Monday, 20 January 2020

‘Nightmare’ of new homes but no bypass guaranteed

WATLINGTON is facing its “worst nightmare” of more than 400 new homes being built without a guarantee of a bypass, according to the parish council.

It claims the views of residents on development of the town have been “brushed aside” by South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, in failing to support its neighbourhood plan or to protect air quality in the town.

This follows the district council’s planning committee’s decision to support an application for 183 new homes in the town.

The committee voted in favour of an application by Archstone and Bloor Homes to build on a former pig farm between the B4009 Britwell Road and the B480 Cuxham Road.

The decision is effectively void as the plans will be the subject of a public inquiry next month after the companies appealed when the council failed to decide the plans in the required time.

However, Watlington Parish Council has written to all 36 members of the district council saying the development would conflict with the neighbourhood plan, which was approved in a referendum in June last year with 81 per cent of residents in favour. The plan earmarked the land for new housing but on the condition that the development included a section of a proposed bypass or “edge road” designed to reduce congestion and air pollution in the town centre.

The letter says: “The decision of the planning committee not to support the fair and reasonable condition proposed by the parish council to enable the planning application to gain the council’s approval while, at the same time, protecting Watlington’s air quality management areas and neighbourhood plan has very serious consequences, not just for Watlington but also for the district council.

“The democratic will of the people of Watlington to support its neighbourhood plan, expressed very strongly in the referendum in June 2018, has been brushed aside.

“Watlington people voted for an integrated scheme for new housing and a new road.

“The parish council has consistently made clear in its responses to planning applications that there has to be certainty about the delivery of the road before the applications are approved. Both the district and the county council are fully aware that this is the local priority.

“The decision by the committee to support the application with no provision at all for the delivery of the edge road has huge implications for the future of the Watlington neighbourhood plan.

“It is the complete opposite of the development scheme which people voted for.”

The application was recommended for approval by planning officer Emma Bowerman, even though she took the opposite view when an almost identical application came before the council in April.

On that occasion she recommended refusal, saying that Watlington’s road network was already congested and plans for the bypass had not been approved by Oxfordshire County Council.

However, the route of the road has been changed in the latest application and Mrs Bowerman said the developers had worked with the county council to develop “solutions” to the short-term traffic impact of the development until the bypass is built.

These included the removal of two stretches of on-street parking, one in Shirburn Road and the other in Couching Street, and a range of air quality mitigation measures. This resulted in both the county and district councils withdrawing their opposition to the application.

The parish council says the councils’ decision is not supported by “sound evidence” and the district council is now unable to object on traffic or air quality grounds to the applications for hundreds of new homes on three other sites on the route of bypass.

The letter says: “Together with the 183 homes which the planning committee has just supported, that will be 415 new dwellings without the guarantee of the edge road in place.

“This is Watlington’s worst nightmare. The impact on the town would be horrendous.

“If the Watlington neighbourhood plan can be set aside so easily, no neighbourhood plan in the district is safe and the clear message to all the people who have worked so hard to achieve a made plan is that they have wasted their time.”

The planning committee also failed to make a decision in time on the original application, submitted in 2017, so the companies appealed. This led to a public inquiry, which was heard in October and a result is expected next week.

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