Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Parish council asks minister to overturn new homes decision

OPPONENTS of redevelopment of the former Wyevale Garden Centre near Shiplake have urged the Government to revoke the decision to approve it.

Last month Aida Dellal, who owns the site off the A4155 Reading Road, was granted planning permission for 40 homes and some commercial units.

The 1.8 acres of land, which is in Harpsden parish, was earmarked for business use only in the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

But South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee approved Mrs Dellal’s plans after accepting her argument that a solely commercial development would not be financially viable and she had marketed the site but had not had any interest.

Now Shiplake Parish Council has asked housing minister James Brokenshire to “call in” the application, claiming the district council made “serious procedural irregularities” in making its decision.

If Mr Brokenshire agrees, he would order a public inquiry chaired by a planning inspector. The parish council, which fears the scheme will put pressure on the village’s shops and services, claims the district council should not have allowed Councillor Lorraine Hillier to vote as she is a councillor for Henley, where the town council supports the development.

It is also upset that Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who is also a Henley town councillor, chaired the committee meeting and that Councillor Will Hall, who lives in Henley, was allowed to speak in favour of the application.

Cllr Hillier and Cllr Nimmo Smith had declared their interest and abstained from discussing or voting on the application at Henley Town Council planning committee meetings.

In a letter to Mr Brokenshire, Shiplake parish councillor Susan Mann said: “There were serious procedural irregularities at the planning committee... the district council has a long-standing policy of barring councillors from voting on planning applications in their own wards.

“It acted irrationally in not extending the policy to planning applications in neighbouring wards which are part of a joint neighbourhood plan and for which the relevant ward would benefit from the allocation of housing
numbers.”

Shiplake is also upset that the district council has agreed to allow the new houses, as well as the 95 due to be built at the neighbouring Thames Farm site, to count towards Henley and Harpsden’s new homes quota, having previously indicated that it agreed they should count towards the village’s quota.

Councillor Mann said: “Support for the application was led by Henley councillors as a direct result of [this] change in policy… this has resulted in substantial controversy across local authority boundaries.

“Allocation of the housing to Henley, although it is two miles away... has given Henley councillors a perverse incentive to support development in a neighbouring parish, against its own neighbourhood plan and the wishes of both affected parish councils.

“The policy is both intrinsically perverse and conflicts with a national policy which encourages local authorities to co-operate in making joint neighbourhood plans.”

Harpsden Parish Council also opposed the scheme but after permission was granted chairman Kester George said the council would “make the best of a bad job” as Ms Dellal was a “very responsible” landowner.

The application was also supported by Shiplake district councillor Paul Harrison and Henley town, district and county councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who spoke in favour at the committee meeting, as did Ken Arlett, chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee.

The supporters argue the old garden centre is a “sustainable” brownfield site with good access and would not worsen Henley’s traffic problems while the impact on Shiplake wouldn’t be as severe as opponents feared.

Ms Dellal, who lives at Fawley Court, near Henley, owns the land through her business Dairy Lane.

The district council confirmed it was aware of the complaint but did not wish to comment.

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