article for Harwell News
The following article will be printed in the April Harwell News, published at the end of the month, and will form the basis of the Harwell Parish Council response to the updates to the Vale Local Plan.
6000 new houses for Harwell and adjacent parishes?
The Vale has published an update to its Local Plan, which focuses on the provision of many more houses than were being proposed twelve months ago, and a disproportionate amount of the extra houses are being allocated to Harwell Parish. If you are reading this before 4th April you still have time to respond to the Vale and let them know your concerns. The Annual Parish Meeting on 24th April will provide an opportunity to discuss the proposals, although it’s after the closing date for consulting on this update. However, the complete Local Plan will be published again in August, prior to submission to an Inspector for approval. This will be the final chance to comment on the plans.
Comment is an understatement; the current housing proposals will see the end of Harwell village as a rural community and we will effectively be merged with Didcot. 45% of parish land that is currently farmland or open countryside will be concreted over. 80% of the current parish boundary will have housing or other buildings on one or both sides. There is nothing proposed which will solve the traffic problems and the village will be gridlocked at peak hours. The government is committed to building houses by lifting almost all the planning controls and encouraging developers to put forward any schemes. The government is also encouraging employment through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP’s). The Oxfordshire LEP is planning a dynamic economy for our area, based on Science Vale UK.
The increase in housing numbers in the plan is driven almost entirely by forecast employment. The number is put forward in just one place in the documents and none of the supporting evidence has yet been published. We just don’t know what the evidence is to support the claim for so many houses based on so many jobs.
This plan is like a bulldozer, a juggernaut, a behemoth, or even a tank, (choose 2 of 4) heading in our direction and it is hard to see what can be done about it. With the previous plan, there were many areas where the parish council could look for improvements, and, subject to those being made, it could accept the plan as tolerable. With the current level of proposals for housing and employment there is little that can be done to make these more acceptable.
The parish council response is to deplore the impact of proposed housing numbers, to reject the increase in numbers for Valley Park, and specifically to oppose the 1400 houses put forward for Harwell Campus East in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It has also observed that the transport infrastructure will become gridlocked, and that there are no obvious extra schemes that can be put forward, and hence the number of houses proposed is unsustainable.
Not only does the plan propose large housing estates near the village, the plan also proposes development on the edge of the village itself. The proposal for 200 houses on the north west of the village (north of Grove Rd, behind the Croft) is difficult because of the problems with traffic access north. Detailed papers released with the plan update show that the Vale considered at least 10 sites around the village, but did not see fit to consult the parish council in reviewing these sites for suitability.
Until the Local Plan has been signed off, the Vale has a housing supply shortage and developers can put forward any site they like and only in exceptional circumstances can they be refused (Development by appeal). Given this background, the parish council will consider any proposal on its merits, and, faced with the inevitable, will work with the developer to make sure their scheme provides as much benefit to the village community as possible.
Based on comparing 2001 census data with that from 2011, the parish council believes that the village needs more two or three bedroom houses, possibly bungalows, and suitable for people to downsize into, thereby releasing larger family homes to the market. It regrets that the Local Plan does not set policy for development, especially next to existing villages, to require an appropriate housing mix. The parish council will try to work with any proposed local developments to make sure that a housing mix suitable for local needs is put forward.
The parish council response is to object to the proposal for the NW Harwell village site but to offer to work with the Vale to review the possible sites and agree others that might be more suitable (or rather, less unsuitable).
If it’s not too late, do please let the Vale know your views by 4th April and be ready to respond again when the final version of the full Local Plan is released again for comment.
We live in a beautiful part of the world, and have to welcome the prospect of good employment opportunities, but we need to make sure that we don’t end up destroying all the things that make us want to live here.
Summary of the housing proposals as they affect Harwell
Today there are about 1,000 houses in the parish, just over 900 in the village itself.
Great Western Park will have about 700 houses in Harwell Parish
|In Harwell Parish||Local Plan up to 2031||Of which, in the first 5 years||Additional beyond 2031|
increase of 400 since last year’s draft
|East of Harwell Campus
some will be in Chilton
|North of Harwell Campus see note below||0|
|In Milton, on Harwell boundary|
|Valley Park North||400||0|
|In Harwell village|
|NW Harwell village||200||200||0|
|In SE Vale
(73% in Harwell or adjacent parish)
|In all the Vale
(7,430 more than a year ago)
- Additionally, Alder View, 65 houses, is approved and should start soon.
- Until the Local Plan is approved, we have “Development by appeal” and there are several sites within and next to the village which may come forward.
- The proposal for 400 houses north of Harwell Campus (next to north Drive) has been withdrawn because the Campus has said that they now want to use the land for employment.
Chair, Harwell Parish Council
This article was approved by the Parish council on 11 March 2014, and will be the basis of its formal response to the Vale consultation.