Councils’ Anger At Garden Town Consultation

A bid by four parish councils, including Long Wittenham, to seek an extension to consultations over the Didcot Garden Town plan has failed. The move follows calls from Didcot Town Council for an extension of the deadline which closed on 31st July.

Appleford, Clifton Hampden, Culham and Long Wittenham Parish Councils asked South Oxfordshire District Council for more time to consider the plans. They accused the district council of a lack of meaningful engagement over the £620m government-funded plan which will transform Didcot and neighbouring communities.

The clerk to Appleford and Clifton Hampden Parish Councils Anne Davies said: “I am not surprised that the district council refused our request for an extension to the consultation period.  They don’t really want to engage or listen – but we have made that point in our submission.”

Councils say the plan – designed to build 16,000 new homes and 20,000 jobs over the next 20 years – will bring about a fundamental change to the area and more time was needed for people to engage.

Several villages fall within the sphere of influence of the Garden Town area.  The four parish councils called on the district council to stage public meetings in villages to explain the implications for local communities.

They met at a specially convened meeting in Appleford village hall last month to formulate a joint approach.  Mrs Davies said: “There was a lot of anger at the meeting.  Councillors felt villages were left out on the fringe of the debate and that the needs of villages are not being given proper consideration.”

“The feeling was that the district council should visit villages and explain more about the Garden Town proposals and its likely impact.  So far there has been no engagement other than weighty documents and online details which take ages to trawl through.  So far it has been a high-handed approach.”

The chairman of Culham Parish Council Gordon Gibbs said: “The Garden Town plans have been presented as if it’s already been decided with no serious attempt to engage communities which is a serious flaw.”

Councillors expressed concern about the threat of “Didcot Creep” and villages losing their identity.  Another major concern is the impact increased traffic will have on already over-burdened roads, a theme taken up by Chris Neill who heads Burcot and Clifton Hampden Parish Council.

He said: “No proper analysis of traffic issues has been undertaken and until that happens no development should be allowed.  Not only that the green belt and farming land surrounding our villages is under threat particularly near Culham.  Roads around here are already near capacity.”

There were calls to bring forward plans for a Didcot-Culham link road and bypass for Clifton Hampden to ease the “nightmare” of extra traffic generated by the proposed new homes and businesses.  Up to 3,500 homes are planned near the Culham Science Centre and most of the land is in the green belt.

The councils also want to see improved public transport links between villages and Didcot.  Bus services have been devastated following the county council’s removal of subsidies as part of the austerity drive.  Plans for a network of cycle paths need more consultation.

Gordon Rogers from Long Wittenham Parish Council said: “More needs to be done to establish green areas around villages to protect them from developers moving in.”

The district council said Garden Town public meetings and exhibitions were staged in Didcot last November for the public to see and ask questions.  Once public comments have been analysed a report will be published later this month (September).

Part of the Garden Town area falls within the Vale of White Horse District and a joint committee of both councils will scrutinise the comments.  A revised plan is expected to be adopted in October.

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