Saturday, 20 August 2022

Council wins fight to stop 95 homes from being built

SONNING Common Parish Council has won a planning battle against a developer.

An appeal by Gallagher Estates, of Warwick, for 95 homes off Kennylands Road has been dismissed by planning inspector Roger Stone.

The application was already refused by South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee in March last year.

The developer wanted to build on the 6.65-hectare site, but only part of the area was earmarked for the development of 26 homes in the village’s neighbourhood plan.

Planning inspector Roger Stone said allowing the 95-home plan to go ahead would clearly go against the village’s neighbourhood plan, which passed referendum almost two years ago.

He said it would also have a negative effect on the nearby countryside, backing the reasons for refusal made by the district council’s planning committee.

Mr Stone said: “The location of the proposed housing would not be consistent with the spatial strategy in the development plan, including the Sonning Common neighbourhood development plan, and thereby would not be sustainably located.

“I am satisfied that the landscape and visual harm, albeit somewhat localised, is significant as the field plays a particularly important role in the setting of Sonning Common, and the setting of the area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at this location. The harm is therefore material and significant.”

Councillor Carole Lewis, chairwoman of the parish council, said the result underpinned the value of neighbourhood plans.

She said: “Without adequate weight being given to a ‘made’ plan, it would mean that all the effort put in by so many residents would have been meaningless.

“This will ensure the motivation of members for the neighbourhood plan revision which is clearly needed in the light of even more housing being allocated to the village.”

The district council’s planning committee refused permission because it went against the neighbourhood plan and would affect the character and appearance of the countryside and the landscape setting of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The authority reiterated this during the appeal hearing in April, which was held at Henley Rugby Club and the parish council argued that if the development went ahead it would set a precedent for other developers to ignore the neighbourhood plan. Between the authorities, they spent more than £65,000 on the legal battle.

Mr Stone said the village’s neighbourhood plan set out where it wanted housing to go, due to years of consultation with villagers.

He said: “The development would not be on an allocated site and would be substantially greater in housing numbers than anything else allocated in the village.”

Mr Stone believed the development would result in a significant urban intrusion into the surrounding landscape, adding: “The appeal site is part of a large arable field with a boundary to the east adjacent to Kennylands Road and the existing houses fronting on to it.

“It is enclosed by a strong woodland feature formed by Rudgings Plantation and Bur Wood to the west. It has a gently sloping landform. It is influenced by the suburbanising features of the settlement edge of Sonning Common.”

Mr Stone said the neighbourhood plan proposal, for an infill development along Kennylands Road, known as SON6, would not intrude on the landscape like the 95-home plan.

He said: “If that portion of the site were developed in line with SON6 it would result in an infill development along the road frontage with limited depth.

“The proposed scheme for 95 dwellings would result in substantial urbanisation of the field comprising the appeal site. This would be particularly visible along Kennylands Road frontage and to a much greater extent than would be visible should SON6 come forward.”

However, the developer argued the larger numbers of houses for South Oxfordshire in the emerging local plan 2033 would mean Sonning Common would need to allocate another 150 houses.

But Mr Stone said the ongoing revision of the neighbourhood plan showed this was being considered by the community.

He said: “The fact that those involved in the neighbourhood plan are embarking on a review of the plan demonstrates the desire to keep on top of the process. It does not suggest that they consider their plan is out of date, or indeed that the plan is out of date.”

Councillor Tom Fort, who led the appeal for the parish council, said: “It shows that it is worth taking on these people if you think you have a good case — it’s not hopeless. This result is a ringing endorsement of neighbourhood plans.”

Councillor Felix Bloomfield, the district council’s cabinet member for planning, said: “We’re delighted the inspector has agreed that this proposal would not be sustainable development and would cause harm to the character and setting of one of our attractive larger villages.”

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