Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Plans for 245 new houses could be approved after all

PLANS for 245 homes on the edge Emmer Green could be approved after all.

South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, has been advised that it cannot object to the development on the grounds that there are not enough primary school places in the area, as it had planned to.

It comes after Gladman, the developer, warned that it would have a good case for an appeal if the council refused to grant permission on that basis.

Gladman has proposed developing three fields between Peppard Road and Kiln Road, saying the houses would form a “logical extension” to Emmer Green.

The site is in Eye and Dunsden parish, which includes Dunsden, Playhatch and Sonning Eye.

Residents and parish councils in the area have opposed the development, saying it would threaten the green space between Emmer Green and Sonning Common and that local schools and GP surgeries wouldn’t be able to cope with demand.

In May, campaigners celebrated after being told by the district council that the plans would be rejected as both Reading Borough Council and Oxfordshire County Council had both said there were not enough school places. It said this decision had been approved by council leader John Cotton and would be taken under delegated powers, meaning that it would not need to go to the planning committee.

However, the council has now decided that the decision will be put to the committee next month after all.

In an email to councillors, planning officer Joan Desmond says that she received advice from barrister Asitha Ranatunga that the lack of school places did not justify refusing consent.

Mr Ranatunga said: “I have to acknowledge that I find it hard to see how such educational constraints could justify a reason for refusal without a very robust evidence base and exceptional facts.

“Without those circumstances, there clearly would be a risk in relying on such grounds for refusing a housing scheme as a matter of course. Depending on the facts, costs could be in play.”

 Ms Desmond says: “He does go on to say that there still may be cases where education constraints may be a material consideration in respect of the social dimension of sustainable development (i.e. ensuring sufficient choice of school places) and transport (minimising length of journeys to school). 

“Where this issue has been considered at appeal, however, it has not been found to have sufficient weight to warrant refusal. 

“As such, the officer view is that it would be very difficult to justify refusal of the application on this ground.”

Gladman’s legal advisor Martin Carter has said the council’s argument on school places was irrelevant as the company had agreed with the council to make Community Infrastructure Levy payments which would include funding for education provision.

He warned that if the council did refuse permission then the company would have a good case for an appeal before a planning inspector.

Mr Carter, a Manchester-based barrister who specialises in planning, said it was the responsibility of Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, to use CIL money to provide school places.

He said: “It is not open to the planning authority to refuse planning permission on the basis of education impacts when it will receive the levy payments.”

Reading Borough Council, the education authority for Emmer Green and Caversham, has said all schools in the area are at capacity and could not handle an increase in demand and it does not have a duty to find places for children outside the borough.

Oxfordshire County Council said the nearest primary schools, in Sonning Common, Kidmore End, Shiplake and Peppard, were constrained sites and unable to expand.

Paul Harrison, district councillor for Eye and Dunsden, said the fight was not over.

He said: “There will be a strong campaign to try to stop this development. Reading Borough Council doesn’t want this extension of Emmer Green because of itd own issues. 

“Companies like Gladman don’t want to build the houses, they acquire the land, get permission then sell to developers.

“The problem we have is based on lack of development in Didcot, which then pushes the land supply number for the rest of the district down.

“If this development was allowed it would open the floodgates and Sonning Common would eventually become part of Reading.”

A district council spokesman said: “Following legal advice, we can confirm that ‘educational infrastructure’ is covered by the Community Infrastructure Levy, meaning additional funding would become available to help support any further need.”

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