Friday, 12 August 2022

Housing blueprint is 'vague wish list', says planning chairman

Housing blueprint is 'vague wish list', says planning chairman

A BLUEPRINT for future housing in South Oxfordshire fails to meet Henley’s needs, according to the town council.

It says the district council’s new local plan, which is currently out to public consultation, should do more to ensure new homes are available to young people and families.

In its formal response to the consultation, the council says the document should guarantee that there is enough new infrastructure to accompany the 850 new properties that Henley must accommodate by 2033 and identify new land for employment.

The local plan sets housing quotas in line with national targets and outlines policies that determine whether the district council should approve or reject individual planning applications.

The existing plan, which says Henley should take about 400 homes by 2027, was published in 2012 but is being updated after a report backed by the Government suggested too few homes were being built in South Oxfordshire. The new local plan proposes that another 350 are built in Henley and Harpsden by 2033 on top of the 500 that the two parishes agreed in their joint neighbourhood plan.

Henley Town Council, which oversaw production of the neighbourhood plan, has not opposed the increase.

However, it wants assurances that housing built since March will go towards the town’s quota and says the new homes should be affordable and have the “right balance” of owner-occupiers and tenants.

Councillors want a pledge that the district council will only approve developments with a 40 per cent “affordable” element, saying it has failed to do this in the past and effectively ignored the neighbourhood plan.

Last year McCarthy & Stone was given permission to build 53 “extra care” flats on the site of the former Jet garage in Reading Road, which was earmarked for 55 ordinary flats, including 22 affordable ones, in the neighbourhood plan.

The district council says developments of 11 or more units should include a 40 per cent affordable element “subject to the viability”.

But the town council says it is “hard to see” why any development in an area with high prices would struggle to be viable and a “fair” assessment should be made of the land value, not merely the price a developer pays.

It says half of all affordable housing should go to local or former residents who are on the social housing list.

The town council also says that while the new local plan acknowledges the importance of infrastructure, there is no detail on how this will be researched or funded.

It says the district council should support specific schemes, such as the expansion of the Greys Road or King’s Road car parks and better signage on the outskirts of the town as well as efforts to reduce air pollution in the town centre. It also says the district council should be proposing sites for commercial developments instead of its “bland” statement that an additional hectare of land should be allocated for these.

The town has lost the Highlands Farm industrial estate and the former Makower textiles commercial estate, both off Greys Road, to housing while the Henley Enterprise Park is earmarked for partial redevelopment for housing.

The town council says: “[We are] disappointed to find that the long-awaited local plan is so generic that it fails to truly demonstrate a local understanding for the different towns and villages it needs to care for.

“We hope our questions will be answered, our views considered and that a stronger, more engaging plan… will emerge from the consultation, a local plan that truly understands the special areas where we all live.”

Ken Arlett, chairman of the council’s planning committee, said: “It’s basically a very vague wish list.”

The district council says all feedback will be considered and it is “committed” to involving communities in finalising the new local plan.

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