Friday, 03 April 2020

Retirement village plan is ‘abysmal’, says councillor

PLANS to build a retirement village in Sonning Common have been opposed by the parish council and residents.

Developer Inspired Villages outlined details of its proposal for 133 homes at a meeting of the council’s planning committee last week, which was attended by about 100 people.

Councillors said the development would fly in the the face of the village’s neighbourhood plan, which did not earmark the 4.5-hectare site opposite the Johnson Matthey Technology Centre in Blounts Court Road for housing.

The document was designed to protect the village from speculative development.

Senior Living and Investfront have applied for planning permission, on behalf of Inspired Villages, to build 57 assisted living units and 16 care units as well as ancillary care facilities, gardens, communal space, a swimming pool, gym, treatment rooms and 143 parking spaces.

A separate outline application has been submitted for 60 assisted living units.

They say the development is needed because the population is ageing and it would benefit the NHS by reducing hospital admissions as older people account for 78 per cent of in-patient beds.

It would also free up family housing and provide 69 full-time jobs.

Stuart Garnett, planning director of Inspired Villages, said that in the next 20 years one in four people in the UK would be over 65 and the number of people in Oxfordshire aged 85 would increase by 127 per cent.

He said: “We’re all living longer, which is obviously a good thing, but increased longevity does carry a risk of poor health.

“This is a place where the residents would be looking out for each other and we want people to come in from the local community and use the facilities. They could take memberships with the gym or pool — it’s not a gated community.

“We’re not a care home, old people’s home or retirement home, we are moving away from the model of institutionalised care.

“There’s a perception that by bringing in 133 units this would have an impact on the NHS and GP service. The evidence is that is not the case. If you’re living in purpose-built accommodation, you’re able to be released from hospital far more quickly than if you live in mainstream housing.”

Mr Garnett cited research demonstrating that 40 per cent of residents would come from within a three-mile radius and said there would be minibus transport for staff and residents and a car club for people to share transport.

Dr Kim Emerson said a development of this size would place more pressure on Sonning Common health centre, where she works.

She said: “It is not accommodating people already in the village but bringing in more elderly people from the surrounding area.

“Retirement villages by their nature have an elderly population, who statistically have higher health needs and place a greater demand on health services than a cross-
section of the population would. We already have a higher than average elderly population and do not feel we can manage with the even higher proportion that this development would give us.

“We’ve said that we will only support development that is in line with the neighbourhood plan and this is not part of that plan.”

Dr Emerson was applauded by people in the public gallery.

Former parish councillor Tom Geek, of Red House Drive, said: “I’m not very happy about this plan. Land in an area of outstanding natural beauty is not to be developed. My previous experience as a councillor is never trust a developer.”

Kate Riley, of Woodlands Road, said: “The need for affordable housing is greater than the need for elderly accommodation.”

James Johnstone, of Widmore Lane, said he was concerned about the danger to pedestrians in Blounts Court Road and asked Mr Garnett how familiar he was with it.

He said: “It’s exceptionally narrow with lots of blind spots. If old people are walking along there somebody will get killed. There’s no pavement there and there’s no way of putting a pavement along stretches of that. 

“I do not know what you guys are thinking in coming up with this crazy plan. I think you’re going to be putting lives at risk.”

Georgina Forbes, of Blounts Court Road, said: “The road already has large lorries using it. It’s a narrow, single-track road. It’s fast and dangerous.”

Council chairwoman Carole Lewis said the development was not suitable in Sonning Common and conflicted with the neighbourhood plan, which took years to compile before passing a referendum in 2016.

“The village has come up with sites that are suitable for development,” she said. “This site is not in our plan.”

Councillor Douglas Kedge said: “All you want is to get this through hell or high water. The neighbourhood plan doesn’t matter and that, I suggest, is the whole attitude of Inspired Villages.

“I say this is the wrong size in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.”

Councillor Tom Fort said the neighbourhood plan revision working party, which he chairs, was incorporating the needs of the village’s elderly population into the latest version of the document.

The plan is being revised to meet the requirement of South Oxfordshire District Council’s new local plan, which has earmarked Sonning Common for at least another 108 homes in addition to the 195 in the original document.

Cllr Fort called the proposal “abysmal” and pointed out that it would be in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

He added: “We are working to meet that demand on a scale which is appropriate to this village. This development takes the village out into completely unspoilt countryside.”

Councillor John Stoves said: “We would be expanding the edge of Sonning Common’s built-up area. Once that happens the developers will move in and so it will creep on and we will go past the Bird in Hand and the whole place will be gone.”

Councillors agreed to recommend to the district council, the planning authority, that the application refused. A decision is due by March 23.

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