Tuesday, 21 September 2021

How the face of Henley is changing

How the face of Henley is changing

THE face of Henley is set to change forever with four major housing developments nearing completion and a fifth well under way.

The schemes will provide a total of 270 new dwellings towards the town’s quota of around 500 that must be built by 2027.

Three are on land which was earmarked for development in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum in 2016.

However, only one is in strict accordance with its policies.

All the developments are on brownfield sites but each will be bigger than the buildings they replace.

The largest is Highlands Park, an estate of 163 new homes being built by Crest Nicholson at the former Highlands Farm industrial estate off Greys Road.

This is the only development that adheres completely to the neighbourhood plan, which was drawn up by volunteers under Henley Town Council’s supervision.

The land was set aside for about 170 units and the developer secured outline permission for that number in February last year before starting work on the estate in the autumn.

The scheme had been in the pipeline since April 2013, when Crest Nicholson joined forces with the landowner Alan Pontin, who lives in Henley.

The development, which is due to be completed by early 2020, will comprise 42 flats, most with two bedrooms apart from six with just one, plus 121 houses — 21 with two bedrooms, 37 with three, 43 with four and 20 with five.

Forty per cent of the homes will be “affordable” with rents or purchase prices fixed below the market rate in accordance with South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning policy.

There will also be 2,000 sq m of commercial space and a community hub — for which an occupier is yet to be found — as well as open spaces, sports fields and footpaths linked to the surrounding countryside.

All the businesses which were based at Highlands Farm have moved off the site and their old units have been demolished along with the original farmhouse, barn and stable, which were deemed historically insignificant despite protests from conservationists.

Building work has started on the first few properties but for now the biggest task is levelling the ground in readiness to dig foundations and lay new roads and infrastructure. Part of the westbound lane of Greys Road has been shut and temporary traffic lights installed while workmen prepare to lay a new pavement linking the estate to the existing footway further to the east. This will have an uncontrolled pedestrian crossing.

There will also be new signage on the Peppard Lane bridleway, which will be resurfaced, dropped pavements on the route to Valley Road Primary School and three build-outs to calm traffic in Gillotts Lane.

Crest Nicholson has been inviting people to register an interest since February and has placed two large advertisements at the entrance in Highlands Lane. Sales will be handled by Henley estate agents Romans.

Two-bedroom flats will cost from £475,950 and many will be available through the Government’s Help to Buy scheme. Three-bedroom houses will cost from £669,950.

David Hnyda, sales and marketing director at Crest Nicholson’s Chilterns division, said: “Since our launch we’ve seen interest from a variety of prospective buyers, from families looking to live near the fantastic schools in the Henley area to downsizers searching for a low maintenance, contemporary new-build. We recognised the need to provide a selection of high-quality homes and have worked hard to ensure these homes will blend seamlessly into the local vernacular.”

The second largest scheme is Albert Court, which retirement developer McCarthy & Stone is building on the site of the former Jet petrol station and National Tyres garage in Reading Road.

It comprises 53 “extra care” flats for the elderly and disabled despite the site being earmarked for 55 ordinary flats, including 22 affordable ones, in the neighbourhood plan.

This led to protests by town councillors and residents with one claiming that Henley was becoming “the Eastbourne of the Chilterns”.

The flats will have either one or two bedrooms and the communal facilities will include a club lounge and bistro-style restaurant, landscaped gardens and a guest suite for visitors.

Contractors expect to finish by the end of September and are now attaching the roof with a large crane overhanging Reading Road and installing the internal fixtures and fittings. A show flat will open in the summer, when the first residents are expected to move in. The smaller flats will cost from just under £400,000 while the two-bedroom ones will be just under £540,000.

McCarthy & Stone says there is a need for the development as there are only 66 retirement homes available for leasehold sale per 1,000 residents in South Oxfordshire, according to a survey that the company commissioned.

It says most occupiers will be people downsizing from within five miles of Henley so it will release their properties on to the market.

Georgina Akers, the company’s regional sales and marketing manager, said more than a quarter of the flats had already been sold.

The development will be officially launched at Phyllis Court Club in Henley at 11am on May 3, when prospective buyers will be offered more information.

Ms Akers said: “We have already received a significant level of interest in Albert Court thanks to its picturesque setting and enviable location.

“We want to be able to find people the right solution for their retirement, one which will suit their changing requirements in later life.

“We are also committed to delivering the right development for the needs of the area.”

The scheme received planning permission in July 2016 despite opposition from the town council, which argued that it would undermine the neighbourhood plan. At the time, Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who was not allowed to vote despite sitting on the district’s planning committee, said the decision to approve it had “driven a coach and horses” through the plan process.

Henley MP John Howell urged the Government to “call in” the application for scrutiny by an independent planning inspector, saying it went against residents’ desire for more affordable housing.

However, the Department for Communities and Local Government said the scheme didn’t stray far enough from the neighbourhood plan to justify intervention.

Later that year Henthames, a consortium of property developers based in London, was given planning permission to demolish the former LA Fitness gym in Newtown Road, a five-minute walk away, and build an 80-bed care home in its place.

That proposal, which went against the neighbourhood plan’s policy of keeping the Newtown estate as employment land, is yet to materialise.

The site was put up for sale last year by Henthames.

The next site is the former RPS Energy building on the corner of Reading Road and Newtown Road, which was not included in the neighbourhood plan.

The old building is being converted into a three-storey complex of 30 flats by Marson Property, of London. The development, which is called Hill View, will comprise 19 single-bedroom flats and 11 with two bedrooms.

Prices will range from £249,500 to £455,000 while rents are expected to range from £850 to £1,350 per month.

There are no affordable units, although the developer must still make statutory payments towards community infrastructure and the flats may be purchased under the Help to Buy scheme.

Hannah Green of Romans, which is handling sales, said the development should finish within six weeks at the latest.

She said: “It’s at a deceptively advanced stage because there’s a lot of hoarding still up but there isn’t actually a great deal left to do.

“The exterior is completely finished, as are all the kitchens, and we’ve got a two-bedroom show unit open. The only remaining works are to the communal areas so it has all gone very much to plan.

“We’ve had a really good level of interest and many units have already been reserved off-plan.

“There have been a couple of investors but the majority are first-time buyers and most of those are from the Henley area.”

The 12,000 sq ft RPS office, also known as Innovex House, was sold by A&J Mucklow Group, a property investment company, for £4.1million in 2016. Under changes to planning law made in 2013, the conversion of the building is covered by “permitted development” rights, which means the applicant doesn’t need full planning consent and the district council can only reject it on road safety or environmental grounds.

At a meeting of the town council’s planning committee in March last year, Councillor Will Hamilton said the owner of the neighbouring Hofmann’s car dealership was concerned about the impact on his business.

He said the new residents might complain about noise from next door.

However, the council agreed to express “no strong views” on the plans.

The district council’s officers said the office buildings, which dated back to the Eighties, had a “rather dated, functional appearance” and supported the look of the new complex as it would fit in with other more “contemporary” developments like the flats at Henley Gate nearby.

Meanwhile, the former Makower textiles premises at the top of Greys Road are being converted into 17 new dwellings by Ashill Land and its housebuilder Oakford Homes.

The site was earmarked for 17 units in the neighbourhood plan but last year Ashill was granted permission to provide just five affordable one- and two-bedroom flats, a quota of 29 per cent, and 12 three- and four-bedroom houses at full value.

It says hitting the 40 per cent target would have made the scheme unviable and the district council agreed, saying it was preferable to accept a smaller amount than none. The town council opposed the reduction but Ashill’s managing director Ben Boyce said the company had “genuinely” pushed the level of affordable housing as far as possible.

The new estate, known as Greys Mews, has been built in a brick and flint style to match the style of the old buildings and includes a new cul-de-sac named Oakford Court.

The properties are divided into terraced or semi-detached blocks named after cups awarded at the Henley Royal Regatta: Remenham, Jubilee, Fawley, Wyfold, Nickalls, Hambleden and Stonor. 

The houses will be priced from £650,000 while the flats start from £217,500. So far, only one of the single-bed flats has been taken.

Two more flats and four houses have been completed and are on the market while the remainder are still unfinished. A show home is open.

The site was also the home of physiotherapist Physiolistic, which has moved to Dry Leas, home of Henley Rugby Club, in Marlow Road, textiles supplier Concord Fabrics and magazine publisher Schools Publishing.

Finally, the former Isis House office block in Station Road, Henley, is being converted into a block of at least seven flats which will be called Cherwell House.

The Air Group, of Oxford, is to add a fourth storey to the complex and create three flats with one bedroom and four with two bedrooms.

A proposed penthouse on the new top floor could be divided into two smaller flats, creating an eighth dwelling, if the district council allows it.

The conversion is also covered by permitted development rights.

There will be 11 parking spaces to the rear in a building with a “living roof” to be accessed via Queen Street plus a forecourt with bicycle storage.

The town council has welcomed the development as the offices, which were built on the site of a YMCA hostel in the Seventies, had been vacant for several years. One neighbour objected, saying it would overlook their property.

The flats will be sold for between £850,000 and £1.1million.

James Kilkenny, of Ballards in Henley, which is handling sales, said two people had already put down deposits and several more had expressed an interest even though the agency had only just started marketing them.

A date for completion is yet to be confirmed by the developer.

Mr Kilkenny said: “We’ve heard a lot from people who want to downsize from larger homes in the countryside to a more manageable property in the town centre.

“They’re largely within the RG9 postcode so if they move it could bring other properties in the area on to the market.

“We’re also hearing from professionals in their forties and fifties who just want to lock up and leave.”

Councillor Ken Arlett, chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning and neighbourhood plan committees, said the plan appeared to be taking shape. He said: “The McCarthy & Stone decision didn’t help as we’d only just passed the plan when we lost 22 affordable units.

“The developer’s offer of £800,000 towards community infrastructure won’t pay for anything like that number elsewhere.

“The Reading Road office blocks weren’t in the plan either but government policy made it easy for the developers so it was a bit of a double blow as there’s no affordable housing there either.

“People are also a bit disappointed with the affordable offering at Highlands Farm and Makower as some of it is under a shared ownership scheme, which means people still have to pay large deposits.

“However, three-quarters of the affordable units at Highlands Farm will be for rent so at least some people will have a chance of living in Henley which they didn’t have before.”

He said the situation would continue to improve as work begins on more developments, such as the 23 flats at the old Wilkins removals offices in Deanfield Avenue.

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