Friday, 19 August 2022

Second referendum for new homes

Second referendum for new homes

A SECOND referendum could be held on the revised Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

The original document, which names sites where about 500 new homes should be built by 2027, needs updating as Henley is expected to be asked to take another 350 by 2033.

Members of the town council’s neighbourhood plan committee hope to complete the process in just months.

Ken Arlett, who chairs the committee, said he believed the plan would be “completely” rewritten so a second referendum would be necessary.

However, Henley MP John Howell told a meeting of the committee on Monday that he believed it was “unlikely” that another vote would be needed.

The final decision will be made by the plan examiner.

The original document, which cost £90,000 to produce, passed a referendum in March 2016 with 81.7 per cent of those who voted in favour of the 11 sites earmarked for development.

The committee wants the new version to have more weight in planning decisions. The first plan was effectively disregarded by South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, on a number of occasions, including with the approval of 54 flats for elderly and disabled people at the former Jet garage site in Reading Road when the land was earmarked for ordinary flats in the plan.

Mr Howell, the Government’s neighbourhood planning champion, said updating the plan was not a statutory requirement but a practical one.

“What you will find is that the policies in your plan will gradually become more and more out of date because they will conflict with the district council’s local plan,” he said.

“It’s for you to decide whether what you want to update the full plan or part of it.

“The key question is whether the modifications you’re making change the nature of the plan.

“The responsibility for deciding whether the nature of the plan has been changed comes down to the examiner of the plan, not the district council.

“Whether you need a referendum, or not, is a question for the examiner to decide. If all you are doing is revising the sites in the plan and adding sites, you shouldn’t need a referendum.”

Councillor Arlett said: “If it was me, I would go for a referendum.

“John talks about ‘some changes’ but I think we would probably rewrite this completely. I think it would be a completely new document which would then cause us to go for a referendum.

“I think you’re going to have to update so much in there it’s almost going to be a new document.”

Deputy Mayor Lorraine Hillier responded: “I just think you’re trying to do too much there and you’re making a completely new neighbourhood plan.”

Chris Baker, of Lauds Close, Henley, said: “It’s like Brexit — oh God, not another one.

“We went to referendum, we paid a huge amount of money and it went through and then almost immediately it started to fall apart.

“This is the problem you have. The public, they actually talk about the truth and validity of this document. We told them they wouldn’t have to come back for a certain period of time.”

Mr Howell responded: “You’re not producing a new neighbourhood plan — the plan you have got is a good document. You’re seeing if that needs revising to take you through to the next period.”

He advised that the revised plan didn’t use timescales, adding: “We want this to be a living document that takes into account the situation as it is on the ground.”

Tony Wright, deputy chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, said the public had been told that the existing plan would serve the communities until 2027.

He said: “We told the people what the district council told us: ‘You do a plan, you’ll be okay until 2027’. Here we are two years later doing it all over again.

“How can we persuade people who are going to be involved again that this will be the last?” The plan is currently protected by a ministerial statement issued in December 2016, which means it cannot be deemed out of date as long as it allocates sites for housing and the planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of sites.

However, the statement expires in December at which point the plan may be vulnerable to speculative applications.

Meanwhile, the future of the district council’s new local plan is uncertain after its members voted against it. This plan includes the Chalgrove airfield site, where Homes England wants to build 3,000 homes but a tenant business says it does not want to make way but continue with its lease, which runs until 2063.

Mr Howell said: “At the moment the local plan is suspended while they try to sort out what they are doing.”

He also stressed that the neighbourhood plan was a “partnership” with the district council.

“It’s important to bear in mind that the neighbourhood plan doesn’t give you exclusive planning rights to the town or village,” said Mr Howell. “It’s not just about homes, it’s about everything else that comes into planning. What are the local implications of proposed site allocation options with the infrastructure available?

“What you should be doing is talking to the infrastructure companies like utility providers, transport companies and local health commissioners, and the district council as well.

“Hopefully, from that you will get a good feel for what infrastructure is going to be included in your plan.”

The committee will oversee the revision of the plan with seven working groups covering key issues such as education provision, transport, parking and permitted development rights. One group will review all the existing sites in the plan to ensure they are going to deliver and meetings will be arranged with traders and with neighbouring villages.

The committee will also seek financial support from the district council.

Cllr Arlett said the original document took three-and-a-half years to complete and he wanted to avoid a repeat of this.

“We will basically run the plan and then every six weeks or so we will have consultations and presentations with the public to keep them on board,” he said.

The committee will ask for suggestions on sites and when it has made its final choices will carry out public consultation.

The committee, which will meet during the day, wants to recruit four more members of the public so that there is a majority of 10 over the eight councillors. The working groups will meet in the evening.

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