Monday, 19 August 2019

Councillors oppose plan to turn office block into flats

PLANS to convert an office block in Henley into homes have been opposed by town councillors.

Chaskel Rand and Joel Sofer, from London, are seeking planning permission to demolish Andersen House on the Newtown industrial estate, which used to be the home of digital signage firm Onelan.

They want to build two blocks of up to four storeys containing a total of 43 flats with 61 parking spaces in between them and a large ground-floor office space facing on to Newtown Road.

They already have permission to convert the building into 11 flats but now say it cannot be refurbished due to its poor condition and should be demolished.

The site isn’t earmarked for housing in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which says the Newtown estate should be kept for employment purposes.

But the applicants’ planning agent Boyer says there is no demand for the site for use commercially and the development would make better use of the land and improve the appearance of the area without increasing traffic.

Henley Town Council’s planning committee has recommended the application should be refused.

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “It’s converting business units into residential. It’s purely opportunistic.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith said: “If you take away employment areas people are going to have to travel out of the town rather than being able to cycle or walk to work.”

South Oxfordshire District Council will make the final decision.

Councillors have also opposed plans to build 95 homes at Thames Farm, near Shiplake, in Haprsden parish.

The land, off Reading Road, was not earmarked for housing in the neighbourhood plan.

But outline planning permission was granted in 2017 after an appeal by the landowner Claire Engbers.

Now housebuilder Taylor Wimpey has submitted detailed plans, which include the layout of the site, landscaping and materials.

The company wants to build a mixture of houses and flats with up to five bedrooms, 38 of which it says would be “affordable” homes.

Taylor Wimpey says it has amended the plans following consultations with local residents to include additional planting, lighting and speed bumps around the development.

Members of the planning committee vowed to make it “as difficult as possible” for the plans to be approved.

Cllr Gawrysiak said: “This was a site that was gerrymandered into getting planning permission.

“It turned on the fact that the district council was two houses below its five-year land supply. They let in those 95 houses so now it’s 93 above.

“We should make this as difficult as possible because this wasn’t in the neighbourhood plan.”

Harpsden Parish Council said it did not object to the plans but cited concerns over car parking, access and the boundary with green belt land.

Shiplake Parish Council says the scheme would be exposed due to a lack of hedging and would cause light pollution in the area as well potential traffic problems. The scheme was first put forward by Mrs Engbers in 2016 but was refused permission by the district council, which said the land wasn’t in the neighbourhood plan and there were road safety issues.

Planning inspector John Braithwaite overturned the decision when Mrs Engbers appealed.

He said the council had failed to secure enough housing sites to meet demand for the next three years, making the neighbourhood plan unenforceable.

The council then sought a judicial review at the High Court, saying the inspector’s methodology was flawed but judges argued this was a matter for his discretion.

Last year, the council had to abandon its fight against the development after being denied the right to challenge the planning inspector’s decision to approve it.

The council had filed for a hearing at the Appeal Court after being refused a judicial review by the High Court. Judges said it didn’t have a valid case and refused to consider the issue further.

Now the council will consider Taylor Wimpey’s application.

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