Friday, 27 November 2020

"Total of new homes needed overestimated"

PLANS to build hundreds of additional new homes in the Henley area over the next 15

PLANS to build hundreds of additional new homes in the Henley area over the next 15 years are unnecessarily excessive, according a planning expert.

Professor Alan Wenburn-Smith says there is no good reason why the number of units built in South Oxfordshire should rise from 547 a year to between 725 and 825.

The increase was recommended in a Government-backed report published in 2014 which said South Oxfordshire District Council’s existing quota was not high enough to meet future demand.

Under the council’s current local plan, the district must take 11,487 houses over the period 2006 to 2027.

But the report, called a strategic housing market assessment, said it would need to find room for between 14,500 and 16,500 homes.

The district council has spent two years consulting on ways of accommodating the extra housing and is expected to announce its favoured approach in the summer.

It has considered several options, some of which could see Henley’s homes target jump from about 450 to more than 800.

But Prof Wenburn-Smith, a consultant for the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, believes less than half the extra homes are needed.

The SHMA calls for about 100,000 across the county by 2031 but he says 47,000 is a more realistic figure and that only about 422 a year are needed in South Oxfordshire.

Prof Wenburn-Smith claims the report was based on a “dash for jobs and growth at all costs” despite less than one per cent of the population being unemployed.

He says it assumed that 85,600 new jobs would be created in Oxfordshire by 2031, many in the science and technology industries, but he is “quite doubtful” that this can be achieved.

Henley MP John Howell said the SHMA process was flawed because the guidelines for assessing future demand in a given area were too vague.

He is a member of the Local Plan Expert Group, an advisory panel which has made recommendations to the Government on tightening up the procedure nationally.

Mr Howell said: “SHMAs give a totally unvarnished picture of expected housing need and it is for individual councils to come up with reasons why they cannot accommodate that or liaise with neighbouring councils to solve the problem.

“We are encouraging councils to come up with a thorough evaluation of the environmental constraints that would prevent the recommendations of their SHMA from being fully implemented.”

John Cotton, leader of the District Council, said: “The figures in our SHMA were extremely ambitious and gave too much weight to several factors. We have full employment in the county so if you build new homes with the expectation of creating new jobs, you risk effectively creating unemployment.”

Meanwhile, the man who spearheaded the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan has warned against building too many care homes in the town.

Dieter Hinke, who was a town councillor until a year ago, said that the area would lose out on “mitigation” payments from developers.

He believes developers want to build care homes to save money and not pay into the Community Infrastructure Levy pot to be used for infrastructure improvements, such as transport, schools or leisure facilities.

It has been estimated that Henley would receive about £1.5million in CiL payments from the construction of 500 homes by 2027, as outlined in the neighbourhood plan.

A 64-bed care home is being built at Townlands Hospital and plans have been drawn up for another home at the former LA Fitness site in Newtown Road.

Neither of these sites was named in the plan, which passed a referendum in March.

Meanwhile, B&M Care wants to build a 60-bed facility at the former Henley Youth Centre in Deanfield Road, which was earmarked for 23 homes in the plan.

In addition, McCarthy & Stone has drawn up a plan to develop the former Jet garage site in Reading Road as assisted living accommodation for elderly disabled people. This land was earmarked for 55 homes.

Mr Hinke, who chaired the neighbourhood planning governance committee, said developers of care homes wouldn’t have to pay the levy.

“If they don’t have to pay money it means, for Henley, there is nothing to be used for infrastructure which could be used to mitigate traffic problems,” he said. “The only people building old people’s homes are those wanting to get through without any mitigation to the town.”

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