Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Villages fear being eaten up by Reading expansion

COUNCILLORS in Sonning Common and Kidmore End are concerned that the villages could become part of Reading under plans for development in South Oxfordshire.

They fear that new housing would encourage “urban sprawl” that would destroy the green spaces between the two small parishes and their larger neighbour.

South Oxfordshire District Council is considering three potential new sites for development and reassessing 12 others after failing to agree on where 20,000 new homes should be built by 2033 under its new local plan.

The new sites, which have been put forward by developers, are at Palmer’s Riding Stables, off Peppard Road, Emmer Green, and Reading Golf Club, which are both in Kidmore End parish, and land at Playhatch, east of Caversham Park Road.

Sue Biggs, chairwoman of Kidmore End Parish Council, has written to Jane Murphy, new leader of the district council, demanding that the first two sites are withdrawn from consideration.

She said the parish council was “seriously concerned” about the threat of two major developments on the boundary with Reading, which would have a negative impact on the countryside. There had been no proper consultation on either.

Councillor Biggs said: “What is particularly troubling in the inclusion of those two sites is some emerging policy on the part of your council, again without any proper consultation, in which the countryside bordering Reading and within the settlement of Chalkhouse Green and this parish is now to be considered as ‘fair game’ for developers and useful in building up the numbers for your compliance with national policy guidelines.”

She said that allowing the sites to be developed would fly in the face of the district council’s decisions made in the last year to refuse permission for housing at Bryant’s Farm in Emmer Green and The Elms in Tokers Green.

Cllr Biggs continued: “Each of those decisions made sense, the protection of a rural area from being engulfed by a steady creep of urban development across the Reading boundary and into South Oxfordshire and towards the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That policy, on which this council and residents of the parish have relied, now appears to be called into question by your approval of a desktop study, drawing no distinction between those two sites and others in the 15.”

Sonning Common parish councillor Leigh Rawlins said none of the three new sites matched the strategic needs of the local plan.

He said: “They are constrained by a severe lack of cross-Thames capacity and the local roads network.

“They are not supported by infrastructure because it has been agreed policy not to develop Reading on its north bank. The prospect is to dump them on Reading as overspill from Oxford.

“Ultimately, South Oxfordshire settlements, starting with Playhatch, Chalkhouse Green and Tokers Green, would be swallowed up and become part of the conurbation of Reading and Wokingham.

“The north Reading sites are grossly inappropriate and their mere consideration in this way is a major threat.”

Cllr Rawlins said he wanted to know by early August whether the district council would rule out developing the sites in order to minimise public concern.

Councillor David Bartholomew, who represents the villages on Oxfordshire County Council, said he was against developing any of the sites. Speaking at a Sonning Common Parish Council meeting last week, he said: “I will resist those schemes as I have with similar ones thrust forward in our areas.

“I absolutely do not want it to go ahead and I will be making the case whenever it is appropriate.”

The district council had been due to submit its local plan for independent examination in March but members voted against it because of uncertainty over plans for 3,000 homes at Chalgrove Airfield.

This led to the resignation of former leader John Cotton and means that the council has to consider other sites to make up the shortfall.

Councillor Felix Bloomfield, cabinet member for planning, said: “When you’re talking about future housing in a rural district like ours, it’s very important that you get it right.

“By reviewing the housing sites, we’re looking to ensure the plan we submit stands the best chance of a planning inspector finding that it’s a ‘sound’ plan and gives us a robust base on which we can build a better South Oxfordshire for everybody.”

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk

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