Sunday, 05 December 2021
LONG-STANDING proposals to build on a “little-used” playing field at Gillotts School in Henley have grown from 50 new homes to 80.
The 3.4-hectare site, which is earmarked for development in the town’s joint neighbourhood plan with Harpsden, is one of 16 which landowners have submitted for inclusion in a revised version of the document.
These will be the subject of a display and public consultation at Henley town hall in Market Place between 10am and 3pm today (Friday) and tomorrow.
The secondary academy off Gillotts Lane says the field at the eastern edge of its estate is surplus to requirements and hopes to make up to £20 million by selling it to fund new amenities and improvements to its ageing infrastructure.
The proposed increase in homes would bring the number closer to the 85 or more that it originally proposed in 2013, three years before the current neighbourhood plan was approved.
No development has taken place since then because of a legal wrangle with Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, over access across a footpath behind the houses in Blandy Road.
This has now been resolved and the school has held preliminary talks with Bloor Homes.
The developer had hoped to build up to 100 homes on the neighbouring field at Lucy’s Farm, on Drawback Hill, saying there was “marriage value” between the two sites but the town council hasn’t shortlisted this for inclusion in the neighbourhood plan, saying building on it would erode the green boundary between Henley and Harpsden.
David Gorsuch, the school’s chairman of governors, said Gillotts was not aware of the proposed increase, which had probably been put forward by its land agent, but welcomed it.
He said: “It has always been our stance that the land is fit for between 50 and 100 homes and we’re happy to accept advice from others as to the exact figure which is most appropriate.
“Our sole priority is having enough money to carry out the improvements which the school needs.”
The proposed increase has sparked anger among protesters who oppose development at Gillotts or Lucy’s Farm, saying either would place intolerable pressure on surrounding roads and public services.
They say the school field should come out of the plan and have gathered more than 2,200 signatures on an online petition demanding this.
The group, called Save Henley’s Green Spaces, is calling on visitors to the exhibition to support them.
In a joint statement, members said: “Surely the neighbourhood plan is a community effort to arrive at the best and most popular outcome for the community.
“There is a strong argument that, with all the recent new dwellings built, Henley’s housing quota has been met and we should expect our local representative to pursue this point vigourously.
“The calamitous effect of adding further pressure to traffic issues, infrastructure, our local services and pollution should make this obvious and reflects the public mood.”
Group spokesman Domenic Bertelli, of Peppard Lane, Henley, said: “We are very concerned by the proposed increase to 80 homes. Lucy’s Farm is off the table for now but there’s every reason to suspect that Bloor still wants to develop it in future so with extra homes at Gillotts, the combined impact would be even greater.”
Ken Arlett, who chairs the town council’s neighbourhood plan steering group, said the sports field couldn’t be pulled from the plan because it was in the original document approved by residents.
He added: “None of these campaigners has attended any steering group meetings so how can they possibly understand what is going on? If they would like to come to the next one, they can speak in public participation time and either I or an officer will happily answer their questions.
“They should also attend the exhibition and raise their concerns as there’s no guarantee that any of these proposals will be accepted by the committee.”
Mr Bertelli said the campaigners would consider attending meetings in future.
The current neighbourhood plan names 10 sites where about 500 houses should go by 2027 but it must be updated to reflect an increased quota under South Oxfordshire District Council’s new local plan, which runs until 2035.
The new sites include the Chiltern Centre for disabled young people (three homes), the former Chilterns End care home next door (27) and land at Highlands Park (110), all off Greys Road, Henley.
Also on the list are land to the south-west of Fair Mile (75 homes), part of the Swiss Farm camping and caravan site, off Marlow Road (41), the former Henley Youth Centre in Deanfield Avenue (56 care beds), the Stuart Turner offices and neighbouring Henley Enterprise Park, off Greys Road (42 homes with at least 3,000 sq ft of employment and retail space) and the town council’s land next to Tesco, off Reading Road (30 homes), all in Henley.
Harpsden Meadow, also off Reading Road, has been put forward for up to 60 units, which would hopefully be rented out as social housing in perpetuity.
The other sites are a small corner plot and the main farmhouse at Thames Farm (11 homes in total), the former Wyevale garden centre (60) and land north of Crossways, off Reading Road (20), both Shiplake, and The Bungalow (eight) and Hallemead (30) between Harpsden and Shiplake.
Feedback will be discussed by the council’s working groups and AECOM, its consultant, before a draft plan is submitted to the district council, the planning authority, to conduct its own consultation. If an independent examiner then gives the go-ahead, the new plan should go to a referendum by early next year.
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