Sunday, 18 August 2019

Villagers vote for housing plan despite No campaign

Villagers vote for housing plan despite No campaign

A DOCUMENT naming five sites where about 94 new homes should be built in Goring is now legally enforceable.

Almost 63 per cent of residents voted to adopt the village’s neighbourhood plan at a referendum on Thursday last week despite a last-minute campaign urging them to reject it.

The plan, which was drafted by a volunteer steering group under the parish council’s supervision, was formally incorporated into South Oxfordshire District Council policy at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday night.

This means the authority is obliged to take it into account when deciding planning applications and may turn a developer’s scheme down on the grounds that it goes against the neighbourhood plan.

Work on the document, which will meet government housing targets up to 2027, began in 2015 and landowners were invited to put sites forward the following year. Fifteen were submitted but only four were found to be suitable under the steering group’s criteria.

Most were on open countryside outside the village, largely off Wallingford Road and Gatehampton Road, and it was felt this would have an unacceptable impact on views of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The largest to be included is the south-eastern corner of the field immediately north of Springhill Road and east of Wallingford Road, which is earmarked for about 46 homes.

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

A small field to the east of Gatehampton Road was added as a reserve at the recommendation of an independent examiner who said the Manor Road site might only be able to deliver 14 homes as it lies partly in a flood zone.

The neighbourhood plan says more than 80 per cent of new properties should have up to three bedrooms to help younger residents who want to stay in the village or older people who are downsizing.

It also identifies three “strategic projects”, the first of which is helping the village primary school off Wallingford Road to either renovate, expand or move to a new site as it is over-subscribed and its Sixties buildings are in poor condition.

The others are tackling problems with traffic congestion and parking in the village centre and boosting the local economy by improving the look of the high street and possibly redeveloping The Arcade, a small shopping precinct.

A few days before the referendum, a pressure group called New School 4 Goring sent a leaflet to every household urging people to reject the plan.

The group claimed this would enable the school to move and this was the only solution to its troubles. The Hildred family, from Goring, and developer McAdden Homes had offered to build a new school on the Springhill Road site.

In return, they wanted permission to build houses on a field to the west of Wallingford Road which the steering group had already ruled out. The leaflet’s authors, who denied any connection to the school, said the Hildreds’ proposal would better meet the village’s housing needs and a “no” vote would force this back on the table.

They said neither the Church of England school nor the Diocese of Oxford could raise the £8million required to expand on the existing site, which is currently being considered.

The leaflet said: “The offer of a new school, at no cost to the school or the community, is unique. If not grasped now, the way of funding this hugely generous gift to the village will be lost forever... this continues to be the only fully-funded option.

“The proposed neighbourhood plan appears to be about limiting housebuilding rather than sustainability... at a stroke, all the village housing requirements will be satisfied by the old school site together with [two others], thus eliminating the need to build elsewhere.”

In response, another group circulated a leaflet warning that a “no” vote wouldn’t guarantee the new school proposal as the Hildreds’ preferred housing site was deemed unacceptable by several landscape consultants and the neighbourhood plan examiner. They said it wouldn’t reduce the village’s housing target and could leave it open to speculative development.

The referendum result was less decisive than in other South Oxfordshire towns and villages where the share of “yes” votes ranged from 82 per cent in Henley to 94 per cent in Sonning Common and 99 per cent in Pyrton.

However, the turnout was higher at almost 50 per cent of eligible voters where others typically ranged from 30 to 40 per cent.

Goring Parish Council chairman Kevin Bulmer said: “The referendum had a great result with a more than impressive turnout and we congratulate the steering group on its efforts.

“I’m pretty sure no one involved was expecting it to take four years and I’m not sure they’d have signed up if they had known but we’ve reached a successful conclusion. I’m relieved and pleased that we’re now at this point.

“The leaflet opposing the plan was selective, out of context and gave a rather skewed view of the plan but fortunately villagers weighed up the facts and voted conclusively in favour, which is how democracy works.

“The parish council has spent a lot of time helping the school community to understand what’s possible — at the end of the day, we’ve simply set out what the law says you can and cannot do with regard to development.

“Councillor Bryan Urbick has spent a lot of time liaising with the school and things should go well from here. There’s a lot of goodwill on both sides and this is such a decisive result that we can put some of the less grounded or less achievable ideas behind us.”

Henley MP John Howell, who helped introduce neighbourhood plans, said: “I’m delighted that Goring’s plan has passed and would like to thank everyone who put a tremendous amount of effort into producing it.

“It now falls to the community to form an implementation group to ensure its proposals are carried through and to remain abreast of any relevant developments.”

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