Have Your Say – Neighbourhood Plan Referendum

JHHNP-logo-06Reading the piece in the Henley Herald I was amused by the Minister’s belief that: “Communities have their say throughout the local and neighbourhood plan-making process.”

I don’t feel that any serious effort has been made to canvass the opinion of anyone outside the small and self-selected NP groups, and it would seem unlikely that the neighbourhood will have any say beyond an overall ‘Yes/No’ answer to the eventual referendum.

Certainly there would not seem to be any mechanism by which the residents of Henley can express their unease or opposition to small parts of the Neighbourhood plan. The referendum will be a very broadbrush means of ascertaining whether a resident accepts the entire plan, exactly as it is, or rejects it, in its entirety.

There is no way of supporting the broad outline of the plan while opposing the development of particular individual sites, nor is there any way of expressing that one’s support for the overall plan would be conditional on this or that.

Because rejection of the NP would take future planning out of the town’s hands altogether, the fear is that SODC or OCC would simply impose whatever development they felt was appropriate.

This seems unfortunate, since there may be a number of problems with the NP in its current form. The exclusion of Thames Farm (a potential site for up to 110 houses) would seem to be a pity, since the site is too small for viable agricultural use, and lies next to the eyesore that is the former Engbers’ Garden Centre, hemmed in by residential roads, with easy access to road and rail links to Reading. Similarly, the housing allocation at Highlands Farm would seem to be far smaller than would be possible, thereby incentivising the development of less suitable sites (like the Gillotts playing fields, for example).

The latest draft of the NP seemingly recognizes the problems of congestion and air quality, and acknowledges the importance of minimising traffic congestion, yet the Henley Transport Study that is supposed to ‘set out a detailed plan for sustainable movement around the town, minimising congestion and promoting alternative routes’ has not been detailed.

What we do know is that, instead of pushing for a bypass and another river crossing (the only measures that will ever significantly dent the problem, much of which is caused by through traffic), and instead of pushing for an increase in town centre parking capacity, the NP makes worthy but impractical, unrealistic and even facile noises about park-and-stride schemes, and encouraging the residents (among whom the 65-90 year age group is ‘over represented’) to get on their bikes.

It seems to boast about the “linking of the town centre signals to hold traffic on the edges of town” – something that may have reduced gridlock in the town centre only by transferring it to the Reading Road and Remenham Hill – hardly a stellar success.

The primary objective of the Traffic and Transport ‘Vision’ is to “promote walking, cycling and public transport as first choice modes for all residents,” rather than doing something that actually addresses the real, underlying problem. There is no mention of anything that would reduce through traffic.

I support providing more houses in Henley and Harpsden – I believe there is a clear need. I broadly support the site allocations in the neighbourhood plan. But I believe that Henley cannot support any increase in population without solving the severe problems of congestion, inadequate town centre parking and through traffic.

I would suspect that many feel as I do. How are we supposed to make our voices heard?

Jon Lake

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