Monday, 06 December 2021
PLANS to drain surface water from a new housing development into the River Thames have been withdrawn.
Taylor Wimpey, which has permission to build 95 homes at the former Thames Farm, off Reading Road, Shiplake, wanted to divert run-off along a culvert beneath the main road and into the river near the Jubilee Park sports ground in Henley.
But South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, said the developer’s application was “unacceptable” so on Wednesday the company withdrew it.
This has been welcomed by villagers and local councillors who have spent years opposing the development and say the company should now reduce or even scrap the scheme.
However, Taylor Wimpey says it plans to submit a new application and Shiplake residents are still concerned because the developer still plans to fill a number of weak spots in the bedrock beneath the site with grout to stop them collapsing.
The grout might contain fly ash, a by-product of burning coal to generate electricity, and opponents fear this could leach into an aquifer running beneath the site which supplies the village’s drinking water.
Taylor Wimpey claims it has the right to go ahead with the grouting work but the council argues this would be a “separate engineering operation in its own right” and would require a fresh planning application.
The Thames Farm Action Group says this kind of work should not be allowed in a rural setting and the development should not go ahead when the land has been found to be unstable.
Taylor Wimpey proposed to pump the water through underground pipes to an opening on the west side of the A4155 where it would join a stream which runs through Sheephouse Farm and the gardens of houses on Mill Lane and past the Jubilee Park sports ground.
Emma Bowerman, principal major applications officer at the council, said this was “unacceptable”.
The council received more than 300 objections, including those from Harpsden and Shiplake parish councils and Henley Town Council.
Concerns were raised about the increased flood risk and about the threat of polluting the stream with herbicides, car oil and paint solvents in the water coming from Thames Farm.
A report by Oxfordshire County Council and district council officers recommended that the application be rejected.
It concluded that the developer had not satisfactorily shown that the risk of flooding would not be increased.
The application had also failed to take into account the water which might flow on to the site from higher land or the effect of more rainfall as a result of climate change.
The report also said that pumping water did not constitute a sustainable drainage system as it was not a carbon-free solution.
Furthermore, it said that Taylor Wimpey would need the permission of those with riparian rights, including landowners at Sheephouse Farm, homeowners in Mill Lane and Henley Town Council.
Ms Bowerman said Taylor Wimpey was entitled to submit a fresh application, which the council would consider.
On the issue of the grouting work, she said the council was considering submissions from Taylor Wimpey as well as taking legal advice.
Ms Bowerman said she would not be comfortable approving the drainage application until the groundworks issues had been resolved.
Peter Boros, who lives in Shiplake and chairs the action group, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that common sense seems to have prevailed.
“What should happen now is that Taylor Wimpey revisit their plans, realise that the development’s inappropriate and that they need to replan for a much smaller development on the site.
“But they’ve got a lot of money at stake. They made a mistake in buying the site with all its problems.”
Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council said: “It’s quite right that the proposals have been rejected. Harpsden has been horrified at the whole episode of Thames Farm, which has got worse and worse until very recently.
“Now the district council has finally listened to residents and environmental good sense.”
Fred Maroudas, chairman of Shiplake Parish Council said: “There was absolutely no way that the district council could have reasonably made a decision on drainage without understanding the impact of the grouting works.
“I’m delighted that the huge campaign that we the parish council and the action group have run has been successful.
“Taylor Wimpey now needs to put in an application for the grouting works which need to be scrutinised in the proper way because the implications for Shiplake, Henley and Harpsden are enormous.”
South Oxfordshire District Councillor David Bartholomew, who lives in Shiplake, said: “This has been dragging on for months and months with Taylor Wimpey coming up with different ideas to solve their drainage and grouting problems, none of which is acceptable to the local community and planning department.
“There’s relief on one hand that the drainage problems are not going to be solved by this bizarre option but there’s great concern about what’s going to happen next.
“The village is suffering from a building site that has been started and is going nowhere.
“Taylor Wimpey has said the tree planting that was promised will not start until after the ground has been stabilised because they are worried about the safety of tree workers, so the village continues to be blighted by an eyesore.
“The planning department can’t insist that Taylor Wimpey submit a fresh application.
“But if they started work without permission the planning department would have the option of taking enforcement action. I hope it’s resolved more sensibly than that.”
A Taylor Wimpey spokeswoman said: “Following discussions with South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council, we have decided to withdraw our revised drainage strategy.
“We are reviewing the feedback we have received and will continue to work closely with both councils and Thames Water as we prepare to resubmit an updated drainage strategy in due course.”
28 October 2021
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