Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Care home plan for former Henley youth centre returns

Care home plan for former youth centre returns

A BID to convert the former Henley Youth Centre into a care home is to be revived.

B&M Care, which purchased the site off Deanfield Avenue in 2015, is to submit a new planning application after its last one was rejected on appeal in December.

A planning inspector said the develoment shouldn’t go ahead because of a severe housing shortage in the Henley area.

This time the company will propose building 10 “affordable” flats alongside a smaller care home with 56 beds instead of 65.

The site was earmarked for 23 ordinary homes in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, of which 10 were to be affordable, and the firm says its new proposal will meet this need while satisfying a growing demand for care for the elderly.

Ian Sloan, the company’s chief executive, announced the news at a meeting of Henley Town Council’s neighbourhood plan committee on Tuesday.

He said the one-bedroom flats, of which eight would accommodate a couple and two would house a single person, would be sold to a social housing provider on condition that they remain available for rent in perpetuity.

Access would be via the youth centre land, which was previously owned by the Thamesfield Youth Association, rather than a plot next to the public bridleway which the company bought from Thames Water at the same time.

Mr Sloan said the care home itself would be of a similar size, with a height varying between two and three-and-a-half storeys, as inspector Robert Parker said this was acceptable and the loss of potential housing land was the only concern.

He said the neighbourhood plan was at an early stage when the company bought the land and it was unaware how important it would become.

It became a legally binding aspect of South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning policy when it passed a referendum in 2016.

Mr Sloan told the committee, which is made up of town councillors and representatives of community groups: “Neighbourhood planning is a relatively new phenomenon and we’ve learned from this experience.

“We would stress that we never set out to be in conflict with the council or the Henley community, nor would we ever wish or expect this to be the case. The plan was at a very early draft stage when we bought the land.

“However, moving forward, we’re primarily an operator rather than a developer. We develop about one home per year and don’t then sell or lease it on.

“We’re a family-owned company and look to make long-term, constructive commitments to the communities where we operate.

“The home will be exactly the same in terms of bulk, mass, appearance, highways access, parking and so on as the inspector said these aspects were totally acceptable and our proposal has been closely shaped by their guidance.”

Councillor Michelle Thomas said the town was set to have a surplus of care home places as operator Hallmark is building an 80-bed facility at the former LA Fitness gym off Newtown Road.

This was given planning permission in 2016 after the neighbourhood plan was approved, despite the plot being earmarked for continued commercial use.

Mr Sloan said: “We spent months in pre-application talks with planning officers and it wasn’t until some time after buying the site that the neighbourhood plan was mentioned as playing more than a merely advisory role.

“The timeline was unfortunate but we wish to work with the community and felt it was respectful and appropriate to keep you updated on our plans for the near future.”

The district council said B&M’s original plan would exacerbate an existing housing shortage in Henley and Harpsden.

The applicant argued there was “no real conflict” with the neighbourhood plan as the care places would go to local people so would offset the area’s quota.

It said residents would sell their homes before moving in, freeing them up for younger buyers, and the council should not have “slavishly” followed the plan.

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