Friday, 27 November 2020

Villagers to lose their last open space to development

RESIDENTS have lost their fight to protect Christmas Common’s only open space.

RESIDENTS have lost their fight to protect Christmas Common’s only open space.

Villagers began campaigning for the plot of land known as Old Church to be registered as an asset of community value after South Oxfordshire District Council refused planning permission for a two-storey, three-bedroom house on the site.

But now the Planning Inspectorate has upheld an appeal against the council’s decision, meaning the development can go ahead.

More than 120 residents had signed a petition objecting to the plans for the former Forestry Commission land, which is to the east of the main road between No 1 Forestry Cottages to the north and The Old Church to the south.

In her decision letter, inspector Elizabeth Pleasant said: “The main issue in this case is the effect on the landscape setting of Christmas Common and landscape qualities of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with particular regard to siting and appearance.

“Although the introduction of a built form on to the site would alter its appearance, the design and appearance of the proposed dwelling, including its overall mass, height and use of materials, would reflect both the scale of neighbouring properties and the local vernacular.

“I do not, therefore, consider that its appearance would be incongruous or obtrusive in this location and I believe the overall appearance of the site would be improved.”

Mrs Pleasant said she had taken the impact on neighbouring trees and woodland as well as the residents’ petition into consideration. “The [district] council did not raise any objection to the development on these grounds and no specific objections have been received from Natural England or statutory consultees,” she said. “From the evidence I have before me, I am satisfied that interests of biodiversity and wildlife would not be significantly harmed.”

The plot was sold by the Forestry Commission in 2011 after being advertised to only the residents of the houses that were built by the commission in 1952.

Residents had argued there are covenants on the land stating it should be for community use only.

Villager Sylvia Mountford told a Watlington Parish Council meeting in February: “It’s in the centre of the village and is actually our only open space. We wanted to buy it but we couldn’t afford it.”

She suggested having picnic tables, a shelter and information boards about the wildlife and footpaths and said the idea was supported by the Chilterns Conservation Board.

But Mrs Pleasant said: “I recognise the desire of some local residents and the parish council to utilise this land as community space and also their concerns regarding land ownership and the existence of covenants relating to this land.

“Ownership issues are, however, a private matter between the relevant parties and not within my jurisdiction. The council has not raised any concerns regarding the value of this land as an open or community space and I am therefore giving this matter limited weight.”

Alan Tipper originally applied for permission for a pair of two-storey semi-detached houses but council planning officers raised concerns and the plans were amended.

The council’s planning committee then refused the revised plans, saying the development would fail to conserve the landscape qualities of the AONB.

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