Tuesday, 03 August 2021

‘Villagers should be given first choice of new homes’

RESIDENTS of Woodcote should be given first choice of new housing in the village, says the parish council.

This is because there aren’t enough smaller units, particularly for young people who grew up in the village and would like to remain in order to start a family.

The council will begin public consultation on a draft of its revised neighbourhood plan tomorrow (Saturday).

The document earmarks land for 57 more new homes to be built by the year 2035.

It calls for more smaller units and says properties should be available to residents only in the first three months of going on the market.

The plan also sets policies on other aspects of community life, including traffic and transport, education, employment and protecting the village’s rural surroundings. It will be put to a referendum next year.

Woodcote’s first neighbourhood plan, which was adopted in 2014, earmarked land for 76 new homes to be built across five sites by 2027.

Most of these developments are now either built or planning permission has been granted.

However, the village’s quota must increase to reflect rising demand.

South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, said Woodcote should take 115 more homes when it published its local plan in December.

But the parish council says this is too many and would have a “significant” impact on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It says the district council’s figure proved highly unpopular among residents during consultation and that its own research showed no more than 60 units were needed anyway. The village doesn’t have to accept the higher target if it can prove there are valid planning grounds for a lower figure.

The draft plan suggests building on five sites as follows:

• A 1.46-hectare field to the east of Church Farmhouse, off Reading Road. This is the largest of the five and could take 30 homes, including 12 “affordable” ones. The site would be accessed by a new entrance and would include a footpath along the frontage. It would also have a public car park with enough spaces to alleviate a long-standing parking problem on the main street. The parish council says it would ask Oxfordshire County Council to install a zebra crossing as the area would become much busier.

• The office complex at Beechwood Court, off Long Toll. This could be converted into 14 flats each with either one or two bedrooms. It would mean losing employment space but the building has been mostly empty for some time and there has been little interest from potential tenants. Additionally, the plan allocates commercial land elsewhere to make up for this loss.

• Two plots behind Yew Tree Farmhouse, off Behoes Lane, which measure a total of 0.82 hectares and could accommodate five and four homes respectively. An existing access track would be widened and the site would be screened off by trees as it is at the edge of the village in a rural location.

• Half a hectare of land at Goats Gambol, a private house off Beech Lane, which could take four new homes. Access would be through land owned by a neighbour who has given permission.

The plan also allocates two sites for employment, one measuring less than a third of an acre at Church Farm, off Reading Road, and the other at Wards Farm, off Greenmoor, of about 0.14 hectares. The latter would have some parking as the street has congestion problems.

The parish council drew up the list after surveying the entire village and holding consultations three years running from 2017. It heard from dozens of landowners who wanted to build on or sell land but said most of the sites were unacceptable due to the impact on the countryside.

The council says priority should be given to three-bedroom family homes to buy as well as “affordable” housing for rent and shared ownership and smaller one- or two-bedroom properties to help people to downsize.

It accepts some larger properties will have to be built but this should be minimised as 38 per cent of Woodcote’s existing homes have four or more bedrooms, twice the national average, and this imbalance must be addressed.

The document says: “Residents have consistently expressed an overwhelming desire that affordable housing should meet the needs of local people… the sustainability and balance of the community is threatened because young people are forced to move away.”

The council says the village primary school in Reading Road is in poor condition and undersubscribed, which is a source of “great concern” among villagers, while Langtree School, the secondary next door, is oversubscribed. In principle, it supports building a new primary school as this would attract more pupils and allow Langtree to expand.

Otherwise the primary needs “urgent” improvements. It says there are congestion problems in Reading Road, at the war memorial crossroads and outside the Co-op shop in Bridle Path so any development must not make these worse.

The plan also commits the council to forming a climate change working group to address the global emergency and an ecological working group to protect wildlife habitats.

Councillor Malcolm Smith, chairman of the plan group, urged residents to give feedback.

He said: “A neighbourhood plan gives us more control over development in the village. The first one has been very successful but is no longer up to date and it has got to remain current in order to have any power.

“It has helped us to ensure that any development is appropriate and I would very much hope that the community accepts what we’re proposing as we consulted extensively when putting it together.

“There has been growing support for measures to address climate change since the first plan was published and our new policies reflect that, which should be welcomed.”

The revised plan must be approved by an independent examiner before the referendum can take place. It can be viewed at www.woodcoteparishcouncil.org.uk and comments are being accepted until 5pm on May 15.

There will also be three online question-and-answer sessions at 3pm on April 10, 7.30pm on April 14 and 7.30pm on May 6. To reserve a place, email malcolm.smith@woodcoteparishcouncil.org.uk 

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