Friday, 12 August 2022

Housing development 'will destroy town's character'

WATLINGTON could become a “characterless conurbation” with the amount of proposed housing for the town, a resident has claimed.

Liz Harris was speaking at a public hearing to examine Watlington’s neighbourhood plan, which names three sites for up to 260 new homes.

Andrew Ashcroft, the independent examiner appointed to look at the plan, called the hearing in order to get more information on the housing allocations and a proposed bypass to the west and north of the town.

About 50 people attended Monday’s hearing at the town hall.

Mrs Harris said the character of Watlington would be “irrevocably destroyed” by the amount of development proposed.

Fellow resident Nicola Schafer said: “I question whether residents are fully aware of the size of development being proposed.”

She said that with a mininum of 238 new properties the town would grow by 25 per cent. With the 300 to 400 houses that were said to be needed to fund the bypass it would grow by 41 per cent.

If 238 homes were built but this wasn’t enough to pay for the relief road, Watlington would have end up with the “worst of both worlds” — more houses but no infrastructure to support the growth.

Gill Bindoff, facilitator of the Watlington neighbourhood plan forum co-ordination group, replied: “We’re now looking at 260 homes but we’re not planning for more than that.”

She said the sites had been chosen to provide the greatest benefits and least harm, adding: “The key thing here is providing for the growth of Watlington.”

Ricardo Rios, senior planning policy officer for South Oxfordshire District Council, said there was no connection between the number of homes proposed and the development of the bypass, or “edge road”.

Parish councillor Ian Hill said: “There are two main drivers for the Watlington edge road. They are the number of houses growing up to 260 and, underlying that, the wish to provide some relief to the traffic problems throughout Watlington, particularly in this central area. We started on this six years ago and it was 79 homes and it has grown to 260. That represents a bit more than 20 per cent growth in the size of the town so it’s a significant factor.”

Councillor Hill said the increase in the number of houses had presented a “significant opportunity” to create the bypass.

Sites to the west had been favoured as land to the east and south was near the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or liable to flooding while the parish boundary was to the north.

He said Watlington had narrow pavements and streets which felt unsafe for pedestrians and traffic was damaging buildings and causing an air pollution problem.

“The realignment of the B4009 would be the most effective way to reduce traffic problems throughout the town,” said Cllr Hill.

“There has been a lot of public support throughout the whole process of the neighbourhood plan and a growing amount of support for a route that gets traffic out of town. The real issue is the growth in traffic.”

Jason Sherwood, locality and road agreements manager at Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, said: “We have concerns about the amount of traffic and the capacity of the town centre to take that traffic.

“There’s more work required to absolutely understand how the town centre will operate in relation to the broader traffic through the development of the local plan, committed growth and proposed allocations.”

Colin Ludlow, of Pyrton Parish Council, said he was concerned about the displacement of traffic to Cuxham and Shirburn and he remained to be convinced by the data supporting the proposed bypass.

He said the simple solution would be to remove on-street parking in Watlington. “It would not require many resources to enact and we could then get some real data,” he said.

Andrew Elliott, speaking on behalf of Pyrton Manor, said: “We think there’s not the level of evidence and robust reasoning to determine whether the edge road is really necessary or appropriate.”

Mr Rios replied: “This is a neigbourhood area that has attempted to plan for their future growth. Therefore it’s right that neighbourhood plans look for infrastructure necessary to support the growth.”

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