Monday, 17 June 2019
PLANS to redevelop the site of a former garden centre near Shiplake have been approved.
Aida Dellal, who owns the old Wyevale site off the A4155 Reading Road, has been awarded planning permission for 40 houses and some commercial buildings.
Sixteen of the homes would be “affordable” with the purchase price or cost of rent fixed below the market rate.
South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee granted consent despite objections by Shiplake Parish Council and Harpsden Parish Council.
The site, which is in Harpsden parish, was earmarked for only commercial use in the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan.
But the committee accepted Mrs Dellal’s argument that this would not be viable and a mixed-use scheme was the only way to turn a profit.
Henley Town Council supported the plans and town councillors Ken Arlett and Stefan Gawrysiak spoke in favour at last week’s committee meeting. They said the affordable units were badly needed.
Councillor Gawrysiak said: “This is the perfect site as it is brownfield and was earmarked in the neighbourhood plan even if the full commercial use originally envisaged is no longer feasible.
“It is on a main road so will not pose any issues with traffic congestion and it restores the balance of affordable housing that we desperately need after losing it elsewhere.”
Shiplake parish councillors told the committee the development would place excessive pressure on the village’s shops, roads and services and erode the rural “buffer” with Henley.
They also pointed out that the site is next to Thames Farm, where landowner Claire Engbers has been granted outline permission for 95 new homes which will count towards Henley and Harpsden’s quota rather than Shiplake’s. Councillor Tudor Taylor, who chairs the parish council, said he was “appalled” at the decision, particularly because Henley town and district councillor Lorraine Hillier proposed acceptance, while Shiplake councillors Will Hall and Paul Harrison spoke in favour of the plans.
He said: “It is disappointing that Henley and Harpsden’s own neighbourhood plan has been usurped in this way as the voters gave a clear mandate on the future of this crucial employment site.
“We’re very concerned about the governance of the meeting itself and will be asking further questions about this.
“The whole meeting was an incredibly one-sided, steamrolling operation as Henley’s representatives turned out in force and it was the first time I’ve ever seen two ward councillors speaking together at a planning meeting.
“I can’t believe they took the applicant’s side when they’re meant to represent us, not Henley. I feel totally let down.”
Councillor Harrison said: “The committee made the right decision because there is a shortage of affordable housing and this at least gives us some.
“We can’t leave that site derelict for much longer as it’s in a terrible state and is a magnet for crime, including drug use, which is partly why the immediate neighbours supported the scheme.
“I understand the desire to have it exclusively for business in line with the neighbourhood plan but demand is actually quite low at the moment – for example, the Regus offices in Newtown Road in Henley still has a lot of vacancies.
“The business world is changing and more small enterprises work from home than ever so the need for dedicated office space isn’t what it was.
“This scheme will include traffic-calming measures, which will be especially useful given the extra traffic that will likely come from Thames Farm.
“Will and I are elected not by the parish council, which sometimes seems to be forgotten, but by our constituents and must act in their best interests by basing our decisions on the facts at hand.
“If we hadn’t done something, that site would have continued to lay derelict year in, year out and been of no use to anybody.”
Councillor Hillier said: “I thought it was an excellent scheme as that site has lain vacant for almost a decade and the owners have tried incredibly hard to market it for commercial use.
“It’s a sustainable site with good access and is not a huge development so, with every respect for other viewpoints, I don’t believe it will turn out to be as alarming as objectors think.”
Harpsden Parish Council chairman Kester George said: “The trouble is that the garden centre should not have been approved in our beautiful valley to begin with.
“Once it was, it was inevitable that it would be targeted for redevelopment under the Government’s prioritising of brownfield land.
“We are at least fortunate to have a very responsible landowner who had undertaken to work with us and wishes to make a success of it.
“They are very well-informed about matters such as employing the right kind of architect and we will try to make the best of a bad job.”
Mrs Dellal, who lives at Fawley Court, owns the land through her company Dairy Lane.
Her son Alex Hersham said the company would discuss statutory contributions towards infrastructure with the district council.
He said: “We’re very pleased with the decision. It has been a lot of hard work for everyone involved and we’re very excited to be taking it to the next level.
“We hope to continue working with all the parishes concerned to deliver a beautiful scheme.”
Meanwhile, the district council has agreed to put its draft local plan out to consultation.
The document outlines South Oxfordshire’s housebuilding targets over the next 16 years.
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