Thursday, 21 October 2021

Council 'sorry' for marking cemetery for development

AN apology has been issued after a graveyard in Kidmore End was wrongly earmarked as being suitable for development.

The parish council complained after the cemetery in Cooper’s Pightle, off Chalkhouse Green Road, was listed as being available in a housing and employment land availability report produced by South Oxfordshire District Council, which owns the land.

The document provides a technical assessment of the suitability, availability and achievability of land for development and is part of the evidence base for the council’s emerging local plan 2033.

Sue Biggs, chairwoman of Kidmore End Parish Council, wrote to district council leader John Cotton and head of planning Adrian Duffield expressing her concerns about development on the site.

She said: “This site is a cemetery, a place of burial. Did your consultants, or indeed the council when it authorised publication, ever take account of the gross impropriety of suggesting that such a site would be made available by your council, its owner, for housing and employment? It would appear not.

“It is an egregious example of maladministration, combining a possible disruption of the amenities of this village with causing emotional stress to those whose relatives are buried there.”

Councillor Biggs said the parish council was concerned about two other sites in the parish that were named in the report.

These are Farthingworth Green, an open green space near the junction of Shepherds Lane, Tokers Green Lane, Gravel Hill and Kidmore Road, on the border with Caversham, and Palmers Riding Stables at Rose Hill Farm in Peppard Road.

Cllr Biggs said: “According to your consultants, such sites are ‘suitable, available and achievable’ for housing. But, as you are fully aware, South Oxfordshire District Council has not required my council to provide any housing to contribute to the South Oxfordshire District Council numbers for its compliance with the national planning framework.

“The informal guidance we have received from the district council is that we might be asked provide an increment of between five per cent and 10 per cent above our current housing stock.

“You leave us completely in the dark as to what you have in mind. If the [report] is to be taken seriously as a relevant policy document to be considered by the district council in its planning policies, it is grossly unfit for purpose, inconsistent with published policies and unreasonable.

“If it is less than that, it appears to be a complete misuse of scarce resources with the effect of creating great confusion and alarm within this community.”

Cllr Biggs demanded an “urgent explanation” of what the report was “supposed to achieve and why these extraordinary site inclusions have been made”.

The district council admitted it had made an error and apologised.

A spokesman said: “Coopers Pightle cemetery is not available for development. This site was incorrectly assessed as an area capable of accommodating development in the housing and employment land availability assessment.

“Cemeteries, as a matter of council policy, are not suitable for redevelopment. We have updated our website and will also ensure that correct information is included in the next version of the report, expected later this year.

“We apologise for any distress that this may have caused.”

The report, which assessed 570 sites across the district, including eight that may affect Kidmore End parish, is used to inform the local plan along with other evidence and neighbourhood plans drawn up by towns and villages across the district.

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