Planning Appeal Succeeded After SODC Did Not Provide Enough Evidence Again!

Westbourne Homes Ltd have their won their appeal against the decision by South Oxfordshire District Council to build 11 homes on land off the Reading Road in Lower Shiplake (known as Crossways) next to the Thames Farm site as SODC did not provide evidence in time to show their five-year land supply.  The Thames Farm site was also approved on appeal after SODC could not provide the same evidence in 2017. The development of the Thames Farm site has still not been started due to drainage proposals not getting planning approval.

SODC refused the Crossways planning application in April 2022 and the decision notice said, “The proposed development would result in the loss of the role of the site as a transitional space between the settlement of Lower Shiplake to the east and open countryside to the west. The proposed development would encroach into undeveloped land and would diminish the open character of the site and its importance in the setting of the settlement of Lower Shiplake. The scale and massing of the market dwellings detracts from the appearance and character of
the local area and do not provide a form of quality architecture.”

Westbourne Homes previously applied for 20 homes to be built on the site in November 2020 stating they they would use the same drainage system proposal as Thames Farm which would see surface water on the site be piped into the Lashbrook in Shiplake.  This drainage proposal and another to pipe the water along the Reading Road into the River Harp have both since been rejected.

This site was put forward for 11 homes under the review of the Joint Henley and Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan and was rejected by the committee as it would significantly change the character of this area, dangerous pedestrian road crossing to Shiplake Village and outside of settlement.

The Inspectorate, Mr S Rennie however has this week delivered his decision that the appeal has succeeded and 11 homes can be built on the site.  In Mr Rennie’s report it states, “Following the hearing event on 5 July, the Council (SODC) submitted further evidence on the 29 July relating to the issue of housing land supply, being the South Oxfordshire Housing Land Supply Report for 2022. Considering comments from all parties on this matter and following careful consideration of what would be the most appropriate way forward procedurally, it has been concluded that the evidence submitted by the Council should not be accepted. Though the report was not published until after the hearing date it is not clear why the Council could not have relayed much of this evidence contained within this report at the hearing itself. In my view, any available information contained subsequently in the report should have been presented at the hearing so it could be scrutinised in that forum. There was the opportunity for the Council to provide more up-to-date evidence at the hearing on the matter of housing land supply, to counter the evidence from the appellant, but did not do so at the time. The appeal decision is therefore based on the housing land supply information presented at the hearing and not submitted afterwards.”

Despite the JHHNP review, the Inspectorate stated, “I note that there is a Neighbourhood Plan for Henley and Harpsden which is emerging but not yet ‘made’. The site would be within the area of this Neighbourhood Plan. I understand that the site will not be allocated within this
NP in its current form, though the NP is still emerging at this stage. This is also the same for the Lower Shiplake Neighbourhood Plan, which is also not yet ‘made’. The site would not come within the boundaries of this Neighbourhood Plan also.”

Chair of the JHHNP Committee Councillor Ken Arlett said, “I attended the appeal and have to say the decision to allow the application was not surprising, mainly as SODC had no housing land supply figures, those ran out at the end of March 2022. One has to raise the question why, and this will be raised at Henley Town Council’s Planning Committee Meeting. For the Appellant to give a figure of a 4.16 year land supply and not be challenged I found quite strange. We now know from July the SODC land supply is 5.31 years, but the inspector would not accept this information coming so  late, as the appellant would not have the chance to counter the claim.”

“It was also worrying about the Inspectors comment on our Neighbourhood Plan. What the Inspector fails to say, is that there was indeed an adopted Joint Henley and Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan (JHHNP) for Henley and Harpsden and that should have been referred to! It is accepted that Shiplake’s ‘new’ Plan was nearly complete and likewise the Review of the Joint Henley and Harpsden one, both should carry some weight, but the Inspector failed to take notice of either.”

“Of even more concern is the times that the Inspector suggested that the site was in Shiplake when according to the Chairman of Harpsden Kester George it is within the Harpsden boundary, and within the JHHNP.”

“For the Inspector to grant planning permission with 34 conditions, one can only suggest he could have well refused this application if he so wished.”

Chris Penrose, Chair of Shiplake Parish Council, said, “Shiplake Parish Council and its residents have once again been let down by SODC in an Appeal. SODC failed to provide 5 year housing supply figures at the Appeal hearing for Crossways and sent them in late and was admonished by the Appeal officer for doing so in his final judgement. This is yet another unsustainable development on Lower Shiplake’s boundary. Shiplake PC put masses of effort into the defence of this site including hiring of external consulting advice and many hours on the thoroughness of our case based on Planning criteria, only to be let down by SODC’s woeful level of preparation for the Appeal. SODC simply did not do its job well and seems incapable of learning from its past errors or taking responsibility for them. We have subsequently asked for a consideration of a Judicial Review of this decision. This has been refused by SODC’s Deputy Chief Executive. Residents are right to be angry and should feel totally let down by SODC.”