Sunday, 25 July 2021

Two neighbourhood plans approved for referendum

NEIGHBOURHOOD plans for Watlington and Benson have been given the go-ahead to proceed to referendum.

Volunteers from both communities spent years and hundreds of hours preparing the documents, which allocate sites for more than 800 new homes.

Both plans include the provision of an “edge road”, or bypass, in order to alleviate congestion in their respective centres.

Each plan has now been approved by an independent examiner, clearing the way for referendums to be held in June at the earliest.

Gill Bindoff, facilitator of the Watlington neighbourhood plan forum co-ordination group, said she was pleased with the comments by their report examiner Andrew Ashcroft.

She said: “He has recognised a lot of the strengths that are in it and made some very useful and helpful suggestions for modifications.

“The people who have been volunteering on the plan all believe it’s a good thing for Watlington and for our community.

“It should really help us move forward and get the development we want that’s in the right places.”

Watlington’s plan names three sites for up to 260 homes as follows:

• Between the B4009 Britwell Road and B480 Cuxham Road, which could take 140 homes with a small amount of employment space.

• Off Pyrton Lane, which could accommodate 60 dwellings and could also provide space for Watlington Primary School or for Icknield Community College to expand.

• Off Cuxham Road and Willow Close, which could take between 38 and 60 homes.

In his report, Mr Ashcroft said: “The plan includes a variety of policies and seeks to bring forward positive and sustainable development in the neighbourhood area.

“There is a very clear focus on safeguarding local character and promoting and safeguarding its rich historic environment.

“It promotes three housing sites and in so doing safeguards the proposed route for the Watlington edge road as included in the emerging local plan.”

Mr Ashcroft said he was satisfied that there was “sufficient robust evidence” to support the merits and purpose of the proposed road.

He added: “On the basis of all the information, I am satisfied that the package of housing sites and an edge road represents sustainable development.

“The delivery of an edge road will address the principal concern expressed by residents as the plan has been developed and will help to improve accessibility within and enjoyment of its historic core.

“In the environmental dimension it has the clear ability to safeguard and enhance the historic core of the town and reduce the harm to listed buildings by passing traffic. There are likely to be associated improvements in air quality.

“The plan has been significantly underpinned by community support and engagement. It is clear that all sections of the community have been actively engaged in its preparation.”

The referendum area will include a series of properties in Pyrton parish to the east of Watlington.

Benson’s plan identifies three sites for 560 houses as follows:

• North of Littleworth Road which could take 240 homes.

• Off Hale Road (80 units).

• North and north-east of The Sands (240 units).

Examiner John Slater said the document planned “positively” for housing growth.

He continued: “It is promoting a level of housing which, over the plan period, will provide for over 560 new homes, compared with 383, which would have been the emerging local plan’s requirement for the village of this size.

“The neighbourhood plan is looking to deliver a new road layout, which harnesses the access arrangements of the allocated housing areas, to collectively deliver a relief road that will direct both the traffic associated with the new housing areas and through-traffic away from the historic centre of Benson.

“It is a very clear vision and can legitimately be described as the golden thread that runs through the neighbourhood plan. Having established the village’s desire to see a new relief road around the village, it is entirely consistent for the plan to allow that objective to influence the choice of housing sites, which individually and collectively can deliver the road, and conversely choose not to allocate sites which do not contribute to securing that objective.

“The parish council and the community are to be congratulated in using the neighbourhood plan process to actively promote extra development in order to extract through positive planning the highway infrastructure that the community identifies as being required to protect and enhance the historic heart of the village, including its conservation area and listed buildings.”

Parish councillor Philip Murray, who is part of the neighbourhood plan steering group, said: “The parish council and the neighbourhood plan team are very pleased the examiner has recommended it goes forward.

“This is a step towards the plan having significant weight but it has to be accepted by the district council and go to referendum so I don’t think we can assume it’s all done and dusted.”

• Benson is awaiting the outcome of a public inquiry over plans for 120 homes at a site south of Watlington Road, which is not in the village’s neighbourhood plan. South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, refused planning permission so the landowner appealed. Sajid Javid, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary, will make the final decision.

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