Monday, 30 November 2020

Inspectors clash over sites for new homes

TWO planning inspectors have disagreed over whether housebuilding restrictions should be relaxed in the Henley area.

TWO planning inspectors have disagreed over whether housebuilding restrictions should be relaxed in the Henley area.

Ian Jenkins says South Oxfordshire District Council is falling behind on its plans to deliver 11,487 new homes between 2006 and 2027 in order to meet national targets.

He argues that the authority must consider approving schemes in areas not earmarked for development and says it may have to increase its quota for Henley and surrounding villages to make up for shortfalls elsewhere.

However, John Felgate, another inspector, says the council can catch up on the backlog and should not deviate from its existing core strategy.

Mr Jenkins delivered his verdict when rejecting a planning appeal for 110 homes at Thames Farm, off the A4155 between Henley and Shiplake, in May.

Claire Engbers, the appellant, had said her application should be approved because the council was not securing enough sites for development. Mr Jenkins said her scheme was “unsustainable” and posed a traffic hazard but, in general, the council needed to rethink its plans.

At the moment, the council intends to concentrate 6,300 dwellings at Didcot and spread 5,187 across the rest of the district.

Henley must take at least 400 new homes while 1,154 are earmarked for 12 “large villages” including Sonning Common, which must take 152, Goring (109), Woodcote (76), Benson (96), Watlington (57) and Nettlebed (25).

To ensure the council stays on track, it must prove every year that it has enough immediately available land to meet demand for the next five years. If it consistently fails, its core strategy could be deemed invalid.

The council has secured well above the required level for most of the district but is running behind at Didcot due to negotiations over sites.

Mr Jenkins said the surplus outside Didcot could not make up for the shortfall.

He said: “While it may be possible to demonstrate a five-year supply [outside Didcot], supply is likely to fall well short of that level both for Didcot and the district as a whole.

“I conclude the council is unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites... and so relevant policies for the supply of housing are considered out of date.”

Mr Felgate, who dismissed an appeal for 10 homes off Beech Lane in Woodcote last month, disagreed.

Appellants Jumquest and Beenlore had put forward the same argument as Mrs Engbers.

But Mr Felgate said the demolition of Didcot A power station in 2013 and the possible closure of Didcot B in 2023 would create new development opportunities.

He said reallocating some of the town’s quota would “fatally undermine” its regeneration.

He said building “scattered small developments” in the rural area, particularly in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was a “less sound” strategy.

A South Oxfordshire District Council spokesman said: “We disagree with Mr Jenkins’ view and believe it undermines our independently examined and adopted policies for housing, employment and infrastructure.

“The planning inspector for the appeal at Woodcote supported our view. We are very encouraged that the position we have taken is correct and would again stand up to independent scrutiny.”

Stefan Gawrysiak, a Henley town and district councillor, said: “The district council was perturbed by the Thames Farm inspector’s remarks, which I completely disagree with.

“I am gratified by the comments that came out of the Woodcote appeal.

“Our core strategy is perfectly adequate and any planning applications which are not in line with it should still be rejected.”

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