Monday, 17 June 2019

Company car park could be used for new homes

NEW homes could be built in Sonning Common if a company is allowed to redevelop part of its site and move the staff car park.

Johnson Matthey wants to demolish its restaurant in order to build a customer innovation centre.

It also wants to move its 180-bay car park in Blounts Court Road, next to Widmore Pond, on to five acres of land on the opposite side of the road.

The British chemicals and sustainable technologies company bought the land from Blounts Court Farm in 2017.

It says the new car park, with a similar number of bays, would mitigate the risk to its 285 staff crossing the road to get to work.

The move would also allow the company to sell the existing car park, which covers 1.5 acres, for development.

Johnson Matthey says the new innovation centre, would drive business growth and enable it to showcase its market capabilities.

The new building would include boardrooms, offices and interactive electronic displays.

The company hopes to submit a formal planning application by August and if this is approved construction would probably begin in the spring or next summer.Dr Peter Ash, technology manager at Johnson Matthey, said: “We are at a very early stage. The whole thing relies on planning approval.

“We are asking for a development within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so we have to make a compelling economic case.”

As a brownfield site, the current car park would be suitable for housing and the land has been identified as a potential development site by the village’s neighbourhood plan revision working party.

The working party is assessing sites for an additional 108 homes to meet new housing targets set by South Oxfordshire District Council’s draft Local Plan 2034.

Johnson Matthey has conducted noise, traffic and archaeological surveys and representatives have met parish councillors from both Sonning Common and Peppard.

The company held a public consultation meeting about its proposals at Sonning Common village hall on Thursday last week. This was attended by more than 50 people.

Jane Wick, of Wood Lane, Sonning Common, who went with her husband David, said: “I am all for innovation and expanding business but I had not realised their car park would become potential building land. We want to encourage something like Johnson Matthey. It is a good company to have locally but on the other hand, encouraging that could be detrimental to the future.”

Mr Wick said: “As far as we are concerned the infrastructure of Sonning Common cannot cope if they build even more houses. Bringing work into the community is great but at what cost to the community?”

He said that cars were often parked on yellow lines in the village due to the lack of parking spaces and that more houses would exacerbate the problem.

Richard Mitchell, who lives in Blounts Court Road with his wife Vivien, a Peppard parish councillor, said more development could increase the amount of traffic in the area.

He said: “We do not want lots more traffic along Blounts Court Road and we certainly do not want any more large vehicles.

“If you were planning to have many more people or if the car park became 20 houses with 40 family cars that would be a bit of a concern.”

But Jeni Wood, chairwoman of Peppard Parish Council, said she was “delighted” at Johnson Matthey’s proposals. She said: “They are wonderful neighbours to our village. They are such an environmentally friendly company and way ahead of their time.

“We would like this to go forward and I would think most of the council agree on this.

“They are an inspiration and very good neighbours because they have kept everybody in the loop. It was probably about 18 months ago that we saw the first ideas.”

The company will now consider the feedback forms it receives from residents who attended last week’s meeting.

Martin Allwright, site services manager at Johnson Matthey, said: “We want to make sure everybody gets the opportunity to give us their thoughts.

“We want to work with people to come up with the best solution for us and the village, which is something we have tried to do over the years. Hopefully, we will get loads of feedback.”

Dr Ash said: “Now this plan for the customer innovation centre has come together, we have the ideal opportunity to improve the health and safety of our employees. We also get the opportunity to secure the future of the site here.”

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk

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