Plans for a £5m expansion of the Earth Trust’s facilities at Hill Farm at Little Wittenham have received a positive response from Long Wittenham Parish Council even though the development could generate an extra 1,000 vehicles a week passing through the village. But residents of Sires Hill have objected to South Oxfordshire District Council.
At the parish council’s October meeting the chief executive of the Earth Trust Jayne Manley said the Wittenham Clumps and surrounding area attracted 150,000 visitors a year and many came from within 20 to 30 miles. She said as the population of the area continued to grow more demands would be made on the area and the Trust needed to improve management of the site to cater for an increasing number of visitors.
The development is planned in three phases over eight years depending on funding. A new access road is proposed off Sires Hill, a car park for 185 vehicles, a café-cum-farm shop, an amphitheatre for plays and exhibitions and replica Stone Age roundhouses. The Trust’s centre is a popular venue for schools.
Dr Manley said the project was expected to generate about 20% more vehicles to and from Hill Farm – that equates to 1,000 extra vehicles a week passing through Long Wittenham. With Didcot’s north-east expansion of the Ladygrove estate and other housing developments planned in the area the pressure on Long Wittenham’s High Street is a major concern.
Cllr Gordon Rogers said a 20% increase in traffic was the equivalent of about 1,000 extra vehicle movements a week through the village and he had concerns as the village already faced more traffic as Didcot continued to expand.
Cllr Peter Rose said he was happy about the building part of the application as it would be contained on the existing site and would not substantially affect views but he too had concerns about extra traffic through the village.
He said: “It would mean an additional 100 cars per day on average along the High Street, there and back. If there is an event at weekends it could be much more in one day.”
The parish council believes however that although more traffic would pass through the village the benefits of improved facilities at the Trust’s Hill Farm headquarters outweighs the disadvantage of some extra vehicles. Most of the extra traffic is expected to come from Didcot and the south of the county.
Cllr Sally Duff said that the Trust’s plans would ensure that Wittenham Clumps and surrounding areas would be protected for future generations.
She said: “Over the years the Trust has shown it is sensitive to the local environment in the way that Fison’s Barn was renovated, the planting of trees and the management of the land. All of this work has been a huge asset to our community.
“The Trust has had the foresight to realise that given the amount of new housing going up in the area, visitor numbers will rise. The increase in traffic through our village will happen whatever the outcome of the planning application as visitors will come what may. The Trust has taken into account the preferred route for construction vehicles to minimise traffic through our village.”
But the Sires Hill Residents’ Association has raised major worries about what it calls the Trust’s “ambitious project.” It says the plan is not in keeping with the Trust’s aims of promoting for the public the conservation and protection of the natural and physical environment, wildlife, historical and archaeological features.
Wittenham Clumps, extensive woodlands, the Sinodun Hills together form a distinctive and prominent landscape feature which is visible as a landmark over a wide area. The residents say the Trust’s plans ignore guidelines and will neither conserve nor enhance the landscape.
They go on to challenge the need for a new access road to Hills Farm. It will, they say, add a new hazard to an already dangerous and over-used rat run. The junction between Hollow Way and Sires Hill is a significant hazard and the proposed access point has visibility issues even despite the plans to remove hedges and trees from the roadside.
The objectors say that neither junction falls within a 30 mph zone and no guarantee has been given that the speed limit area will be extended to include the new access road or to address speed limit enforcement.
The provision of an amphitheatre seems to be outside the scope of the Trust’s main aims. It may be an attractive feature but there are concerns about noise and light pollution from events going on at night.
The Residents’ Association objection concludes: “This plan is outside the remit of the Earth Trust and at odds with all main national and local planning guides. It is damaging to the ancient landscape, visually unacceptable and will cause additional safety concerns to an already dangerous road. We urge the district council to reject the plans.”