Friday, 04 December 2020

Relaunch of neighbourhood plan

ABOUT 120 people attended an event to relaunch Watlington’s neighbourhood plan.

ABOUT 120 people attended an event to relaunch Watlington’s neighbourhood plan.

A new forum made up of several groups will look at specific issues, such as traffic, housing, development sites and infrastructure, and will report to a co-ordinating group.

The groups will be made up of volunteers and have yet to be formed.

The move, which aims to engage more people from the community, follows months of delays in developing the plan.

The co-ordinating group will report to a new neighbourhood plan steering committee made up of six parish councillors, which will in turn update the full council.

Council chairman Ian Hill, who is vice-chairman of the steering group, said he was “very encouraged” by the turnout at the relaunch event, which took place at the Watlington Club on Wednesday last week.

“It went very well,” he said. “With the expressions of interest and the enthusiasm for doing something, I’m very confident.

“We’ve got to see how it works in practice but in principle it seems like it will work well and will get around the problem we had last time when some people felt they didn’t have the opportunity to contribute.

“Preparing a neighbourhood plan is not a trivial job and to have it fall on six people is really asking a lot.

“ If you have 40 to 50 people doing the work it stands a better chance of getting done.”

The relaunch event took place on the original date for the completed plan to go to a referendum.

Now the poll is unlikely to take place before September 2017.

Rachel Gill, the neighbourhood plan’s support assistant, said: “We’re not starting again, we’re just continuing the work that has been done.

“It took a lot of effort to get this meeting organised. We have got the steering committee in place and got as many people as possible pushing on with the work.

“We have been criticised for not engaging with the community enough and the idea of this new structure is to rectify that. The whole point of a neighbourhood plan is it’s community-led.

“Neighbourhood planning is about conflict and resolution. This is not going to make the conflict go away but hopefully it will knock on the head the feeling that people haven’t been engaged in the process.

“I’m not under any illusion that there won’t be conflict but the more people we engage, the more areas of the community are involved in it, hopefully the more the groups can resolve some of it.”

Earlier this year, three former parish councillors resigned from the previous group guiding the plan.  

Rhian Woods, Nick Hancock and Neil Boddington said they no longer wanted to be involved because of what they claimed was “uncertainty” over the plan and the number of new houses being allocated to Watlington.

At the annual parish meeting in July former parish councillor Tim Horton claimed that the trio were placed under “enormous pressure” by residents from the Marlbrook estate.

He claimed that several people from a few roads on the estate “elevated a piece of ‘nimbyism’ to effectively become a major group within the parish council”.

After a heated exchange, the meeting overwhelmingly voted to continue with the neighbourhood plan process rather than abandon it. At the council elections in May, Mrs Woods, Mr Hancock and Mr Boddington urged people not to vote for them.

They had tried to withdraw from the poll but only after the closing date for nominations, so their names still appeared on the ballot paper.

Mrs Woods received 322 votes, Mr Boddington 214 and Mr Hancock 212 but none of these figures was sufficient for them to be re-elected.

Four people from the Marlbrook estate — Terry Jackson, Jo Read, Jane Bryant and Jeremy Bell — were  elected. 

Councillor Bell is the chairman of the new steering group and Councillor Jackson is on the committee.

Two months before the annual meeting about 80 residents of the estate attended a public meeting to complain that they had not been properly consulted about the neighbourhood plan.

They were also concerned that a new link road could be built through the estate.

The town has been allocated 79 new homes to be built by 2027 under South Oxfordshire District Council’s core strategy but this number could rise.

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