Friday, 27 November 2020

Volunteers needed to help update neighbourhood plan

VOLUNTEERS are needed to help revise the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan.

The document, which identifies sites for 195 new homes to be built by 2027, was passed in a referendum last year.

But the village has been earmarked for another 150 homes in South Oxfordshire District Council’s new draft local plan, which covers the period until 2033, although the final figure is likely to be smaller under a new national formula for assessing housing need being proposed by the Government.

Now the village’s neighbourhood plan working party is to be reformed with members of the parish council and residents.

The council will apply for grants of up to £25,000 to pay for revising the plan.

Councillor Barrie Greenwood, who chaired the group previously, said: “We are just starting the revised plan. We may need to find new sites and establish what the top level numbers are that the village can cope with. The great strength of our plan was the breadth and width of the consultation we did with the community.”

Councillor Tom Fort, who was a member of the old working party, said: “Most members are prepared to go on doing as much as before.

“It is difficult to gather the expertise that allowed for us to the produce the plan. We have always been able to call on people for specific tasks.”

Councillor Leigh Rawlins attended a meeting about the local plan with Councillor Fort earlier this month and said he had got the impression that the district council might allow infill development — houses built on vacant or underused land among existing properties — to count towards the new quota.

This would mean fewer new sites would be needed as in recent years Sonning Common has seen up to nine infill properties built per year. Cllr Rawlins said: “The council said it would be quite happy for large villages like us to make a case that a proportion of the 150 houses could come from infill.

“If we produced six per year you could cover up to 100 of the 150 houses.

“My impression was they would be quite happy to accept that because this is just a numbers exercise.”

Cllr Fort said: “We need to make the case to the district council that the numbers they are proposing are ridiculously high.

“Going forward, I don’t think we need to be constrained in what we do by the figures.”

As part of the revision of the plan, a village survey will be carried out.

Deputy parish clerk Ros Varnes said: “The last survey was done in 2010 and looked at the demographics of the people living here. That was seven years ago and it could have changed quite a lot.

“We want to get an idea of who is living here now and what housing need there is going to be in the future. One of the objectives of the current plan was to keep the village separate from Reading. A new survey would show how important that is and what we are trying to achieve.”

So far only one of the sites earmarked in the neighbourhood plan has received planning permission.

That is Lea Meadow, off Peppard Road, where 65 homes are currently being built, five more than allocated in the document.

The district council has rejected two applications. Gallagher Estates wanted to build 95 homes on land off Kennylands Road that was allocated 26 in the plan and T A Fisher wanted permission for 30 homes on a separate site off Kennylands Road that was earmarked for 22 in the plan.

Plans for 50 homes at Bishopswood Farm, off Reades Lane, were submitted by Linden Homes almost two years ago but have still to be determined by the district council.

If you’re interested in volunteering, call 0118 972 3616 or email deputyclerk@sonningcommonparish

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