Saturday, 28 November 2020

We won’t allow extra housing without money, say councillors

TOO little is being done to protect Goring from the harmful effects of development, say parish councillors.

TOO little is being done to protect Goring from the harmful effects of development, say parish councillors.

They claim the village cannot take an increase in its housing quota unless it also receives more money for infrastructure.

Goring must accept 105 new houses by 2027 to meet national targets but South Oxfordshire District Council could impose a higher figure as part of a new local plan.

Parish councillors say the district council has previously failed to secure funding from developers for projects such as road improvements and school extensions, meaning the village primary is full.

At a meeting on Monday, Goring Parish Council resolved to resist any increase in its homes quota without a guarantee of extra cash.

Chairman Kevin Bulmer said: “We’re looking at possibly an extra 50 houses and it has already been suggested that this is not a lot if we’ve already got 105.

“It’s all very well saying ‘put a few extra in’ but, leaving aside the question of whether 50 is too many, money for infrastructure is unlikely to follow.

“By spreading South Oxfordshire’s allocation thinly across the district, you give larger villages all the challenges but too little funding to sort them out.

“At the moment, nobody has even thought about the effect of our current quota and the extra pressure on schools, doctors’ surgeries and so on.

“Our stance must be that further increases are unacceptable at present.”

Councillor Bryan Urbick added: “We’ve got 5,000 cars using High Street every day and we can’t even cope with that, let alone any more.” A group of Goring residents is writing a neighbourhood plan for the village under the parish council’s supervision.

The document will determine where new housing should go and will be legally binding if approved by a referendum.

Nigel Gilson, chairman of the group, said: “It is welcome that the parish council is taking a clear stance on this issue. We will need money before we can tackle infrastructure problems.”

Councillors said their district colleagues had also failed to protect the countryside around Goring from the “unsightly” steel gantries that Network Rail erected in the spring.

The company put them up along the line through the village as part of an electrification programme that is now a year behind schedule and three times over budget.

Planning permission was not needed as it is “permitted development” but opponents, including the parish council, maintain that the gantries are unlawful as they are in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty where developers may only carry out work that “enhances” the area. The objectors say the gantries do the opposite.

The parish council is to write to the district council demanding that it takes a firmer stance on the issue.

Councillor Catherine Hall said: “There was a misunderstanding between the council and Network Rail when it sought advice on the work. Planning officers took the attitude that it was permitted development and they had no right to interfere. It was too late by the time they realised what Network Rail was doing.

“If you build a single house without permission, they’re on you like a ton of bricks.”

Councillor Bulmer said: “Network Rail weren’t deliberately riding roughshod over the AONB — they were just incompetent and made a total pig’s ear of it. I think the district council is too quick to run away from big, complex projects.

“They’re the planning authority but they’re still conspicuous by their absence.

“The opposition to this is being led by a protest group, Goring and South Stoke parish councils and the Chilterns Conservation Board.

“It is complicated but that’s what planning officers are paid for. We’ve found the Chilterns Conservation Board far more helpful.

“It’s like the problem with housing allocations in that they don’t think the issue through properly.”

A district council spokesman said it was helping the parish council to compile its neighbourhood plan, which would identify infrastructure projects and secure funding.

In the past two years, the council had secured £12,000 for indoor sports facilities, £12,000 for community hall facilities and more than £15,000 for outdoor play areas in the parish.

It also paid Oxfordshire County Council for school and road improvements.

He said the council would continue to negotiate with Network Rail but it had no power to demand improvements and the company was aware of its duties.

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