Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Councillors unhappy with plans to fell 52 trees for new flats

Councillors unhappy with plans to fell 52 trees for new flats

A PLAN to build a block of eight flats at a woodland site in Henley has been opposed by the town council.

At a meeting of the authority’s planning committee, members agreed to urge South Oxfordshire District Council to refuse the proposal for land north of Parkside, off Gravel Hill.

Terence Bingham, who owns the plot, wants to remove at least 52 trees and put up a two-storey building containing the flats along with parking and associated landscaping.

Neighbours Colin and Trish Cooper have objected, saying the woodland serves as a corridor for many species of wildlife, while Patrick Fleming of the Greener Henley group, is concerned at the environmental impact of losing trees.

Now town councillors have also pointed out that the site isn’t earmarked for development in the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan and this alone should be grounds for refusal.

The document, which passed a referendum in 2016, names the sites where new housing should go to meet national targets.

The Parkside plot was put forward when it was being written and was initially earmarked for 15 units but later rejected as unsuitable.

Mr Cooper told the meeting: “A very similar scheme for 10 flats was put in two years ago. This is for only eight but they were proposing a basement car park which has now been brought outside.

“Cutting down 52 trees would rip the heart out of the woodland. There is very little change with this application and there have been many in the past 20 years, all rejected.”

Mr Fleming said: “There are 18-year-old oaks in prime condition on the land and some really excellent cherries, maple and silver birch. This is a valuable asset for Henley and should be protected.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak told his colleagues: “We’ve had many applications for this site and have consistently voted for refusal for very good reasons because it isn’t in the plan.

“It shouldn’t be built on and the opponents [of this plan] have made a very coherent case about the protection of the wildlife and trees. This is a ‘priority habitat’ under the Environment Act 2006 and should be preserved.”

Cllr Gawrysiak also criticised Mr Bingham’s consultant SJA Trees, of Tadworth, claiming they had downplayed the quality of specimens on the site in order to justify the work going ahead.

He said: “It is a lovely area — do these people have a conscience? These are beautiful trees and we’ve got a supposed ‘expert’ taking a buck and being paid to spout complete and utter rubbish.

“The sooner the wildlife industry actually starts getting some principles behind its reports, the better — they’re doing us a disservice and I’m strongly in favour of refusal.”

He said the application should be “called in” for debate by the district council’s planning committee so that a large gathering of objectors could be rounded up to attend.”

Ken Arlett, the Mayor, said being excluded from the neighbourhood plan may not be valid ground for rejection as the document is being revised and the town council is now inviting landowners to present ideas for their sites.

But Cllr Gawrysiak said this didn’t affect the status of the old plan and Mr Bingham could still try to make his case for the land being included in the new version.

Millgate Homes, of Ruscombe, was refused permission for 10 flats in 2018 as the district council feared this would “erode the undeveloped, sylvan character of the site”.

Mr Bingham says he has addressed these concerns and he will improve biodiversity by retaining and managing woodland “buffers” around the site.

Meanwhile, revised plans to knock down a house in Henley and build three in its place was also recommended for refusal.

Palatine Homes, of Beaconsfield, has updated its proposal for the 0.41-acre site in Greys Road by changing the layout in a bid to tackle concerns about overdevelopment.

It claims the scheme now has the support of planning officers at the district council and should be approved as it falls within the town’s built-up area and complies with the neighbourhood plan.

The land wasn’t earmarked for development in that document but could count as “infill” because of its size.

Councillors recommended refusal for the second time, saying they were still unhappy that trees had been removed before a planning application was submitted.

Jon Furneaux, the land director at Palatine, told them: “The proposed houses are of an appropriate size and scale for the land on which they sit.”

But Councillor Laurence Plant disagreed. He said: “When you look at the size of the plots and the space between houses, there’s no answer for it and that alone is reason to object.”

Councillors also opposed plans to refurbish the inside of a Grade II listed house in Gravel Hill for the second time.

Michael Sharp wants to install an en-suite bathroom inside a bedroom and convert the loft into another bedroom with an en-suite. Following a previous objection, he has agreed not to remove a modern ceiling inside the property.

But councillors still feel it would impact on the privacy of neighbours.

The district council will make a final decision on all three applications.

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