Friday, 24 September 2021

Bypass plan 'safe' despite hitch over airfield housing

A PROPOSED bypass for Watlington is not in jeopardy despite a potential setback with a major source of funding, says the town’s neighbourhood plan team.

Homes England, a government agency, wants to build 3,000 homes at Chalgrove airfield, which it owns, and has committed to part-fund an “edge street”, or bypass, around Watlington to ease congestion in the town centre.

The road would run from the B4009 Pyrton crossroads in the north to Britwell Road in the south and is seen as vital to the town and its neighbourhood plan, which earmarks three sites for up to 260 homes.

But ejector seat manufacturer Martin Baker, a tenant at the airfield, has thrown the road plan into doubt by saying it wants to expand the business and continue with its lease, which runs until 2063, rather than make way for housing.

The company has been in talks with representatives of Homes Englandbut little progress appears to have been made.

However, Gill Bindoff, facilitator of the Watlington neighbourhood plan forum co-ordination group, said she was confident that the bypass would go ahead whatever the result of the negotiations.

She said: “Until we have heard from Homes England that they are no longer going forward with their proposals, we are still taking the view that it’s important to keep working alongside them in order to secure some funding for the edge street, which is a vital part of our neighbourhood plan.

“At this stage we’re hoping we would be getting part-funding from Homes England towards the road.

“It is possible there’s alternative government funding we would be eligible for. We have been talking to our MP John Howell about that and he is very supportive of the road.

“We don’t think it’s in jeopardy because we think there’s funding from other sources available and we’ll be making every effort to secure that for Watlington in the event that Homes England doesn’t go forward with the Chalgrove development.

“We’re taking the view that nothing is actually certain. We know what Martin Baker’s position is but what we don’t know is what the Homes England position is.

“We had a meeting with them at the end of November. They were absolutely clear then that they were going forward with their planning application and lodging it early this year.”

Mrs Bindoff said the autumn budget had given Homes England power to use compulsory purchase orders, which could be used to secure housing on the site.

“They are getting much more support to develop government-held brownfield sites,” she said.

“We feel that it is likely that it will want to develop Chalgrove airfield if it possibly can.”

Chalgrove Shield, a group opposed to development of the airfield, said it understood Martin Baker had rejected an offer from Homes England.

In a statement, it said: “They have indicated that they do not wish to amend the terms of their lease to accommodate housing, as they have plans to expand their operations at Chalgrove airfield.

“James Martin was surprised and pleased by the volume of letters received from local residents and we understand that these played a part in the decision to reject the offer.

“Thank you to everyone who sent a letter — they received over 700, which is incredible.

“Chalgrove Shield welcomes the support of Martin Baker in our campaign to ensure that the South Oxfordshire local plan promotes housing located in appropriate and sustainable locations.”

A district council spokesman said: “The agency owns Chalgrove airfield and is seeking to develop part of the site through the local plan process.

“This would include a mix of development, including housing, while retaining the current tenant Martin Baker and their international business.

“We are waiting for the agency to confirm its future intentions for the site following its recent negotiations with Martin Baker.”

Martin Baker did not respond to a request for comment.

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