Friday, 16 November 2018

Parish council spends £18,000 opposing housing proposal

Thames Farm homes 'should be approved'

MORE than £18,000 was spent by Shiplake Parish Council fighting plans for a housing development.

The money went to lawyers and consultants advising the council on its opposition to 95 homes being built at Thames Farm, a 14-acre site off Reading Road north of the village.

Claire Engbers, who owns the land, won planning permission in August last year despite opposition from councillors and residents.

Her application was originally rejected by South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, on the grounds that the site in Harpsden parish wasn’t earmarked in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan and would pose a traffic hazard.

She appealed and a planning inspector overturned the decision, saying the council was missing its housebuilding target by a single dwelling per year and had failed to secure a three-year supply of housing land so the neighbourhood plan carried no weight.

The parish and district councils applied separately to the High Court for a judicial review of the ruling, saying the inspector’s methodology was flawed but the court said that was a matter for his personal judgement.

The parish council then dropped the fight but the district council is pursuing the issue at the Court of Appeal.

Since 2015, Shiplake Parish Council has spent £18,242.62 for advice from consultants T Rourke, whom it paid £5,933.94, TMS (£420) and HPMC (£1,152) and solicitors Harrison Grant (£10,736.68). It may be able to recoup some of the VAT on these expenses. The figures, which include the cost of preparing and giving evidence at a public inquiry last summer, were published following a request under the Freedom of Information Act by Garry Forster, from Goring Heath.

David Pheasant, vice-chairman of the parish council, said: “This was worth pursuing and reflected the views of the parish’s residents on that proposal over a considerable amount of time. There were some very legitimate concerns about the safety aspect and we had sufficient funds to undertake the challenge without incurring additional expenses to residents.

“We support the district council continuing to pursue this but for now our focus must be on producing our own neighbourhood plan.”

The district council says records of all expenditure over £500, including legal fees, is published on its website but claims it cannot calculate how much was directly spent on fighting the Thames Farm application.

Meanwhile, the High Court has thrown out a legal challenge which threatened neighbourhood plans.

A developer was challenging the Government’s statement that planning authorities need only secure a three-year housing land supply for the plans to hold weight, arguing this limit should be restored to five.

Had this succeeded, neighbourhood plans across the district would have been invalid as the district council believes it only has a supply of about four years.

However, Mr Justice Ian Dove told Richborough Estates there was no flaw in the written statement by the then housing minister Gavin Barwell, published late in 2016.

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