Sunday, 19 September 2021

Housing numbers halved in revised building blueprint

A PROPOSAL to increase Henley’s housebuilding quota to more than 1,200 new dwellings by 2033 has been scaled back.

South Oxfordshire District Council now says the town should only take 350 additional units on top of the 500 or so it accepted under its joint neighbourhood plan with Harpden last year.

Earlier this year the planning authority proposed an increase of 677 but this has now been reduced following representation from Henley Town Council, which argued there was no space for more homes because of pressure on amenities like roads, schools and doctors’ surgeries.

It also pointed out that Henley is surrounded by the River Thames to the east and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the west, further limiting development. The district council says it has taken all of this into account.

It is proposing the smaller increase under its draft local plan, a document which will outline housing numbers for towns and “larger villages” including Sonning Common, Benson, Goring, Watlington, Woodcote and Nettlebed in order to comply with Government targets.

This will soon go out to public consultation before it is sent to a planning inspector for examination. The district council hopes it will come into effect next year.

The latest version of the plan also reduces the increases for Sonning Common, which has already agreed to take 195 homes under its neighbourhood plan and was facing the prospect of another 169. Now it should only be earmarked for another 150.

Goring, which must take 105 homes under the district’s old local plan, may only be asked to take 140 instead of 190. As in Henley, the parish council expressed concern as the village is surrounded by the river and the Chilterns.

But the total in Watlington, which is earmarked for 79 homes in the same document, could now go up by 260 instead of 173 while Woodcote, which has agreed to take up to 76 houses under its neighbourhood plan, might have to take 160 more instead of 135.

Nettlebed, which is currently earmarked for 20, could be asked to take 46 more instead of 42.

Benson’s total will not increase as it already faces the prospect of hundreds of additional new homes under pending or approved planning applications on various sites.

All of these figures could decrease because the Government is now consulting on a new, standardised formula for assessing housing need across the country.

In 2014, a privately commissioned “strategic housing allocation assessment” concluded that between 725 and 825 new homes were needed per year in South Oxfordshire, an increase on the existing target of 547. This figure still forms the basis of the current calculations but the new formula, which looks at official household growth statistics and not the predicted number of new jobs, would reduce it to 617.

It would also reduce Oxford’s housing quota from up to 1,600 homes per year to 746, decreasing the amount of overspill that surrounding districts would have to share.

The formula could come into effect in April, in time for the local plan to be amended, but until then the district council says it must base its targets on the 2014 housing assessment.

Ken Arlett, the chairman of Henley Town Council’s neighbourhood planning committee, said he would not resist the new figure outright but would insist on infrastructure improvements.

He said: “The question is whether we can stand the wider impact they will have and I’m not going to just look for the space to fit another 350 without asking that question.

“It is hard to know what the final expectation will be as the figure keeps changing. If they’ve proposed 677 then decided that’s wrong, what’s to say this new figure is correct?”

Henley Mayor Kellie Hinton said: “I would never automatically oppose development because we’re a growing town and we’re all having children, myself included, but many of us seem to think there should be no more houses and that’s wrong.

“However, we need to make sure we get the right kind of properties like two-bedroom houses and starter homes and they need to be in the right locations. We also need to guarantee more infrastructure as our roads and surgeries are struggling.

“Whether this increase is too high depends on the type of housing proposed as you can’t just squeeze extra homes into every gap. As with everything, there’s a balance.”

Henley MP John Howell, who introduced neighbourhood plans under the 2011 Localism Act and campaigned for the new housing formula, said: “This reduction in the housing numbers shows that feedback is being listened to. Of course, the district council isn’t yet in a position to take into account the reduction in the housing numbers arising from my recommendation because they’re only at the consultation stage.”

South Oxfordshire District Council leader John Cotton said: “I know that many are concerned about the impact on their lives of new housing being built near them. However, I also talk to people who are quite worried about the prospect of homes for their children if we don’t address the shortfall we face. This plan seeks to balance those tensions.

“What I hope is particularly striking about this plan is our desire to let more of the decisions be made for themselves by communities.”

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