04 DEC 2017

Another look at Thames Farm

There have been questions over the planning challenges at the Thames Farm Site between Henley and Shiplake. Let me try to explain the issues for those who have been unable to read the judgements and decisions or the original submissions. This is both a national and a local issue.

A key and crucial measure in planning and development is the 5 year housing land supply (5YHLS). This is a measure which assesses whether or not the Local Planning Authority has set aside sufficient land to provide for planned housing in its area. Where an area is covered by a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) the requirement is for a 3YHLS. Using accepted methodology, SODC can demonstrate a 4.1 year housing land supply. This means that where there is no NDP developers may be given permission on land not in a strategic plan, but, where there is an NDP the plan which the community has developed should be adhered to.

In the case of Thames Farm, the Planning Inspector came to the conclusion that SODC did not even have a 3 YHLS. As the site is in the area covered by the Henley and Harpsden Joint NDP (HHJNDP) this judgement and its divergence from the recognised figure is important as it seemingly undermines the HHJNDP. Hence the challenge to the Planning Inspectors decision.

Since the time of the Thames Farm decision, there have been two other appeals heard by two different Planning Inspectors and each has concluded that SODC does have a 4.1 YHLS.

Hence there is concern over the inconsistency of the decisions made by different Planning Inspectors. This is rightly being challenged through the legal system by SODC. I have also raised it with the Secretary of State and the Chief Planning Officer and in other ways. Both are taking these concerns seriously and investigating on a wider basis.

On the issue of affordable housing, when people say they want 'affordable' housing most often they mean low cost market housing to allow people to get onto the housing ladder. It is important to distinguish between this and social housing where residents are tenants of a Housing Association rather than home owners. There is, of course, some need for social housing but in this area there is greater demand for low cost market housing.

The National Planning Policy Framework sets the requirement for planning authorities to deliver a housing mix to need the local demographic need. It is the responsibility of the District Council to set the target numbers of affordable housing that can be built and to work with developers to deliver that as far as possible. It is not the responsibility of the MP. However, I have argued in Parliament that Neighbourhood Development Plans should have a defining say in the type of houses built not just the location. Such views are being looked at now and can't come soon enough.

We have a Plan-led Planning System which means that you cannot simply build what you want, where you want. Affordable housing has to be part of the whole mix. There is a strong role for younger people to get involved in a Neighbourhood Plan production group and make a contribution to the debate to ensure that their needs and views are heard and included in local planning.

Applications outside of the planning system makes a total mockery of the system and especially of local participation. This is why these issues are so important and we must have clarity and consistency.

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