Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Finally, date set for public vote on housing blueprint

A REFERENDUM on Benson’s neighbourhood plan will take place on June 28.

This will mark the culmination of two-and-a-half years’ work on the document, which names three sites for 560 new homes in the village.

It also includes provision for an “edge road”, or bypass, which is seen as vital to reducing congestion in the centre of the village.

Plan inspector John Slater has written his final report and the document now only needs approval from South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority.

If this is granted, the plan will then be deemed to have “significant weight” when planning applications affecting the village are decided.

It could also mean that Benson Parish Council would have a stronger chance of defeating plans for 120 homes in the village.

Ray Styles wants to develop land south of Watlington Road even though the site was not included in the neighbourhood plan.

The district council refused planning permission on the grounds that it would impact on the landscape, rural setting, agricultural land and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Mr Styles appealed against this decision, which resulted in a four-day public inquiry in February.

Now new Communities Secretary James Brokenshire will be called upon to decide whether to approve the application. This is because the appeal hearing took place as the neighbourhood plan was nearing completion.

Planning inspector John Felgate, who heard the appeal, will write a report with a recommendation for Mr Brokenshire.

Parish councillor Philip Murray said: “We were worried about the sequencing of this but it looks as if we will have a plan with significant weight before the inspector’s report goes to the Secretary of State.

“Everybody recognises and understands there is an unfortunate clash of timings here.

“I certainly don’t think they are saying ‘well, you know, we’re on Benson’s side’. I think they are trying to do it the best way they can.”

Cllr Murray added: “When the referendum goes ahead, there will be a 25-day purdah period during which members of the parish council are not allowed to lobby for either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

“We can obviously encourage everybody to express their views and exercise their democratic rights.

“The neighbourhood plan team is allowed to promote as long as they are not receiving funding for any of their resources.

“This is a big plan, it has got lots of ramifications and there are some people who won’t wish to support it. It’s important that those people who do support the plan exercise their vote.”

Cllr Murray said that if the plan was not passed at the referendum the whole process would have to start again.

“We would be saying goodbye to nearly three years of work,” he added.

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