Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Councillor claims planning group hijacked

THE former chairman of an action group for the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan says it has been “hijacked” by the town council.

Dieter Hinke says the neighbourhood plan committee, formerly known as the neighbourhood plan steering group, should be run by the residents and not councillors.

The committee currently comprises three town councillors, as well as two parish councillors from Harpsden and is chaired by Councillor Ken Arlett, who is also chairman of the town council’s planning committee.

It oversees and monitors the neighbourhood plan, which was approved in March last year and says where 500 new homes should be built in the town.

Mr Hinke said neighbourhood plans were introduced to let residents offer their views on developments in their communities but some councillors were using it to “increase popularity”. He said: “When neighbourhood plans started it was because David Cameron wanted to give people a voice in certain aspects of where they lived and their community.

“The neighbourhood plan was intended to be a plan put together by the electorate of the town. Councillors were allowed to make comments but didn’t make the final decisions.

“I’m a little bit concerned that this is now being run more by councillors than people in the town.”

Mr Hinke suggested that the committee should be chaired by a non-councillor in order to show that it represents the community as a whole.

He said: “It can be used by councillors to win voices and increase popularity in the town but it was never untended for that. It was itended for the people of the town to get together and fashion what they want. Members of the community need to continue to have their voice and not have it hijacked by both sides of the town council.

“It goes against the principle of neighbourhood planning. It needs to be in the hands of the Henley community who spent years preparing it.”

Mr Hinke said the plan may need to be revised after South Oxfordshire District Council suggested Henley could have to make room for up to 1,200 new homes.

The figure was revealed at a public consultation event in April organised by the district council, which is writing a new local plan setting out housing targets until 2033.

Mr Hinke said if this was the case he wants to see the community consulted again.

He said: “Depending on what happens with the new housing numbers there may be a need to review the neighbourhood plan.

“It should be reviewed by the people who made it and not by Henley Town Council. We are coming to a state where we have made a strong rebuttal about more housing and if there’s a deed to redraft the plan it should go out to public consultation.”

At a meeting of the full council on Tuesday last week, Councillor Will Hamilton said he believed the chairman of the committee should be appointed by the committee itself.

Cllr Hamilton said: “The chairman was appointed at a planning meeting on May 30. This is the people’s plan, not the council’s plan.”

Cllr Arlett replied saying the the committee had not changed from last year, apart from Mr Hinke and district councillor Joan Bland leaving the group.

He also claimed that the committee needed to do more after the neighbourhood plan was overruled on planning applications in Reading Road and Greys Road.

Cllr Arlett added: “I asked Dieter to come back on the committee and he refused. We had four or five residents on it last year and we haven’t got rid of them.”

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