Monday, 01 March 2021

Appeal launched to fight ‘retirement village’ plans

RESIDENTS of Sonning Common are being urged to help raise £7,500 to oppose the development of a new “retirement village” in Sonning Common.

Inspired Villages has appealed after being refused planning permission in June for 110 flats on a field in Blounts Court Road.

Now the parish council has launched an appeal to pay for a barrister to represent it at an inquiry in front of a planning inspector that is due to begin on April 27.

It has already hired a planning consultant and together they will cost about £30,000.

The council says the development would be “excessive and inappropriate” and contrary to the village’s neighbourhood plan.

Councillor Tom Fort, who chairs the neighbourhood plan revision working party, said there were multiple reasons why the proposed development would be harmful to the village as well as having “a severe impact” on the revisions of the neighbourhood plan.

The field, opposite the Johnson Matthey Technology Centre, is in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Cllr Fort said building on it would have “a devastating impact on a precious stretch of countryside that is visible across a wide area”.

The application was rejected by South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, for failure to demonstrate exceptional circumstances for building in an AONB.

Cllr Fort is also concerned that a large increase of elderly residents in the area would “impose a significant additional burden” on the Sonning Common Health Centre in Wood Lane, which was already facing “challenging capacity issues”.

Inspired Villages, now called Senior Living, says the village would benefit as more than 25 per cent of residents are aged over 65, one of the highest proportions of elderly in any community in South Oxfordshire.

But Cllr Fort said the neighbourhood plan was already considering the needs of the village’s elderly population and his group was doing its best to allocate a site in a far more suitable location for a “much smaller and more appropriate development”.

He said the working group’s priority was providing housing for younger families trying to get on the property ladder.

Cllr Fort said he hoped to raise £7,500 to pay for legal representation and any difference would be covered by the council.

The barrister will be chosen from the Cornerstone chambers used by the district council. The council will also be represented at the inquiry by Emily Temple Planning, which did the same in 2018 when seeing off an appeal by Gallagher Estates over plans for 95 homes in Kennylands Road.

Cllr Fort said: “We are hoping it’s the same situation as Gallagher Estates as we were very successful — we raised £9,000 and we hadn’t done anything like that before.

“What was great was not just the money but it mobilised support, which is what we are trying to do now, and a lot of people came to the enquiry. The fact that we won meant all the effort was worthwhile.”

He said £30,000 was a “huge amount” for the council which it would rather spend on the village but added: “The feeling is very strong that we want to put up the best fight we can.”

Cllr Fort said Senior Living had waited until the last minute to lodge the appeal but he had expected it.

“They spent a lot of money on the plans,” he said. “However, they also have a lot of money so their attitude is ‘win some, lose some’ whereas I’d rather spend the council’s money on things in the village that need doing up and that’s what boils my blood the most.”

The inquiry has been scheduled to last eight days. Cllr Fort said the opponents of the development had a strong case, adding: “I think South Oxfordshire District Council will put up a good fight — the barristers are from the same chamber and we’ve won in the past and this time I think our case is even stronger.

“Last time the development site wasn’t even in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and we won.”

The proposed development would have 40 “close care” flats and 110 assisted living flats, each with one or two bedrooms and a sitting room and kitchen, plus 165 parking spaces for residents and staff.

There would also be a restaurant, hairdresser, coffee shop, convenience store, library, reading room and communal space. Residents would have use of a swimming pool, spa, gym and treatment room and the pool would be available to the wider community and local schools.

The council has already raised almost £2,000 of its target. To donate, visit www.crowdfunder.
co.uk/save-our-village-from-developer-greed

Stuart Garnett, planning director at Inspired Villages, said: “It is clear there is an urgent need for specialist accommodation for older people in South Oxfordshire.

“We deliver more than bricks and mortar, we enable our residents, and local residents, to enjoy a more mentally, physically and socially active lifestyle.

“We take environmental issues very seriously and are working to achieve net zero carbon on all our sites by 2030.”

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