Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Referendum on housing blueprint expected in July

A REFERENDUM on Goring’s neighbourhood plan should take place in early July.

The document, which was written by a group of volunteers, has been deemed fit to go to a public vote after minor alterations made by an independent examiner.

It names four sites in the parish where 94 new homes should be built by 2027 to meet government targets plus a fifth reserve plot.

If more than half of voters support the plan, South Oxfordshire District Council will be legally obliged to take it into account when deciding planning applications.

The sites include one on the south-eastern corner of the field immediately north of Springhill Road, which the plan earmarks for about 46 homes.

The other three sites are the eastern half of the field between Manor Road and Elmcroft (about 20 homes), the former Peruvian Connection warehouse and car park at Thames Court, off High Street (about 14) and land behind the cottages south of Icknield Road (about 14).

Planning barrister Timothy Jones, who examined the plan, said this distribution of homes was sensible as concentrating them on only one or two sites would have caused “unacceptable” harm to the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Conversely, spreading them thinly across a larger number of sites would mean developers wouldn’t have to provide a minimum of 40 per cent “affordable” housing.

Mr Jones said the Manor Road site might only be able to deliver 14 homes as part of it is in a flood zone.

He said a small field on the eastern side of Gatehampton Road on the edge of the village should be earmarked as a back-up.

This was originally ruled out because of the impact on the AONB but Mr Jones said any development could be screened by planting extra trees and it was better than several larger sites which were excluded for the same reason.

He also said the site should remain off-limits until 2024 to allow any delays with the main four plots to be resolved.

Mr Jones said: “It is not as good for development as the four allocated sites [but] has the advantages of being capable of substantially improved screening, of being within easy walking distance of the station and a recreation ground… and of being likely to provide needed affordable housing.

“Of the sites that have not been allocated, it is the most appropriate to be held in reserve.”

The plan, which was produced under Goring Parish Council’s supervision, says that more than 80 per cent of the new properties should have up to three bedrooms in order to help younger residents who want to stay in the village or older people who are downsizing.

It also supports three “special projects”:

• Reviewing traffic and parking problems and recommending possible solutions.

• Rejuvenating the high street to attract more shoppers.

• Renovating, expanding or relocating the village primary school, which is in a poor condition, to address a shortage of places.

In theory, the document could be revised if Goring’s new homes quota is increased to 200-plus under the district council’s new local plan to run until 2034.

But Mr Jones said the higher number could be impossible to deliver because of the restrictions of the AONB and other villages would have to take more new housing instead.

He said: “Growth is clearly envisaged in Goring [but] I do not consider that a settlement that is surrounded by AONB countryside must be treated the same as one that is not.

“It is contrary to the national importance of AONBs to say a settlement entirely within one, which contains a given percentage of a district’s population, must provide that percentage of new housing.

“A planning authority can bear in mind the ability of other areas to take an increased proportion of the need if constraints make it appropriate to reduce the number for particular settlements and it will have the obligation to find the additional provision elsewhere.”

Mr Jones said the plan was well-written, logical, clear, appropriately concise and intelligible.

The volunteers first began work on the document in 2015. It was submitted for inspection a year ago and Mr Jones held a public hearing last summer but his verdict was delayed by changes to national and European planning law which meant more consultation was needed.

David Wilkins, joint chairman of the group, said: “It has taken a long time to reach this point and has been difficult to keep the issue at the forefront of people’s minds but it was due to circumstances beyond our control.

“We’re very pleased that the examiner has been complimentary about both the plan and the way we’ve gone about preparing it.

“We accept the notion of a reserve site, although we doubt it will be necessary because of the five-year condition, which was sensible.

“We have identified how much construction this area can accommodate and that limit, imposed by the AONB, is unlikely to change so while the district council can propose a higher figure it’s not for us to find the space for it.”

The referendum date will be confirmed after the district council elections on May 2.

Mr Wilkins said: “We have expressed the hope that a referendum will take place in early July.”

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