Sunday, 21 April 2019

Minister refuses to block garden centre homes plan

Minister refuses to block garden centre homes plan

THE redevelopment of the former Wyevale Garden Centre near Shiplake can go ahead after the Government refused to overturn the decision to allow it.

Shiplake Parish Council had asked housing minister James Brokenshire to “call in” South Oxfordshire District Council’s approval of the application for 40 homes and some commercial units on the 1.8-acre site.

It claimed the planning authority acted improperly in permitting several members who either live in Henley or sit on the town council to vote or speak in favour of the scheme put forward by landowner Aida Dellal.

It claimed the councillors supported the plans because the lands falls within Harpsden parish so it would reduce the town’s housing quota under the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

Shiplake council also argued that the new residents would use the village’s shops and services, creating added pressure without Shiplake receiving statutory payments towards infrastructure from the developer. If the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government had agreed, it would have referred the matter to a planning inspector.

However, this week it said the district council had followed correct procedure and the matter had no implications for national planning law so it would take no further action.

The site off the A4155 Reading Road was earmarked for business use only in the neighbourhood plan but the district council accepted Mrs Dellal’s case that this wouldn’t be financially viable.

She bought the land soon after the garden centre shut in 2009 and marketed it for commercial use but no buyers came forward before she submitted the planning application in April last year. The authority initially requested more evidence but came to share her view after commissioning a study which reached the same conclusion. It said the site was particularly suitable for housing because it is on a major bus route linking Henley with Reading and High Wycombe, is near Shiplake station and is previously developed.

It is immediately north of Thames Farm, a 14-acre site which has outline planning permission for 95 homes despite also being excluded from the neighbourhood plan.

Shiplake’s district councillor Paul Harrison, who supported the application, said: “The Government was happy with the process followed and felt it was appropriate to leave this in our hands.

“It was the right decision because there was never any question of the district council behaving inappropriately. The parish council didn’t put forward sufficient grounds for further action so our next step is to negotiate contributions from the developer.

“The site is derelict and could remain so for many more years if something isn’t done and it’s also a magnet for vandalism and drug use. Families will move into Thames Farm soon and won’t want to live next to that.”

Tudor Taylor, chairman of Shiplake Parish Council, said: “We argued the matter had national significance because of the parish boundary issues but clearly they disagreed and we’ll just have to take this on the chin.

“Our own draft neighbourhood plan will go to a public consultation in May and will have to reflect these large-scale developments that are bound to affect us.”

The parish council has also complained to the district council about its planning committee meeting in December when the scheme was approved.

David Nimmo Smith, who represents the Woodcote and Rotherfield ward but is also a Henley town councillor and chaired the meeting, and Lorraine Hillier, who represents Henley on the council, both voted. But they say they abstained from discussions at town council meetings to avoid a conflict of interest.

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