Thursday, 23 September 2021

Flood-risk land to be considered for new housing

A PIECE of land in Goring will be considered for housing despite being at risk of flooding.

The eastern half of a field between Manor Road and Elmcroft is one of four sites likely to be included in the village’s neighbourhood plan which will go to a referendum in the autumn.

The volunteer steering group which is finalising the document says the plot could accommodate up to 25 homes to help meet the village’s quota of 86 new houses by 2027.

A group of about 30 residents claims that sites with a moderate or high flood risk should not be included in the plan because it could leave the document open to legal challenge.

However, South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, says this is untrue and it is too early in the process for the flood risk to be fully assessed.

Harrison Clark Rickerbys, solicitors for the residents, say potential development sites with a moderate or high flood risk, which includes the western half of the 2.76-hectare field, should be ruled out before others are considered.

But the steering group deemed the other half of the field acceptable as it had a lower flood risk, which is legal where alternative sites are “not reasonably available”.

Yet it had already ruled out any sites where development could harm the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In a letter to the district council, Harrison Clark Rickerbys said the impact on the AONB wasn’t a valid reason to rule out other sites, most of which were along Gatehampton Road, as they could still be chosen for development in “exceptional circumstances”.

They also said that if necessary the village’s housing quota should be reduced and the shortfall made up elsewhere.

Adrian Duffield, the council’s head of planning, acknowledged that some towns and villages might be unable to hit their targets due to constraints on development.

But he said: “I must stress that [we cannot] rule out the possibility of some constrained villages achieving the level of growth proposed.

“The council strongly encourages local communities to help shape the development of their village by producing neighbourhood plans which evidence the appropriate level of growth that could be achieved.”

He said that requiring neighbourhood planning groups to apply flood risk tests to the rest of the district would be “disproportionate”.

“Neighbourhood planning groups having to deal with flood risk issues are not unique to our district,” said Mr Duffield. “Let me reassure you that we will continue to work with neighbourhood planning groups, the Environment Agency and other relevant bodies to ensure that flood risk assessments supporting emerging neighbourhood plans in our district are proportionate and robust.”

He said it was “inappropriate” for the council to determine at this stage whether or not the Goring site passed the flood risk test as statutory consultation and independent examination had not taken place.

“The neighbourhood plan is still in preparation and the evidence base behind it is still being developed,” said Mr Duffield. “The neighbourhood planning process provides all interested parties with appropriate opportunities to question the policies, assumptions and the evidence supporting the neighbourhood plan.”

The three other sites identified in the plan are a field behind houses in Springhill Road, which is said to be suitable for up to 40 homes, the car park and warehouse at Thames Court, off High Street (up to 16) and a field behind Cleeve Cottages, off Icknield Road (up to 10).

The document will be the subject of a six-week consultation by the district council over the summer then sent to an independent examiner who will decide whether it is fit to go to a referendum.

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