Long Wittenham Neighbourhood Plan Open Meeting – Detailed Report

Long Wittenham School Hall 12th April 2016

59 attendees

A meeting was held at the end of February to discuss draft proposals for the Neighbourhood Plan. Since this meeting, various residents had made representations to Steering Group members making the following points:

  • There was insufficient time at the first meeting to discuss proposals
  • A perception that the proposals were quite advanced with little previous publicity about their development
  • The proposals did not offer alternatives to the published proposals nor were different alternatives costed

Peter Rose acknowledged these points at the start of the meeting and gave a short history of the NP development, which was preceded by the village plan and Wittenham Vision. The NP was tasked to build on these proposals rather than study alternatives in detail. However, the development of the NP was complicated by the parallel discussions with the landowners of both site 1 and 2, which have been taking place over 15 and 9 months respectively. Each landowner was offering different incentives to the village in terms of the benefits to the village in return for support for some housing development. The developers of site 1 had recently held an exhibition at The Plough of their plans and there is an expectation that this will be followed by a planning application (without any village benefits included). The advice from SODC was that this would be rejected and the developer would probably appeal, a process that takes about 18 months. In the meantime the PC are still in negotiation with these developers. The PC is also in negotiation with the representatives of the landowner for site 2 with professional advice from Savills and are due to meet potential developers of this site in a couple of weeks. The NP process has looked at all potential sites and the preferred sites for the proposed development is site 2 or site 1&2 combined. Currently the landowners are not willing to negotiate a joint proposal. The proposals are also complicated by the complications of getting funding other than by profit from houses. For example, grants are available for new village halls but these can only be applied for once land is secured and planning permission obtained.

Discussion:

  • Would OCC contribute to the building of the new school? Both OCC and the diocese are happy to cooperate in the new school development but neither have money available for capital projects
  • Would the change from Section 106 to Community Infrastructure Levy affect the plans. No effect had been mentioned in discussions with planners but this will be investigated.
  • What will happen to site 1 if site 2 is built on? Assuming that Site 2 is developed first then the planners advise that as ‘rounding off’ this site would almost certainly get planning permission in the future, impossible to say when this would be. However, the NP, once approved, would give some protection against development of site 1 and the NP would last until 2031 contemporaneous with the new Local Plan. There was concern that if sites 1&2 were developed this could mean 80-100 new houses in the village.
  • What are the alternatives to the current proposals, for example rebuilding the school and/or hall on their current sites? Carol Dunne, head teacher outlined the reasons why a refurbishment of the current school had been ruled out. Several attempts to enlarge and modernise the school in the past, for example building a 2 storey extension, had been rejected by OCC. The most recent ‘improvement’ had been to replace a temporary classroom with another temporary classroom. A school was more about its ethos and educational achievement, where our school scored highly, but she had reluctantly come to the conclusion that a new build was the most sensible way forward for the school. Steve Brown said that he was currently looking at alternatives. However, there was a strong feeling from the audience that looking at alternatives would slow the whole process of developing the NP and should be avoided.
  • There was a debate about the benefits and costs of building new houses- getting new people into the village, new children for the school and providing the type of housing not currently available to residents against increased traffic and spoiling the aesthetics of the village. One person commented that ‘ if we have no new development and no new school we go backwards’.
  • Problems of the current village hall were pointed out, particularly from the point of view of the pre-school. The hall was always booked and the pre-school cannot increase its hours which might be a problem with the forthcoming requirement of 30 hours opening. The pre-school feeds children into the primary school currently.
  • What would happen to traffic flow relating to a development on site 2? There would be a new roundabout at the entrance to the site which would help traffic calming along that part of the Didcot Road. Steve Brown showed some sketches of site 2 that demonstrated an increase in footprint of the school (buildings plus play area) compared with the current school with space for parking, drop off and village hall as well as the area required for the supported housing. This could all be fitted on the land with a boundary continuous from Saxon’s Heath. However, the landowner had offer to make more land available for extra recreation space.
  • What is the current timescale for NP. The proposals will be developed further in the light of current discussions and with help from a planning consultant and Community First Oxfordshire. The final plan will be detailed with plans that state for example the preferred site, plans for a new school, pre-school and hall and maximum number of houses. It is hoped this will be finalised in the next 2 months. After this there are periods of consultation, first with SODC and other stakeholders and then with an independent assessor. Referendum is currently likely to be early Autumn.
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