The Henley Society

Registered Charity No. 234205

The Planning Sub-Committee

Reviews and comments on planning applications and general planning activity in the Henley area

Members of the Sub-Ctte

  • David Whitehead (Chairman)
  • Jenny Copeland
  • Ruth Gibson
  • Valerie Alasia
  • Geoff Luckett
  • Catherine Notaras

 

 Planning Report presented to the AGM

16 April 2021

 Anyone, or any organisation, that attempts to maintain the character of Henley and ensure that it continues to be an attractive place to live, faces a constant battle. The threats are more numerous and wide-ranging than ever and the results are obvious in traffic congestion, the loss of surrounding countryside etc. In fact you may wonder what word ‘planning’ means in the context of some recent developments. What planning reasons could support, for example: the housing estate at Thames Farm; the excessive number of retirement flats at the McCarthy & Stone development in Reading Road; the new Bremont factory on a green field site when what appears to be an appropriate brownfield site (the Wyevale site) was available on the other side of road; and the cramming of new housing into tighter and tighter spaces as is currently happening eg at 170 Greys Road? After that introduction, I think it would be useful to spend the rest of this report updating members on the Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plan. I think many people find it confusing that there are two plans with names that mean very much same thing and both undergoing updates at the same time. So what’s the difference between the two plans? The Local Plan covers the whole of South Oxfordshire, including Thame, Wallingford and Didcot, and is the responsibility of SODC. And SODC, of course, is the planning authority that makes the decisions on planning applications for this whole area including Henley. The government expects all Local Planning Authorities to have a Local Plan, which has to conform with National Planning Policy, and to keep it up to date. The Neighbourhood Plan, on the other hand, covers just Henley and Harpsden; and one way to remember which plan is which is to remember that N for neighbourhood is also N for near. However our NP, like all other NPs, is not an independent plan but has to conform to the policies contained in the LP, particularly in terms of the amount of new housing to be accommodated. Brief History of Local and Neighbourhood Plans Now a little historical background. Some of you may remember back to 2011, ten years ago, when the concept of Neighbourhood Plans was introduced by the government in the Localism Act. There was, and is, no obligation for any area to produce a Neighbourhood Plan but doing so ostensibly gives residents more say. Henley Town Council decided quite quickly to produce a Neighbourhood Plan and, because many of the potential building sites outlined at the time in the draft Local Plan were actually in Harpsden parish, it was decided to produce a joint Henley & Harpsden NP. A committee was set up, and the planning consultancy Nexus was appointed to steer the process. A lot of consultation and argument took place and various drafts were produced, but the final outcome was a 63 page NP which was duly approved in a public referendum. This certainly did not satisfy everyone and I think many people voted for it reluctantly because the only alternative was worse, and effectively a ‘free-for-all’ for developers. But it met the requirements of both SODC and a government-appointed inspector, and so was adopted and came into force in April 2016. However during the consultation process the importance of NPs was diluted. The first printed draft stated that the plan would ‘determine where development would go’ but the word ‘determine’ was soon replaced by the word ‘influence’ which is obviously much weaker. The need to have the NP satisfy both SODC and government inspectors also saw the amount of new housing increased from 400 in the early drafts to 450 and finally to 500 housing units. This adopted version is still current and if you wish to read it, copies should be available in the Library and at the Town Hall.As I mentioned, the main feature of the NP was that Henley and Harpsden should provide an additional 500 housing units in the years up to 2027, in addition to any housing provided by infill developments in gardens or by the conversion of offices to housing. Eleven sites were allocated and four of them have been completed or are well on the way, and we are at the halfway stage to 2027. These four sites are Highlands Farm, the McCarthy & Stone flats on Reading Road, the houses by the shops at the top of Greys Road and the flats on the old Wilkins site on Deanfield Ave. Six of the other sites on which construction has not started are included for re-assessment in the current updating of the NP. Going back now to the Local Plan, in about 2017, SODC was pressured by the government to produce an update and, as a result of this, NPs are also having to be updated. And the time period for both plans now extends to 2035. Recent and current issues SODC’s recently updated Local Plan has had a particularly controversial history and is still being challenged by some South Oxfordshire councillors. The main reason for controversy was the huge increase in housing in South Oxfordshire proposed by the government-sponsored Oxfordshire Growth Board. This specifies an incredible 40% increase in the housing stock of Oxfordshire, with South Oxfordshire taking 30,000 units, admittedly most of them at some distance from Henley. A second reason for controversy was the action of Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing who in 2019 refused to allow the newly-elected South Oxfordshire councillors to modify the figures which had been agreed by the previous administration. And, under the direction of Mr Jenrick, the Local Plan to 2035 was adopted in December last year and is unlikely to be changed. One legal challenge was turned down last month though, according to last week’s Henley Standard, the fight will go on.So now to the process of updating our NP. The decision to update was taken in January 2018 and the consultancy Aecom was appointed to guide the process. As before, it has to conform to the Local Plan which, in its adopted version, has allocated 156 new homes to Henley in addition the 500 specified in the existing NP. However, an important difference this time is that infill developments and office conversions can be counted as contributions to the 156. This is a positive change for Henley. On the other hand, it is important to remember that only about half of the homes stipulated in the existing NP have actually been constructed, and so at the present time there is an expectation that about 250 homes plus the 156 will be constructed over the next decade. It is difficult to calculate precise numbers due to uncertainty regarding the availability of some of the sites in the existing NP, and also because there is ambiguity over which developments are counted in particular time periods. And yet another issue is the proportion of so-called affordable homes and the proportion of social housing in the mix. So far, the proportion of affordable homes is below the target of 40%. Anyway, at a fairly early stage the Town Council invited landowners to submit potential sites for consideration and at present 16 sites have been put forward. Six of these are sites that were included in the first NP but have not yet been started; the others are new. The intention was, and still is, to hold a public exhibition on the 16 sites at the Town Hall, with the owners or developers present to answer questions, and with the public able to give their opinions. This event has been delayed at least twice by the Covid restrictions but is now scheduled for July 2 and 3. The weeks following 3 July will be the time when important decisions are taken. Following the feedback from the public consultation, a draft NP will be produced and this will go forward to a public vote in the autumn in time for it to be submitted to SODC by the deadline in December this year. The public consultation in July is particularly important, as this is when the public can exert most influence. Numbers do count. So I would encourage everyone to take part and help to ensure that the NP is as good as it can be. Finally a comment on the demand for more and more houses in Henley and three reasons why the demand is only going to get greater. The first one can be summed up in the words of David Coleman, Emeritus Professor of demography at Oxford University. In a letter to the Times he wrote “For as long as net migration continues at about a quarter of a million per year, Britain will be trapped in a treadmill of housebuilding without limit”. The second reason adding to housing demand in Henley is a side effect of Covid and the shift to working from home. If the pattern of commuting is changed to just 1, 2 or 3 days a week, then Henley becomes even more popular as a dormitory town for London. And local estate agents are actively encouraging this trend. The third reason is Crossrail which, when it’s completed, will increase the feasibility of commuting to the city and again tend to add to the demand for housing in Henley. So as I said at the beginning, many challenges are on the way and I would reiterate the Chairman’s hope that more members will volunteer to become involved in the Society’s activities.                                                                                                                                                   DCW

 

Planning Update presented to the AGM of the Henley Society, September 2020

During this lockdown and semi-lockdown period, the Society’s planning committee has continued to examine all the planning applications for addresses in Henley; and we have continued to send comments to the Town Council and to SODC.  We have had to adapt to looking at the plans on the SODC website rather than paper copies, and then communicating with one another by email or phone.  However our aims have been the same - to conserve the historic buildings and green spaces in the town for the future, and to maintain Henley as far as possible as an attractive place to live.

 

The pandemic seems to have caused no reduction in planning applications, and plans for house extensions and infill buildings have been coming through at the usual rate.  The pandemic has, however, resulted in a slowdown in actual building activity.  For example, the development at Gardiner Place is still not finished and, as predicted some years ago, there are now plans to convert some of the space previously allocated for retail use into apartments.  On other developments, building has been reduced at Highlands Farm and ceased altogether at Thames Farm, though presumably only temporarily.  This situation probably reflects the fact that there are quite a lot of new-builds on the market at the present time - at Highlands Farm, at Laureate Gardens, at Deanfield Avenue, at Gardiner Place and at the McCarthy and Stone retirement development on Reading Road.

 

Other matters that we have been concerned about during the year have been the new SODC Local Plan and the updating of the Henley/Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan.  As highlighted in last year’s report, the South Oxfordshire Local Plan has had a controversial history, partly due to the extremely large scale of proposed development and partly due to Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State, stepping in to stop the new SO Council members making substantial changes to the Plan.  In this context, you may have seen an item in last Friday’s Henley Standard in which the leader of the Council expressed disappointment at the comments of the inspector appointed by the government to examine the Plan.  However in a token nod to public opinion, SODC is inviting the residents of South Oxfordshire to comment, via their website, on the minor modifications that have been proposed and I would encourage you all to do so.

 

The number of extra houses to be accommodated in Henley/Harpsden as a result of policies in the new Local Plan is still uncertain but is likely to be appreciably greater than the number in the current Neighbourhood Plan.  It will be set out in the updated NP which is currently under consideration by a Town Council committee.  Again there will be a public consultation on the NP, probably in the late spring of 2021.  Meanwhile Henley and its surroundings, with or without a NP, is particularly vulnerable to speculative developers seeking to profit from the trend for London residents to move to a more rural environment while, at the same time, curtailing but not eliminating their need for commuting.

                                                                                                                                                                                           DCW 18/10/2020

 

 

UPDATE ON THE HENLEY HARPSDEN  JOINT NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN

by the Society's Chairman of Planning David Whitehead

 

The first Henley/Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan, 2012-2027, was finally adopted during the period November 2015-February 2016.   Copies are available for consultation in the Henley Library.  A major reason for the prolonged preparation time was that it had to conform to SODC’s Local Plan as well as taking local opinion into account.  The main outcome, after consideration by a government inspector, was a commitment that 500 new houses would be built at specified sites in Henley, in addition to houses built on various small infill sites and those converted from commercial properties.  Then, despite the short time since its adoption and the size of its commitments, SODC gave notice in 2017 that an update of the Neighbourhood Plan was required in order to reflect the changes being introduced into its own Local Plan.  And the Local Plan required changes in order to reflect, among other considerations, the government-sponsored Oxfordshire Growth Strategy.   

 

Since 2017, discussions have been held on potential changes to the Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plan but progress on both has been slow.  One reason for the slow progress is that the majority of SODC members after the 2019 election disagreed with the draft Local Plan supported by the previous administration.  After the refusal by the government to allow SODC to withdraw its draft Local Plan, it is now (June 2020) in the hands of a government inspector who may accept a limited amount of modification.  Meanwhile discussions on the Neighbourhood Plan, within the committee set up by the Town Council, have proceeded on the basis that the draft Local Plan will emerge little changed.  Nothing of substance has yet been decided though there are plans to carry out a public consultation in Henley and Harpsden.  Since March 2020, of course, meetings have been curtailed by the Covid-19 lockdown, causing further delay.  And, perhaps more importantly, the impact of the pandemic on the priorities for government expenditure remain to be seen. (2nd June 2020)

 

HOW TO COMMENT ON A PLANNING APPLICATION

Decisions on planning applications are made by the Local Planning Authority, which in the case of Henley is South Oxfordshire District Council.

To comment on any application is relatively easy if you know the planning application number (usually in the format P20/S5283 for example)-or the postal address of the property concerned.

Go to the SODC web site and select Planning Application Register. Then select either 'search for reference number' or 'location and date'. Then follow the on-screen instructions. Take care to note that each application has a cut-off time for comments.   May 2020

 

 

Planning Sub-Ctte Reports

Henley Society response to proposed Thames Farm development

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24th June 2014

Response to Joint Henley & Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan consultation

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Regular Comments on Planning Applications in the Henley area

  

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