Friday, 15 February 2019

Councillors criticised for not voting against homes

Councillors criticised for not voting against homes

SHIPLAKE Parish Council has passed a motion of no confidence in its two representatives on South Oxfordshire District Council.

It claims Paul Harrison and Will Hall have “let down” the parish and the latter has rarely attended its meetings.

It comes after the councillors supported an application to redevelop the former Wyevale garden centre site, near Shiplake, despite widespread opposition from villagers.

Chairman Tudor Taylor said he could not recall the council ever passing such a motion previously but he felt it was necessary.

Aida Dellal, who owns the site, off the A4155 Reading Road, was granted planning permission for 40 houses and some commercial buildings by the district council’s planning committee despite objections by both Shiplake and Harpsden parish councils.

The committee said it accepted her argument that the site would be unviable if it was developed for only commercial use, as suggested in the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

Shiplake councillors fear the development, which will include 16 “affordable” houses, will put pressure on the village’s shops and services.

Councillor Taylor said he was “appalled” at the decision, especially as the district council said the houses would count towards the new homes quota for Henley and Harpsden rather than Shiplake.

He said he couldn’t believe that Councillors Hall and Harrison spoke in favour of the plans at the committee meeting, adding: “They’re meant to represent us, not Henley. I feel totally let down.” Councillor Susan Mann, who seconded the motion at a parish council meeting, said: “The parish council feels that Paul Harrison and particularly Will Hall have not represented the constituents of their ward very well.

“In this instance there was very little communication with their constituents in Shiplake in that they were fully supporting the application as fully residential rather than business. We would have appreciated it if they came to talk to us and had an open discussion but they didn’t.

“If they were speaking on behalf of the application then it would have been more appropriate to speak as individuals rather than ward councillors because that gave the impression they were speaking on behalf of their ward, which they were not.

“The site could have been used for rurally appropriate employment. There’s very little opportunity for employment in the village.

Cllr Mann said Shiplake was not anti-affordable housing but the approval of 95 homes at neighbouring Thames Farm would increase the population of the village by 20 per cent.

Yet because both sites were in the Henley and Harspden neighbourhood plan area, the houses had been allocated to them.

Cllr Mann claimed Cllr Hall had attended two meetings in the last year. She said Cllr Harrison had attended the meeting where the motion was passed and “took it on the chin”.

Cllrr Harrison, who lives in Sonning Common, said: “Just because we as district councillors do not agree with their diktat we’re criticised and they a pass motion of no confidence.

“It shines more the light on them than it does on me. It just shows if you go against them on one issue they take umbrage.

“As district councillors, we will not always go along with the view of the various parish councils under us.

“We will try to work with them but our job is to act as the district councillor and view the evidence that we see before us. We have to look at each application on its merits.”

Cllrr Harrison said there was a shortage of affordable housing in Shiplake and the Wyevale site was a magnet for crime and drug use and shouldn’t be left derelict any longer.

He said: “They [the parish council] think it should be for commercial use but officers have pointed out that it’s not viable as a commercial operation.

“They seem to be of the belief that if they hold out long enough they will get exactly what they want.

“The two schemes that will provide affordable housing — Thames Farm and this — have both been attacked by this council so I think maybe there’s a bit of champagne socialism here.”

Cllrr Hall, who lives in Henley and will be standing in the Henley ward at the district council elections in May, said: “Paul and I supported the planning application that delivers affordable housing in one of the most unaffordable areas in South Oxfordshire.

“Interestingly, more Shiplake residents came to speak in support of the application than against it at the planning committee meeting.”

Cllr Hall said parish councillors should have spoken to him about the issue.

He said: “I’ve worked on a number of planning issues where I’ve agreed with the parish council and helped them get the result they wanted. The moment we have gone against the view of a small group of people they have kicked off. I would never bow to silly tactics like this.

“I’m not upset because it’s essentially six people out of 8,000 who live in my ward. With the greatest of respect, all I care about is ensuring we get affordable housing built in an area where a two-bedroom cottage costs £600,000.”

On his attendance record, Cllr Hall said: “I don’t keep a log so I can’t say it’s wrong.

“I know whenever any parish councillors want to get hold of me they haven’t had a problem doing it.

“I don’t think attendance makes any difference in the slightest — they just don’t like the view Paul and I held.”

Shiplake 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 he agrees, he would order a public inquiry chaired by a planning inspector.

Supporters of the scheme argue the land 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 bad as opponents fear.

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