Sunday, 07 August 2022

Council objects to 40 new homes at former garden centre site

SHIPLAKE Parish Council has opposed plans to build homes on the site of an old garden centre near the village.

It says the proposal by Aida Dellal, who owns the former Wyevale site off the A4155 Reading Road, should be refused planning permission.

She wants to build up to 40 new houses plus some commercial units and possibly a community centre.

The scheme has been recommended for approval by Henley Town Council, although members said a study about the impact on the surrounding environment and traffic on Reading Road was “vital” before it could go ahead.

The site isn’t earmarked for housing in the joint Henley and Harspden neighbourhood plan but town councillors said it complied with its policy that 40 per cent of new homes should be “affordable”.

However, Shiplake council argues that the plan was approved in a referendum two years ago and residents’ wishes should be adhered to.

It has also questioned Mrs Dellal’s claim that the land wouldn’t be viable to be redeveloped for purely commercial use. The site has been vacant since the garden centre shut in 2009. In a statement to South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, the council says: “This application was fully considered and embedded in the neighbourhood plan and represents a violation of that as well as the district council’s local plan.

“We believed it was a valuable economic site that could accommodate either new business activity or the relocation of existing local businesses from the centre of Henley, and possibly other residential areas, to allow sustainable housing to be built in the heart of communities.

“One example of this is the possible relocation of Shiplake Motors to the site, thereby releasing space for smaller, more affordable housing to be built in the centre of the village. Another example is the loss of the artisan workshops as a result of the development of Empstead Works, off Greys Road, Henley, for housing.

“We cannot keep on replacing commercial and employment sites with residential housing. This site is categorised for commercial use in the neighbourhood plan and should remain so.”

Mrs Dellal’s agents say two studies showed the site could not attract high enough commercial rents to turn a profit. In the nine years it has been on the market there has only been interest from developers looking to build housing or a care home.

The parish council disputes the figures, claiming the studies overvalue the land by considering its original purchase price, not its lower current market value.

It says: “Here again is a site that is not in the settlement of Henley for which it is seeking to satisfy housing demand. The site is some distance from the town centre and the village of Harpsden.

“We are extremely concerned about highway safety issues, air and light pollution, educational provisions and the creep of residential housing along the A4155, narrowing the separation between Henley and Shiplake.”

The site is in Harpsden parish and the parish council will discuss the application with district council planning officers on Monday.

It says there should be formal debate on including the site in a revised version of the neighbourhood plan, which may have to find space for 350 homes on top of the original quota of about 500.

Kester George, who chairs the council, said: “We don’t want to upset our partners in Henley and do want to see the site cleared up.

“Henley have pointed out that it could put more traffic on Reading Road, which is precisely what they don’t want. Despite recommending approval, even they clearly have their doubts as they’ve stipulated that a traffic survey must be carried out.

“The general planning situation in and around Henley is getting very difficult because we’re trying to cram too much into too small a space with inadequate capacity in car parks or on the roads themselves.

“Pressure on the fragile centre of Duke Street and Bell Street is pretty bad and the last thing most people want is to ram more traffic right through the middle of it.”

The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group is opposing the scheme because of the increased pressure on local health services. Ten neighbours have also objected.

The district council is due to decide the application by June 19.

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