Friday, 04 December 2020

Landowner under fire over flyer promoting homes plan

A LANDOWNER has been accused of “deceitful” tactics after revising her plans for dozens of new homes on

A LANDOWNER has been accused of “deceitful” tactics after revising her plans for dozens of new homes on farmland near Henley.

Claire Engbers wants to build 95 houses at Thames Farm, a 15-acre plot between Shiplake and Henley, and has circulated a flyer asking residents for their views.

She first sought planning permission for 110 units in 2013 but that application is now on hold after getting mired in a legal row with the Government.

The leaflet, which went to households in Henley, Harpsden and Shiplake last week, says the scheme has been redrafted “following consultation” with South Oxfordshire District Council.

But councillors say this implies the planning authority now supports it, which is not the case.

The district council rejected Ms Engbers’s original proposal because the site is not earmarked for housing in its core strategy.

She appealed without success the following year but the planning inspector’s decision was overturned after she took her case to the High Court in October.

This cleared the way for a second appeal but the judge’s ruling was then challenged by communities minister Greg Clark. The situation remains deadlocked until a hearing can take place.

Objectors say Ms Engbers’ plans would harm the rural character of the area and erode the green boundary between the villages and Henley.

They also fear it would increase traffic on Reading Road and put too much pressure on infrastructure, schools and doctors’ surgeries.

Ms Engbers’s leaflet, which promises a “greener plan for Thames Farm”, says building fewer homes would allow trees and hedges to be planted around the site, screening it from view.

It says visibility at a proposed pedestrian crossing on Reading Road would be improved. The new homes would be of a “high-quality design” to “blend in with the local area”.

Forty per cent would be classed as “affordable”. Many would be available under shared ownership schemes and aimed at first-time buyers or those seeking an affordable rent.

The flyer says there is no danger of “sprawl” as the site has well-defined boundaries and there would be a “significant” financial contribution from the developer towards schools, libraries and other amenities. It invites residents to send comments to Mrs Engbers’s agents but does not say when a planning application might be filed.

Shiplake and Harpsden’s county councillor David Bartholomew said he remained opposed to the proposal.

He said: “It only varies in the smallest possible way and is hardly a significant reduction in size so the grounds for objection still stand. It is an urban-style development in a green, rural location that will increase traffic, impact on road safety and enlarge Shiplake by near enough 20 per cent.”

Cllr Bartholomew said he was “rather concerned” by the timing of the leaflet as the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan goes to a referendum on March 10.

The document names 11 sites where about 500 homes should go by 2027. Although Thames Farm was considered, it failed to make the final list of sites.

Cllr Bartholomew said: “People may wrongly assume that Thames Farm is back on the table when it is not. I’m mystified as to why this has come forward when there are still legal wranglings over the previous application.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee and a district and county councillor, said: “It is misleading to say there have been discussions with the district council. It implies that the council endorses the scheme, which isn’t the case.

“I very much doubt that a site outside the draft neighbourhood plan would get approval because those sites have been chosen by the community.”

Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, called the leaflet “meretricious and deceitful”.

He said: “The applicant, has of course, received nothing helpful to their cause from the district council as the plan runs against its core strategy and the draft neighbourhood plan.

“Besides, how‘green’ is a plan for 95 homes on green land? It makes one cross that money has been spent on this but people who’ve been following the issue will see through it.”

Ms Engbers’ agents say the land is of poor agricultural value and does not fall within the green belt or the Chilterns Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty.

Her spokesman denied the wording of the flyer was misleading.

He said: “Pre-application consultation with district council planning officers is standard practice on any proposal in order to reach as much agreement and as few areas of contention as possible. That does not imply support by the council.”

He said no deadline had been set for responses to the leaflet nor for submitting a planning application.

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