At its meeting on Monday 16 January 2017, members of Sonning Common Parish Council’s Planning Committee voted unanimously to recommend SODC reject the Gladman application. Their submission is below:
Refusal of the application is strongly recommended on the following grounds:
The proposed development would occupy a significant part of the Strategic Green Gap between Sonning Common, Emmer Green and Eye and Dunsden. This green gap provides vital separation not only between these rural areas but between these rural settlements and Reading. This gap is essential to preserve the character and integrity of the rural settlements.
One of the primary objectives of the adopted Sonning Common Neighbourhood Plan (SCNP) – backed overwhelmingly by residents – is to preserve the village’s separateness from Reading. This development would be only one mile from Sonning Common’s southern boundary. The village’s character and surrounding rural landscape would be permanently and irrevocably damaged by allowing this urban extension to Reading.
The Council’s Autumn 2016 OUTLOOK newsletter which is delivered to every householder in the district, emphasised SODC’s continued support for neighbourhood plans in the following extract:
"They (neighbourhood plans) are based on the views of local people - the people who know the most about how their communities work. We see them as a vital part of making sure housing and other developments in the district are the right ones in the right places at the right time. They will support and complement our Local Plan to make sure the thriving, rural nature of our district is protected and supported by new houses and jobs."
The proposed housing development is unsustainable. The provision of sustainable development is an essential requirement of the NPPF. The nearest South Oxfordshire services would be in Sonning Common. New residents would be unable to walk to the village along the B481 since there are no pavements. It would be dangerous to walk or risky to cycle along the road since there is often a high volume of traffic, including heavy-weight vehicles and farm machinery.
An urban extension beyond the Reading boundary would not meet South Oxfordshire’s housing requirement as the site is not connected to any settlement in South Oxfordshire. It would therefore not accord with the South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2032 Preferred Options.
The option of siting new housing next to neighbouring major urban areas has already been specifically rejected in the South Oxfordshire Proposed Submission Core Strategy December 2010:
7.22. As part of our distribution strategy we have considered land outside Reading. Some of this lies within the floodplain and other areas within the Chilterns AONB. Further development focused on Reading would increase the pressures on the constrained bridges crossing the Thames and the strategy does not therefore provide for urban extensions to Reading.
Reading Borough Council has already rejected the application as being unsustainable. Education and healthcare provision in and around Sonning Common and Emmer Green is already struggling to meet the needs of the existing population. Primary schools are over-subscribed and there is only one secondary school serving the whole of Caversham and Emmer Green.
The area’s health surgeries, both in Sonning Common and Emmer Green, are already under significant pressure. Sonning Common Health Centre currently has some 8,600 patients and the dental surgery 3,800 – the village’s population is less than 5,000 people, so a notable number of patients come from smaller settlements around the village’s periphery.
Sonning Common’s sustainability with regard to education and healthcare will be further stretched by the 195 new homes allocated under the SCNP and the additional 44 homes in reserve.
This planning application fails to make provision for the necessary infrastructure and facilities to ensure that the development is sustainable, as required by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
The proposed development is in an unsuitable location. The large scale of the proposed development would place intolerable pressure on the area’s rural road network.
The B481 – the main route through Sonning Common - is not equipped to cope with the significant increase in regular traffic movements that would be associated with this site; neither is the Kennylands Road, off the B481, another main route into the village.
Under the Sonning Common Neighbourhood Plan, 113 new homes with their associated traffic movements are already being accommodated off these roads. The construction of 65 of these new homes is already underway at Lea Meadow (SON 9).
Permitting additional traffic movements on the scale associated with this proposed development would cause an unacceptable risk to road users, pedestrians and existing residents.
The proposed access from the B481 is inadequate and dangerous. The alternative proposed access, off Kiln Lane, is narrow and leads to a network of country lanes in Eye and Dunsden, many of which are single-lane. The Oxfordshire Cycleway crosses this route and cyclists would be placed in danger by increased traffic movements on these narrow, rural routes.
The applicant’s traffic flow data is flawed and inaccurate. Photographic evidence was collated to demonstrate that data collection points were sited at points in the road where speeds were atypically low. Consequently, access roads are much more dangerous than they claim.
In the absence of a third bridge to Reading the proposed development would place intolerable pressure on the already seriously over-stretched river crossings in Sonning and Reading. Pressure on these Thames crossings will be further increased by the new housing allocations under the Sonning Common Neighbourhood Plan and infill in the wider area.
This proposed development would contribute to blocking the scope for a relief road from any third bridge to Reading.
Local bus services are inadequate for a development of this scale. The applicant’s assertion that an increase in demand will result in additional bus services being provided is speculative. The proposal to provide bus stops near the entrance to the development site on the B481 (Peppard Road) will have a detrimental impact on traffic flow on that road which is a busy cut-through for traffic travelling through South Oxfordshire to Reading and beyond (to the M3 and M4).
There is concern over the capacity of the sewerage system locally and the provision of water supply to the site, problems identified by the applicant.
The Oxfordshire SHMA identifies future job growth as being in Didcot and the Science Vale, not in this part of South Oxfordshire. Neither Sonning Common nor Emmer Green are areas of high or growing employment – quite the opposite, in fact – and sufficient employment opportunities for new residents in this area would not exist.
The Chilterns AONB is just 700m away from the site. This large-scale development would cause an unacceptable intrusion into the AONB and permanently destroy the landscape setting of the area.
Significant amenity value will be lost if the development goes ahead. The site is defined by the applicants themselves as "ancient countryside" and has long been used for informal recreation purposes. There are ecological and environmental benefits in retaining the existing landscape which is typical of the Chilterns dip slope and offers pleasing vistas from a large number of neighbouring properties.
We are concerned that the applicant has inadequately addressed the geology of the local area where a large number of chalk caverns and swill holes exist.
This proposed development is out of keeping with the rural character of the parishes of Sonning Common and Eye and Dunsden.
In summary, there are so many significant reasons for rejecting this application that it would be difficult to see how the application could be justified at all – other than to help restore the district’s five-year land supply.
A recommendation of approval from SODC on this application would mark a betrayal of existing residents and cause serious, substantial and permanent harm to the local area. Given that this is an outline application, a full application with potentially more new houses would have even more damaging consequences for the area.
This proposed development fails the test for sustainable development in a suitable location, as required by the NPPF, and is contrary to spatial strategy of the adopted Sonning Common Neighbourhood Plan. It must be refused.