Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Villagers urged to support homes plan or have no say

RESIDENTS of Benson are being urged to vote in favour of its neighbourhood plan at a referendum next month.

About 100 people attended a meeting in the parish hall on Thursday last week to discuss the document, which earmarks three sites for about 560 new homes of which 40 per cent would be “affordable”.

It includes provision for an “edge road”, or bypass, from the A4074 to the B4009 to take traffic away from the village centre.

The referendum will take place on June 28 and if the plan is passed it would become part of South Oxfordshire District Council’s local plan and have legal status.

Jon Fowler, a member of the neighbourhood plan team, told the meeting: “If the majority of people vote ‘yes’ our plan will be adopted and ‘made’ but if the majority of people vote ‘no’ it’s not and we’re in a situation where we have no say over what happens with development in Benson. No plan, no say. There has been an awful lot of work put in over the last two years getting this plan to the point of where it is so I would really encourage people to support it.”

He said the benefits included the relief road and Benson’s receipt of 25 per cent of Community Infrastructure Levy revenue from developers compared with 15 per cent without a plan.

The meeting heard this sum could be around £1.7 million and would go towards improving infrastructure, such as expanding the village primary school and GP surgery, a new youth facilities building, new footpaths and cycleways, green spaces for recreation, allotments, a community garden and, possibly, a nature trail and new library or heritage centre. There are also plans for a 20mph speed limit on High Street and possibly on Oxford Road by the school.

Parish councillor Philip Murray, another member of the plan team, said: “Ultimately, if people did reject the plan — and that’s their democratic right, of course — it wouldn’t stop the housing we’re getting but it would stop us being able to control it. In a sense there’s a bit of a deadly embrace here.”

The council is awaiting the outcome of a public inquiry into 120 homes on a site south of Watlington Road, which is not in the plan.

The final decision will be made by Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire.

Councillor Murray said: “What I believe will happen is our plan will be adopted before that decision comes out and if that’s the case the plan will take precedent.”

With other developments already approved, Benson will have to take a total of about 750 homes, an increase of more than 50 per cent on the number of existing properties. Mr Fowler said the district council’s housing target for Benson had increased from 125 houses in 2012 to 383 now but the plan had made provision for more in order to pay for the new road.

He added: “The geographical position of Benson, being surrounded by open fields, makes it very vulnerable to speculative development.”

Land for the road has been safeguarded in the local plan, meaning it cannot have housing built on it and developers have agreed to build the sections through their developments.

Dave Rushton, who has been working on that aspect of the plan, said the road would be built to the highways authority’s specifications and would be at least 6.5m wide, with a 3m wide shared footpath and cycleway on one side and a 2m wide footpath on the other.

It would be up to the developers to fit the houses around the road, he added.

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