Long Wittenham has an active community which has been discussing its development needs over many years. This has included community-led planning of which the most recent was “Wittenham Vision” published in 2010. Wittenham Vision Action Plan.
The aims were to:
- Identify key changes and improvements that the community would like to see.
- Identify a clear set of priorities
- Ensure a consistent and ‘whole village’ approach to developments
- Communicate clearly and involve the whole village.
Wittenham Vision identified a range of action points:
- Improve village appearance
- Relocate and build a village hall
- Improve outdoor play areas
- Consider options to provide a village shop
- Build a footpath/cycle path to Clifton Hampden
- Increase community activity
- Improve traffic flow and parking
- Consult village on options for Ward’s field
Many of these actions have been successfully completed. A lot of work was done to try to relocate of the village hall, develop of a village shop and establish a path to Clifton Hampden. However, a “village hub” project idea emerged that would include a new school sharing facilities with the pre-school, a village hall and shop/ café, possibly on one site. The village hall project was not achieved by Summer 2014, mainly because there was no suitable site for sale. The Parish Council commissioned a feasibility study of the Village Hub project. Wittenham Vision had identified potential sites for the village hall and the feasibility study looked at ways the project might be funded, through the development of the existing school and village hall site for housing. Additional housing would need to be built to finance the project.
The Localism Act 2011 introduced Neighbourhood Plans, Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders which changed the way neighbourhoods can influence housing development. Once passed by more than 50% of people in a referendum of residents, these plans become part of the statutory planning framework.
Why a neighbourhood plan?
During Summer 2014 the Parish Council felt that the new Neighbourhood Plans were appropriate for achieving the hub development by identifying/confirming suitable sites at the same time as ensuring that any development of housing within the village was the right size for the village and addressed our housing needs of the village.
Even at this early stage, some aims were already emerging which will have relevance for the Neighbourhood Plan (NP):
- to enable the development of the village hub and associated buildings
- to re-engage residents in this process
- to identify the housing needs of our community
- to update the village led plan, identify new issues and build a strategy for addressing these
A Neighbourhood Plan steering committee was set up with representatives from the Parish Council and also other organisations within the village. With financial help from a Locality grant we asked Oxfordshire Rural Community Council (ORCC) to provide expert guidance.
The first stage was to produce a sustainability document relating to social, environmental and economic issues. This involves summarising local and national policies that might influence the final plan In addition this document describes the current situation within the village relating to these policies. The steering committee has worked with ORCC to develop a survey of residents to get views on the village hub project, current housing needs and other issues eg traffic, parking and leisure activities. A copy of the survey is available on the web site.
When this document is complete, it is sent to statutory bodies like the Environment Agency and Historic England as well as relevant local groups, charities and businesses. Once approved locally, the document is submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) for independent approval.
When approved, the Sustainability document provides the basis for the development of the NP, in particular providing the objectives for the plan and the criteria by which any proposed developments will be judged.
The completed NP is then submitted to SODC for approval and then a referendum will be held in the village. If more than 50% (of those voting) vote in favour, the NP is adopted as a legal and binding document.
Progress to date
The NP process was launched with a kick-off meeting in the village hall in September 2014. The steering committee met regularly to prepare the Sustainability document. The Survey was conducted in May/June 2015 and the results were incorporated into the Sustainability document which was completed in September 2015. Public meetings were held in Spring 2016 to get further input from the residents and a Village Character Assessment was completed. Another public meeting was held in June 2016 to discuss the policies to be written into the final draft of the plan. The Plan was published on 8th July 2016 for the 6 week consultation period and a public consultation event was held in the village hall on 30th July 2016. Following the consultation, the Plan was amended to take into account the comments received. The revised Plan was published on 6th January 2017 for a second consultation period during which a public meeting was held in the village hall on 19th January 2017. The consultation ended on 16th February 2017 and following minor amendments, the final Plan was submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council on 1st March 2017 for their 6 week public consultation. The Plan was sent to a government inspector at the end of April and his report was publish on 8th June 2017 with a recommendation that the Plan should go forward to referendum with minor amendments. South Oxfordshire District Council have scheduled the referendum for Thursday 7th September 2017.