Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Care 'village' wins consent

Thamesfield care home in Henley, also owned by Retirement Villages Group

ELEVEN blocks of flats for the elderly are set to be built on the outskirts of Shiplake after the developer won an appeal.

Retirement Villages Group applied for permission for 65 “extra care” properties in a field to the east of the A4155 but was turned down by South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority.

Now a planning inspector has overturned the decision, saying that the benefits of the development outweigh any harm to the landscape.

The decision will upset many residents of the village who have already lost fights against two other developments less than a mile north along the Henley-Reading road.

These are at Thames Farm, where work has already begun on 95 new homes, and the former Wyevale garden centre, where permission has been granted for 40 homes.

Retirement Villages Group intends to build 11 blocks with a total of 50 two-bedroom flats plus 15 double-bed bungalows on the 2.65-hectare site, which is opposite the Haileywood Farm industrial estate.

There would also be a clubhouse, gym, meeting room, shop, hair salon, bar and living and dining rooms, offices and 77 parking spaces.

The district council received objections from Shiplake Parish Council and dozens of villagers, who said the development would be too large for the surrounding countryside and would erode the green gap between Shiplake Cross and Lower Shiplake.

But inspector Kenneth Stone, who oversaw a week-long planning inquiry at Henley Rugby Club last month, disagreed.

He said there would be “localised and limited” harm to the landscape but added this would be mitigated by planting extra trees and hedges and the site’s low-lying location. He added noise would not increase significantly.

Mr Stone rejected complaints that the site was too isolated and it wouldn’t be safe for elderly people to walk on a new pavement alongside the A4155 to reach the village centre.

He said not every new resident would be infirm and resting places could be added, while a shop, library and other amenities would be offered on site for those with more severe mobility problems.

Mr Stone accepted that the development went against the district council’s local plan as it was too large to count as infill development and didn’t relate to a specific need in a rural community.

However, he said it would help meet the needs of an aging population and encourage downsizing, freeing up under-occupied homes for younger families to buy or rent.

He said the care provided on site would reduce pressure on the area’s hospitals and GP surgeries. Mr Stone said: “I am satisfied that there is a high need for extra care housing, and given the population profile [of South Oxfordshire] that the need is likely to increase.

“There is currently under-provision to meet that need and… there would be an advantage to future residents of the development as the specialist housing would provide a range of lifestyle facilities for social, cultural, educational and recreational activity.

“The provision of specialist housing would have a role in freeing up under-occupied family housing, facilitating downsizing and bringing this housing back on to the market… the benefits associated with the scheme are substantial.”

Mr Stone also said the company didn’t have to make 40 per cent of the units “affordable” because the development would serve more as a single institution than a series of individual homes.

David Bartholomew, who represents Shiplake on the district council and Oxfordshire County Council, said: “The community is going to be very, very disappointed.

“Once again, an expensive and highly-skilled lawyer from London has persuaded an unelected inspector that the local planning authority is wrong and an inappropriate scheme should go ahead.

“This will undoubtedly result in further speculative development from applicants looking to see what they can get away with.

“Even as it stands, Shiplake is going to expand by more than 30 per cent, which is beyond what anyone would have thought possible a few years ago.”

Fellow district councillor Leigh Rawlins said: “I was very surprised. National planning policy has changed so that authorities must provide for every relevant niche and I suppose that informed the decision.

“However, applications in rural areas should be decided on the needs of the immediate locality. Clearly you don’t need 65 units to service Lower Shiplake.”

The land is owned by Woodley GP Dr Harjot Bal.

The Thames Farm and garden centre sites are just in Harpsden parish but Shiplake residents and the parish council objected to the developments there, saying the greatest impact would be on their village. The former scheme was rejected by the district council but allowed on appeal.

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