Sunday, 13 June 2021

Village doesn't need 120 more homes, inquiry told

PLANS for up to 120 homes in Benson would not meet the village’s needs, a public inquiry heard.

Robin Green, a lawyer acting for South Oxfordshire District Council, was speaking on the final day of an appeal into the planning authority’s refusal of outline planning permission for the development of land south of Watlington Road by owner Ray Styles.

He also  said that Benson had “more than met” its share of the housing needs for the district under the council’s emerging local plan.

Benson must accommodate at least 125 new homes under the current local plan but will in fact take at least 771 under planning applications already approved or pending.

The village’s neighbourhood plan, which is currently undergoing independent examination, names three suitable sites for 560 new homes and says that developers would be expected to fund sections of a bypass in order to alleviate congestion in the village centre.

Mr Green told inspector John Felgate on Friday: “Whatever may have been the position in the past or is the position in other parts of the district, Benson is a different place.

“Some 560 new dwellings are already expected to come forward from 2011 to 2033. There’s no evidence to suggest this level is insufficient to meet local needs for market or affordable housing.

“Already it has more than met its share for new housing needs for the next 15 years and in the neighbourhood plan will go further still.”

He said sites had been allocated in the plan in order to provide the relief road north of the village. “There’s no such specific need to which the appeal proposal relates,” he said. “In truth, there’s no policy support for this development.”

Mr Green said the planned scheme met no particular local need and it would harm the landscape setting of Benson and result in the loss of the best agricultural land.

The site had been the subject of multiple landscape and visual impact assessments which had all found the development would have a harmful impact on the landscape character and appearance.

“The fact there would be harm is almost universally acknowledged,” he said.

Mr Green said some of the footpaths proposed by Mr Styles were narrow and unlit and that, on the whole, the scheme would not integrate well with the village.

Sasha White QC, for Mr Styles, said there was an “urgent and critical” need to deliver new housing because of a shortage created over a number of years.

“The point is the level of completions in South Oxfordshire is not where it should be,” he said.

“This council... has an Everest to climb because they are required to build 1,180 units per annum.

“In order to achieve that level of completions, there needs to be a step change in development.”

Mr White said that Benson Parish Council was “incredibly well intentioned” but its arguments against this proposed development were “just plain wrong”.

The council fears that if Mr Styles is allowed to go ahead with the development it would harm the neighbourhood plan and jeopardise the delivery of the bypass. Mr White described this as a “complete fallacy”.

He explained: “Their position is regrettable because the key points they have sought to make are not supported by technical expert advice.

“There’s not a single technical document to show the technical need for the edge road for the future housing need in Benson.”

Mr White said that none of the other parties wanting to develop the sites included in the plan had objected to Mr Styles’s proposals and the parish council was alone in claiming that it would be harmful.

He said: “The granting, or not, of development at the appeal site will have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the neighbourhood plan.

“The edge road will come forward, or not, irrespective of what decision is taken on the appeal site.”

Mr White said the benefits of the scheme included the fact that the site was in a sustainable location and the harm to the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which was 1.4km away, would be minor. The Chilterns Conservation Board had not objected.

The scheme would create an opportunity for high-quality, well-designed homes as well as providing 40 per cent affordable housing.

Mr White also dismissed the loss of agricultural land, saying that other sites earmarked for development contained 40 hectares of agricultural land where this one had just 2.2 hectares, which was “a showstopper apparently”.

He concluded: “We say that [the site] is the best and most appropriate for housing in Benson.”

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