Sunday, 01 August 2021

Development set to go ahead despite threat to wildlife

Development set to go ahead despite threat to wildlife

FIFTY-TWO houses and 20 flats could be built on the land off Fair Mile in Henley despite posing a threat to wildlife.

The town council’s planning committee has resolved to make no representation and to continue discussions with Thames Developments Group, who wants to build on the 4.6-hectare field.

The council had recommended a previous version of the plans for approval in 2019, subject to “further research and analysis into wildlife corridors and habitats on the site”.

The field, which is located between Luker Avenue to the south and a farm track to the north, is earmarked for about 60 homes in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

The developer originally proposed 82 properties but reduced this figure when neighbours raised concerns about congestion.

Then the residents said the field was a wildlife haven so South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, ordered the developer to carry out a survey which found evidence of slow worms, which are legally protected due to their declining numbers.

The town council, which owns a grass verge that would serve as the entrance to the development, agreed in principle to move the creatures to a new home under a deal with the developer in April.

The updated reptile mitigation strategy provided as part of the revised plans now details that 40 Acre Field, which is owned by the town council, would be used as a “reptile receptor”.

Edward Church, countryside officer at the district council, said that the “disproportionate” loss of biodiversity would normally mean the site was unsuitable for development but it had been included in the neighbourhood plan.

He said: “To overcome this net loss, a biodiversity offsetting arrangement will need to be entered into with a local biodiversity offset provider.” Peter Webb, whose home in Crisp Road borders the site, said the land was an important wildlife habitat and should not be developed.

He said: “The land has not been used for more than 20 years and a lot of animals and insects have made it their home. There is a whole ecosystem that is flourishing.

“I regularly have slow worms in my garden and understand that they are to be moved. How are you going to accomplish this? It is not as if you can walk around and find each individual worm.

“What is to be done about the rest of the animals? Not only are there slow worms but also deer and foxes. Please could more thought be put into this? I am sure there are much better sites in the surrounding area.

“Fair Mile is a busy road already and with 52 new houses and 20 flats it will get even busier at rush hour and during school runs.”

Ruth Gibson, who lives in Vicarage Road and is a member of the Chiltern Society, also objected.

She said: “The changes to the previous applications are so minimal that our objections to the proposed development remain.

“This proposal represents an over-development of an open greenfield site, which lies in a very sensitive location surrounded by the Chiltern landscape.”

Other neighbours have expressed concerns about loss of privacy with a public footpath and cycleway being built next to their homes and saying that trees planted to shield the site from view would curtail existing open views and sunlight.

In an energy and sustainability statement, the developer says that where biodiversity loss is “unavoidable”, an offset payment would be made and that it commits to “the provision of landscaped areas and additional tree and shrub planting”.

The site clearance would be timed to avoid the main bird nesting season.

Councillor Michelle Thomas, who chairs the planning committee, said: “We have no intention of abandoning the residents regarding this application and development.”

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