Friday, 19 August 2022

Residents want more new homes for first-time buyers

THE revision of Sonning Common neighbourhood plan has begun.

Residents responded to a community survey saying they wanted more homes for first-time buyers, more parking and less back garden development.

They also want to see the village’s rural identity protected and raised concerns about the village centre and the quality of the roads.

The neighbourhood plan, which allocated sites for 200 new homes in the village to be built by 2027, passed a referendum in September 2016 with 94 per cent of voters supporting it.

Development has already started on two of the sites with 60 homes being built at Lea Meadow, off Peppard Road, and another 50 at Sonning Grove, off Reades Lane.

However, under the new South Oxfordshire Local Plan, the village could have to find room for another 150 homes by 2033.

The survey was delivered to every household in April and May as well as being inserted in the parish magazine.

Exactly 776 — about half of the total — responded, of whom almost a third were aged 71 or older.

Most respondents still supported the main principles of the plan. Parish councillor Tom Fort, who chairs the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan working party, said: “The responses very much support the overall strategy and that the plan should continue to decide the way housing is being provided in the village.

“It’s difficult to distill the suggestions into new policies but it’s a valuable reminder of what is important in people’s minds. It’s useful for the context of what we are trying to do rather then something that can be used to write the policies.”

Other findings were:

• Ninety-eight per cent of respondents agreed that the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty around the village should be protected.

• Ninety-six per cent favoured the village being kept separate from Reading and other villages.

• Ninety-six per cent supported the priority of preserving the village’s rural character.

Most respondents wanted the new housing to be suitable for first-time buyers. Only nine per cent wanted larger homes, of four or more bedrooms, while 84 per cent supported two-bedroom homes.

Almost half of respondents said they felt proximity to the village centre, within 1km, was a key factor in choosing new sites.

Councillor Fort said he favoured infill and smaller developments if suitable locations were available.

He said: “Infill is a tricky subject as when I joined the [parish council’s] planning committee we were against it and backland development.

“Personally, I have come to think building where we can in the existing shape of the village is right.

“People who live in these houses will contribute more to and derive more from the village.”

He said the parish council was trying to persuade South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, to change its policy on infill housing.

Currently, new infill homes do not count towards housing allocations but Cllr Fort thinks they should.

“For example, if the village was allocated 150 houses and 25 of those built are infill then those should go against the 150,” he said.

“We are having an argument with the district council about it and they say it is difficult to project forward on infill numbers. A lot of people still don’t like it.” The next step in the revision of the plan will be to find out what new potential development sites are available. The parish office is already preparing to contact landowners.

Cllr Fort said: “We will then sit down and look at the available sites and see what we think is possible, what we like and what we don’t like. Then we will go to the village with it.”

The plan received a boost last month when planning inspector Roger Stone dismissed an appeal by Gallagher Estates, of Warwick, on a proposed development of 95 homes off Kennylands Road. Part of the site is earmarked for just 26 homes in the document.

Cllr Fort said: “That makes the whole business of revising the plan seem a lot more worthwhile. Had the decision gone against us we would have had to do some serious soul-searching.”

The working party includes Cllr Fort and fellow parish councillors Barrie Greenwood and Leigh Rawlins as well as residents Diana Pearman, Julia Whitelaw and Alastair Morris, who were all original members.

The new members are villagers Michael and Sheelagh Bowlfrey, Stewart Woolfrey and Derek Wilmot.

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