Monday, 18 October 2021

'There's no room for new housing'

Henley Town Council by-election confirmed

HENLEY has no room for hundreds of extra new homes, according to town councillors.

They say the town is already “bursting beyond its boundaries” and does not have the infrastructure to support more growth.

It also suffers from traffic congestion, causing air pollution which puts residents’ lives at risk, and needs a transport strategy before more housing can even be considered.

Henley Town Council was responding to a consultation on a draft of South Oxfordshire District Council’s new local plan, which suggests that Henley could accommodate another 677 new homes by the year 2033 on top of the 500 it has agreed to take under its joint neighbourhood plan with Harpsden.

It says: “Henley simply does not have the capacity or infrastructure to absorb any further housing.

“Restricted by the River Thames, flood plains and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is a market town that is already bursting well beyond its boundaries.

“The district council must recognise that Henley Bridge is an important crossing point over the River Thames which means there will always be through-traffic.

“That is why a transport strategy must be in place before any new homes can be seriously considered.

“Traffic gridlock extends queuing on a daily basis to give Henley a reputation for transport chaos.

“We require an in-depth assessment of the amount of additional traffic we can realistically accommodate, underpinned by specific, funded and committed improvements to the transport network.

“Finally, with the traffic and queues comes the poor air quality. In the centre of Henley our residents face a genuine health risk that must not be ignored.

“It is the district council’s responsibility to first make a budget available to fund air quality improvements, then work with the town council and Oxfordshire County Council to implement them.

“Our transport strategy plans are already well advanced and it is possible to improve both the traffic and the air.

“In short, the health of our residents must be placed at the top of any agenda to squeeze more homes into our area.

“Finally, any new homes should be affordable housing to help meet the urgent needs of existing Henley families and key workers, such as teachers, medical staff and the police.”

In parts of Henley town centre, the levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide and soot particulates have been well above Air Quality England’s recommended safe limit for more than a decade.

The town council’s transport strategy group is considering measures including a 20mph speed limit across the town, a ban on heavy goods vehicles, a clean air zone and a low-emission car club. The council also points out that when the district’s core strategy was drawn up in 2012, an independent inspector capped Henley’s quota at 400 because he didn’t believe it could take any more.

It also says that no more care homes or other accommodation for the elderly should be allowed as the town has more residents over 65 than the district average and fewer young people and working adults.

The former Jet garage in Reading Road was earmarked in the neighbourhood plan for 55 regular flats, including 22 “affordable” units, but last year the district council gave permission for McCarthy & Stone to build 53 “extra care” flats on the site with no affordable element.

The former Henley Youth Centre site in Deanfield Avenue is earmarked for 23 homes, of which nine would be affordable, but B&M Care, which bought the site, is seeking permission to build a 65-bed care home and the district’s planning officers are thought to support the idea.

The district council has also given consent for the site of the former LA Fitness gym in Newtown Road, which wasn’t in the plan, to be converted into an 80-bed care home, although the land is now up for sale.

Developers of such schemes don’t have to pay statutory contributions towards new community infrastructure, unlike with regular housing.

The town council says: “Any further elderly provision will further unbalance the age structure of Henley’s population.”

It also called on the district council to more strictly enforce its policy of requiring 40 per cent of new housing to be affordable.

The council says: “Developers should be factoring affordable housing and statutory contributions into their calculations of land value before they purchase.

“The rate of contributions must be at least doubled, bringing it into line with Wokingham, to part-fund the infrastructure that will be needed.

“The town council has already spent more than £150,000 on its neighbourhood plan and associated transport study so district council funding will be needed for any iterations.”

The district council is proposing increases in new housing across South Oxfordshire after a report published in 2014 claimed its existing targets were too low.

It says the quotas could increase in Sonning Common from 138 to 364, Goring (from 105 to 295), Woodcote (from 73 to 208), Watlington (from 79 to 251) and Nettlebed (from 20 to 62).

The increases have been calculated by adding 15 per cent of the number of homes each settlement had in 2011 to the old target, then subtracting the number of developments agreed or completed in the last five years.

The district council accepts that some towns and villages may not be able to accommodate more homes and says others could take a larger increase to make up the difference.

l What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email

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