Saturday, 19 June 2021

Village 'under attack' from developers, say councillors

A CAMPAIGN is to be launched in Benson to warn residents that they are “under attack” from mass development.

Leaflets saying that the village faces the prospect of hundreds of new homes are to be distributed by the parish council in the hope of rallying support.

Councillors believe many residents are unaware of the amount of development with 400 houses having already been given planning permission and plans for about another 400 and probably more to come.

The flyer will be handed out at a drop-in event at the parish hall from 10am to noon tomorrow (Saturday).

It comes as the council tries to complete the first draft of a neighbourhood plan designed to give the community a say on development.

Speaking at a council meeting last week, Councillor Philip Murray suggested the leaflet should be in dayglow yellow with a skull and crossbones and warn that “Benson is under attack”.

“I think you have to imply fear to achieve an effect,” he said. Councillor Michael Winton said: “We don’t seem to have a strategy here of telling the village what we’re doing — very few people know what’s happening.

“If we don’t do something and get the village on our side I hate to think what’s going to happen.

“The neighbourhood plan is nowhere near completed yet. We’re going to end up with a village twice our size. I don’t think we’re doing enough.”

He said a meeting should be held for residents to air their views, adding: “If they don’t want to be involved, fine, but at least we have done it.”

Councillor Teresa McTeague said: “I feel quite strongly that we have to communicate effectively to the village about how many houses in total will actually be granted permission. I don’t think we have had a collective figure.

“We need to look at what our communication strategy is. I think if we had a grand total, and the implications of this, that would really hit home — get that figure out there. If they’re bothered they’ll come forward. If they’re not, they won’t.”

Councillor Dave Olley said: “You have a public meeting but how many are you going to get? You’re going to get 12 councillors and 20 other people.”

Councillor Patricia Baylis added: “I don’t see what else we can do apart from knocking on every door but who has the time?”

Council chairwoman Pat Peers said the council had tried to engage residents about the issue.

She said: “We have posters around the village, saying: ‘your village needs you.’ The district council has held meetings showing where the sites are and what the outcome could be. Developers have held meetings.”

Parish clerk Pete Eldridge said developers had agreed to hold presentations in the parish hall.

But vice-chairman Jon Fowler responded: “You’re going to get a biased view and they are going to sell their own development without necessarily giving a balanced view for everybody. I don’t think we should be relying on that.” The council agreed to produce the flyer for tomorrow’s drop-in event, which has been organised by the team compiling the neighbourhood plan. The draft is due next month.

The drop-in will include updates on all the development sites in Benson, an explanation of the effect these will have on traffic and the news on proposed housing throughout the rest of South Oxfordshire.

Meanwhile, a developer which wants to build 130 homes on land off St Helen’s Avenue, Benson, has lodged an appeal over South Oxfordshire District Council’s failure to make a decision on its planning application.

The council had set a date of September 30 to decide whether to approve or reject the plans by Gladman Developments.

Councillor Fowler aid: “Because the district council didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ within the specific time period the developer can appeal.”

He believed the appeal would be heard by next summer at the earliest.

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