Make Henley Shine Complains to Councils About Handling of Bridge Lights Planning Application

The Make Henley Shine (MHS) group have this week written to the CEO’s of both Councils complaining about the handling of the planning application to light up Henley bridge which was submitted back in September 2023 and the Environment Agency have also set up an official complaint about their inappropriate handling too.

The planning application was due to go before the Planning committees of South Oxfordshire District Council or Wokingham Borough Councils for their decision.  After a online meeting on 26 February with both Planning Officers and the MHS architect, Gavin Jackson, an email from the SODC Planning Officer was sent on 1 March, confirming the discussions which stated “The applications are currently invalid as notice on the landowner has not been served correctly” despite being validated by the Council when the application was submitted 6 months prior.

WBC’s Planning Officer, Stefan Fludger has also submitted his objection to the proposal stating that “There are concerns regarding the appearance of the lights on the bridge within daylight hours, which will likely be quite visible against the light stonework.  The ecological appraisal submitted with this application is substandard, particularly given the importance of the Thames corridor as a habitat. Adequate mitigation is not achieved in relation to bats and there is insufficient information submitted relating to other species.”

Chair of MHS, Daniel Bausor said, “We are shocked that both councils’ planning officers have admitted neither are accepting ownership of the bridge, however the ‘H’ graffiti, weeds and dirt have still not been removed. And also, the damage from multiple boat accidents and the resulting dreadful state of the stone work has not been repaired.  The WBC Planning Department did not attend the site visit as part of the joint pre-planning application advice with South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) where the proposed light fittings were shown in October 2022. No apology was received for not being able to attend the site visit and no request was made to arrange another meeting to view the light fittings. At that Pre-Application stage a bat report by leading environment consultants, Thomson Environmental Consultants who provided ecology reports for the Illuminated River Project which has transformed the area around London’s bridge and its night time economy was shared. The Make Henley Shine report by Thomson Environmental Consultants showed that no bats were roosting on the bridge and there were no ecological issues.   In September 2023 WBC stated that only a Listed building application was required to be submitted however at the end of 2023, three months later, they came back to MHS and said that a full planning application was also needed which they submitted in January 2024.”

“SODC Council’s Planning Officer released a statement to the local newspaper before publishing their Officer’s report on the Council’s Planning application website portal which could prejudice the outcome of the planning decision.”

The Environment Agency have also set up an official complaint about their inappropriate handling of the MHS planning application which will be material to the final planning decision. MHS sent numerous emails as well as an open letter from river stakeholders asking for a response to the inaccuracies in the EA’s objection to the planning application which stated there would be impact and danger to river navigation and an impact on the bat wildlife which they received no reply to.

Daniel added, “We have made every reasonable attempt to work with the Planning officers and to engage stakeholders at every level but feel we have been failed in this process.  We would urge the Planning Officers to want to get round the table to find a way forward. Make Henley Shine lies at the core of Henley Town Council’s 5 year Strategic Plan as it would be transformational in helping to develop ‘a vibrant town that caters to residents’ needs, attracts visitors, and supports local businesses.’  Equally, Make Henley Shine will help the town achieve its climate emergency goal. Over the last three years, we have called for a sustainable lighting strategy for the town where the see the Make Henley Shine project as a catalyst to get businesses, hospitality and other organisations to reduce the overall light levels.”

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