27 NOV 2017

Thames Farm near Henley

There have been some perverse comments on the action of SODC in trying to unscramble the decision taken by a Planning Inspector in the case of Thames Farm. Let me try to set out my position.

Thames Farm was not included in the Henley and Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan. I am not concerned with the reasons why it was not included. That is for those who produced and voted on the plan to deal with. Neighbourhood Plans are after all local planning documents. The planning application for Thames Farm was therefore rejected by SODC and went before a Planning Inspector. The application was not determined on the basis of whether a Neighbourhood Plan existed or whether the site of Thames Farm was included in the Neighbourhood Plan. It was decided on whether SODC had a three year housing land supply. I had helped change the rules on the housing land supply from one where councils needed to demonstrate a five year housing land supply to stop their policies being considered out of date to one where they needed to demonstrate a three year housing land supply where there was a Neighbourhood Plan.

The Inspector found that SODC did not have a three year land supply by 1 house per year in a judgment which many have found extraordinary and which flew in the face of SODC's calculation that it had a 4.1 years housing land supply. Most importantly, in two subsequent decisions by Planning Inspectors – at sites in Benson and Crowmarsh – the Inspectors accepted that SODC did indeed have a 4.1 years housing land supply producing a contradictory situation. It is quite right therefore that SODC is seeking clarity on the decision by pursuing this through the Courts. The fact that the development contains affordable housing does not mean that all planning rules are suspended and development can go ahead come what may, as some have claimed. The number of affordable housing is determined by the council and is included in its Local Plan.

I am working with Central Government to help determine this matter but we have to wait until the legal process has been concluded. Until then, the case remains sub judice. The decision also says a lot about the lack of consistency and of judgement on the part of the planning inspectorate and I am pursuing reform of the inspectorate in my role as chairman of the backbench Communities and Local Government Committee.

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