Friday, 24 September 2021

Don't build homes on land that floods, say residents

GORING may not have enough suitable land to meet the village’s housing target, it was claimed this week.

The parish must accommodate 86 new homes by 2027 under South Oxfordshire District Council’s local plan and to meet Government quotas.

A neighbourhood plan, currently being written by a volunteer steering group, will name the preferred sites for development.

But residents say a plot which has been earmarked for housing should be excluded because it is prone to flooding and a previous bid to build on it was disallowed.

They say that including part of the 2.76-hectare field between Manor Road and Elmcroft in the final plan could render the document legally unsound and leave it open to challenge from developers.

Last year Elegant Homes, of Caversham, and Frenbury Developments lost a planning appeal for up to 35 homes on the land when inspector Kenneth Stone said this would harm the area’s rural character. The steering group insists the eastern half of the site is suitable for up to 25 homes as long as flood mitigation measures such as extra trees and hedges are installed.

But about 30 householders who live near the field and clubbed together to pay for legal advice, say it is unsuitable and the steering group should ask the district council to reduce Goring’s target on the grounds there is nowhere else suitable for development.

Last year, landowners submitted 15 sites for consideration but the steering group chose only four of these for the first draft of the plan.

The other three are a field behind the houses off Springhill Road (40 homes), land at Thames Court off High Street (16 homes) and a field off Icknield Road (10 homes).

The steering group said most of the other sites should not be developed otherwise it would spoil the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Another field on the opposite side of Manor Road was considered suitable in principle but would be too small to make up the quota.

The Manor Road residents say the shortfall could be met by building extra houses elsewhere in the district on sites less prone to flooding.

They say this is in accordance with the Environment Agency’s “sequential test” which dictates that flood risk zones should only be developed where no other suitable land is available.

A spokesman said: “Given that it was rejected by an appeal inspector, the Manor Road site shouldn’t be included for development.

“We put this to the steering group some months ago but our arguments haven’t been accepted. They believe the flood risk can be mitigated but our solicitor believes there is scope for professionals to disagree.

“The draft plan will have to pass independent examination before it goes to a referendum and is unlikely to do so if the examiner knows the history of that site.

“If the steering group and the district council accept that the Manor Road site can’t be developed as well as the arguments that have been made about the unsuitability of other sites, they probably couldn’t put forward a number as high as 86.”

Mike Stares, co-chairman of the steering group, said: “The inspector’s decision on Manor Road only looked at the site in isolation and not in the context of a wider housing plan.

“He acknowledged that in his judgement and accepted that he was unaware of how it compared with other sites in and around the village.

“It is now one of our recommended sites and we’re confident that it can be developed but only with significant mitigation measures and if it can be proven that no other suitable sites in Goring exist.

“We have consulted the district council about the sequential test and are advised that it applies within individual neighbourhood plan areas, not across South Oxfordshire as a whole.

“We are trying to do the right thing and believe the path we are taking is proper and consistent.”

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