishes.”

Councillor Felix Bloomfield, Benson’s representative on the district council, said the development would impact on the open landscape setting and two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs.

The site was important agricultural land and there was a duty to protect it for food production, he said.

Cllr Bloomfield also raised concerns over the impact the development would have on the capacity of Benson Primary School.

John Ashton, a partner at WestWaddy, said the development would address the housing shortage in the district and the plans had been amended to address the technical objections and other issues raised, including a reduction from 180 homes.

“Difficult decisions need to be taken now to deliver much-needed housing,” said Mr Ashton. “Failure to take decisions will harm the silent majority who understandably want to live in their own homes.”

Committee member Ian White proposed rejecting the application due to the impact on the landscape setting and rural nature of the village, the community and the AONBs.

He said agricultural land should be preserved, adding: “We can’t in five years’ time say, ‘oops, we have made a mistake, we have built on this agricultural land — demolish the houses’.”

Councillor Joan Bland called the application “premature”.

“We have to respect that a neighbourhood plan is in progress and we must respect the villagers,” she said.

“We have to be strong and not ruin our whole countryside but respect it.”

Councillor Jeannette Matelot added: “The landscape impact worries me and the loss of agricultural land but I think we can say the neighbourhood plan carries some weight.

“The good people of Benson get on with their neighbourhood plan and offer 340 [houses] when it is fairly unheard of to exceed what they have been allocated.”

Councillor David Turner said he was “nervous” as the council seemed to be seeing fields “bolted” on to the sides of villages when there was no real coalescence with them.

“I don’t believe this would have been recommended for approval if we didn’t have the threat of an appeal,” he added.

The committee refused permission on the grounds of the impact on the landscape, rural setting, agricultural land and the Chilterns AONB.

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