Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Village needs new homes to attract young families

WOODCOTE needs more younger residents to maintain its vitality, says a parish councillor.

Geoff Botting, who is secretary of the Woodcote neighbourhood plan steering group, said the village’s overall population was declining while the average age was rising.

This was because young people who had moved away from the village could not afford to return.

Councillor Botting was speaking before a public consultation event next month on plans to update the plan, which passed a referendum in 2014.

He said: “We have to ask ourselves what is a decent population to maintain the vitality of the village and that’s one of the areas where we’ll be guided by the results of the consultation.

“If you do the sums, it’s actually pretty hard to alter the average age of the village so we’re just trying to maintain the demographic balance.

“Young families are important to keep the primary school going but equally we need older people to maintain the clubs and societies. We’re not saying we don’t want more elderly people but it’s important to get a healthy mix.”

The neighbourhood plan allocated seven sites for 76 new homes but that number now needs to increase to reflect demand.

The steering group, a team of volunteers working under the parish council’s supervision, is considering how many extra houses Woodcote could take, where they could go and how many bedrooms they should have. It may recommend having mostly three-bedroom homes to accommodate young families looking for their first home.

The original plan recommended that 40 per cent of homes should have three bedrooms and another 40 per cent should have two.

The document is being revised because South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, is updating its own local plan, which outlines development strategies for every town and “larger village” to meet Government targets by 2027. This has been delayed by a change of administration following the elections in May so the parish council says it could finish the new neighbourhood plan before the local plan is revised. Cllr Botting said: “It could take them another two or three years and we don’t want to wait that long.

“However, given that the district council is going to extend the current plan until at least 2034, we can safely expect that there will be a requirement for more new homes in Woodcote. It won’t be many but there will be some.

“We’ve done our own search for sites and quite a few people came forward as there’s a lot of interest in developing here.

“The good thing about a neighbourhood plan is that it can emphasise the importance of unique local characteristics, in particular the fact that we’re in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We’re not saying we don’t want any new housing but clearly that needs to be taken into account.”

More than half of villagers voted in the 2014 referendum and Cllr Botting said there was still strong interest in the issue.

He said: “We had a strong response in the past and are hoping for a similar level this time as that gave weight to the plan and made it harder for anyone to question that it represented the community’s wishes.”

The consultation event will be held at the village hall on October 26 at a time to be decided. A similar exercise took place 18 months ago when six additional housing sites were suggested: three fields off Greenmore, one off Behoes Lane, another opposite the village hall in Reading Road and the former Woody Nook restaurant in Goring Road. It was stated these could accommodate 67 houses between them. The process was then put on hold due to uncertainty over the district council’s local plan.

The original seven sites are Chiltern Rise Cottage and two plots to the north and west, all off Reading Road, the former Greenmore reservoir, the former Long Toll bus depot, land next to Bouchier Fencing in Goring Road and the smallholding at Wood Lane.

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