Sunday, 26 September 2021

Councillors delay playing fields decision for site visit

Councillors delay playing fields decision for site visit

COUNCILLORS are to make a site visit before deciding whether to allow farmland in Shiplake to be turned into school playing fields.

Shiplake College has applied for change of use permission to create six pitches on 23 acres of land off the A4155 at Shiplake Farm.

South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee was expected to approve the plans on the recommendation of officers at a meeting last week.

However, it deferred a decision so members can visit the site.

Committee chairman Ian Snowdon said: “After consideration with the vice-chair and the officers, we have decided to defer this item for a site visit.

“The crux of the application is the impact on the character and appearance and this is best assessed by seeing the lay of the land.”

The move was welcomed by Fred Maroudas, chairman of Shiplake Parish Council, and Stephen Doble, who farms the land belonging to the Phillimore Estate. Both attended the meeting at Didcot civic hall.

Councillor Maroudas said: “We welcome the decision of district councillors to visit the site and see for themselves the damage that it would cause.

“I hope they have been persuaded by the very strong feelings of a very significant proportion of our residents. There is overwhelming opposition from residents to this application.

“We objected for a number of reasons. We are not happy about the impact on agriculture and agricultural livelihoods.

“We also object to the damage this will do to the local eco system, which the Doble family are making an effort to preserve.

“There is also the impact it will have on one of the most iconic views in Shiplake.”

Mr Doble, whose family have farmed the land for more than 115 years, said: “The loss of good arable land, which my family have farmed for over a century, will not only impact my livelihood but also the rural character and wildlife of Shiplake.

“The damage will be permanent and I cannot understand why it is necessary when cost effective options exist to improve the current pitches.

“It is a pity that Shiplake College’s expansion strategy takes little account of their neighbours or the environment we are lucky enough to live in.

“There is strong opposition to the proposals among local residents, as demonstrated by the number of local objections lodged against the proposal and more than 160 residents signing a petition in opposition.”

The independent school has been searching for an alternative to its current playing fields for around 50 years.

Its current pitches, which are also rented from the Phillimore Estate, are close to the River Thames and prone to flooding so they cannot be used for large parts of the rugby season.

The college previously wanted to create new pitches on 13 acres of land along Memorial Avenue but dropped the plan following opposition from residents.

A design and access statement submitted with the application says: “Given the outcome from previous consultation with the community, the college feels that it can best support the community via the facilities that are more central to the college site.

“This site offers a significant opportunity to achieve their ambition. The granting of permission will mean that the existing field alongside the river will be returned to agricultural use, albeit not of the same standard as the land now proposed for recreation purposes.”

The planning officers have recommended that councillors approve the application, saying the development would not “adversely impact” wildlife.

Headmaster Tyrone Howe has said he is keen for the college to work with the community to ensure “the best possible outcome for all parties”.

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