Saturday, 02 July 2022

Housing plan revisions to protect village as it grows

Housing plan revisions to protect village as it grows

A REVISED version of Benson’s neighbourhood plan could be adopted by the end of the year.

More than 70 people attended a meeting at the parish hall in Sunnyside on Thursday last week to hear about the proposed changes to the document.

The existing plan, which was approved at a referendum in 2018, earmarked three sites for 560 new homes.

These were land north of Littleworth Road (240 homes), off Hale Road (80) and north and north-east of The Sands (240).

No new housing sites are being put forward but the following additions are being proposed:

• A 20mph zone.

• The introduction of settlement boundaries for Benson and Preston Crowmarsh.

• A new riverside policy.

• More focus on green spaces and tackling the climate emergency.

Philip Murray, a parish councillor and member of the neighbourhood plan delivery team, said: “Updating the neighbourhood plan is urgent.

“We have been working on this revision for the best part of a year and we want to consult with the community.

“We have our housing allocation already and work is in progress but if we don’t like how things are done, we can still change them.

“Our neighbourhood plan is the only way a parish council like us can have power over what happens in its community.

“We can shape the developments and affect the look of new buildings and it also results in us getting funding that the developers have to pay to the public sector.

“Having a neighbourhood plan provides a safety net in case the district council misses its housing targets.

“Making and maintaining a neighbourhood plan is quite a long and complicated process.

“We are designated as a rural community and it means that we have to work hard to avoid unnecessary extra housing.

“In 2016,  we created a working group within the parish council.

“The first thing we did was a questionnaire and we found that the relief road was the number one issue for the community.

“If we didn’t have our neighbourhood plan we would have been more exposed to the housing allocation and I think it has been a moderate success. But we need to stay in step or lose the benefits — without a revised plan quickly, Benson will be exposed to more housing and we don’t think that is fair.”

Councillor Murray said the neighbourhood plan had delivered £20million worth of benefits for the village, including the relief road, new community facilities and Community Infrastructure Levy funds.

He said the revised version would put more stress on climate emergency measures for the village as well as focusing more attention on green spaces and the riverside.  

Three new green spaces were promised by the developers, resulting in an increase of nine hectares.

The parish council will also receive £150,000 to spend on art pieces to be displayed in public spaces.

Cllr Murray said: “We have got a new riverside policy because the river is such an important part of the life in this village.

“We are emphasising the respect for the rural character and biodiversity and any new development will need to maintain openness.

“People value the fact that Benson is a rural village and separated by the other settlements nearby; they want to have easy access to the countryside.

“We were keen that we should protect the separation between us and other villages.

“As part of the new developments, we have three new green spaces and the management of the brook has also been very successful.”

Community projects that could be delivered using CIL money include the expansion of the Millstream Centre, toilet facilities at Rivermead and a new youth hall.

The meeting concluded with a question and answer session where residents asked about solar panel requirements for new developments, possible pedestrian crossings and electric vehicle charging points.

Mick Brown, who leads Benson Parish Council’s transport working group, said: “Installing the charging points is going to be problematic because we struggle with parking at the best of times.

“The charging points we have been looking at will be for cars and bikes but deciding where to install them is going to be difficult.”

Cllr Murray said: “It will not be an easy resolution and at the end of the day parking has always been an issue for us in general.”

A public consultation on the plan will start on April 15 and conclude in mid-May.

The revised version could be adopted by December or go to referendum and be adopted in February next year.

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