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Thame Neighbourhood Plan

Thame Neighbourhood Plan (2) - Vast Majority of New Development Falls on East Thame

The Town Council is now working on a 2nd Thame Neighbourhood Plan (TNP2).   The most significant challenge for which, will be the need to identify additional land for development.  South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan states that a minimum of 339 new homes need delivering in Thame, along with a minimum of 3.5 hectares of employment land as well as space for new retail uses.

Planning consultants working on behalf of the Town Council have identified potential sites for the additional housing and employment space and are now obliged to consult the public on these proposals.

The Planning Consultants essentially recommended that all the employment space should be allocated to the East Thame area opposite the Pickenfield residential area.

38% (129/339) houses are also due to be built in the East Thame area on the DAF site.  The Planning Consultants recommend the remaining houses could be allocated to the South of Thame (South of Moreton Lane and South of Chinnor Road) and/or North of Oxford Road.

Disproportionate Effect on East Thame

  • ETRA consider the process of developing TNP2 and the site selections are flawed, lack transparency and will have a disproportionately negative effect on residents living in East Thame given all employment land and 38% of new housing is allocated for our area. In addition, within East Thame, a 67-bed Care Home and offices is also due to be built on the Daf site and a planning application is under consideration for a Health Centre, 75-bedroom Care Home, up to 51 Assisted Living Units, plus up to 110 Pupil Day Nursery between Towersey and Kingsey Roads.
  • This approach conflicts with the approach taken for the first Neighbourhood Plan for which there was a shared appreciation of the need for minimising impact on local residents and new development was shared around the town.
  • Of greatest concern for residents are the recommendations to allocate the business/industrial sites adjacent to residential housing which will negatively impact residents through additional noise and traffic.  This is completely unnecessary and unacceptable when other sites are available further from residential areas.
  • For example, in the initial approved Thame Neighbourhood (2013), additional space behind Groves and away from residential areas was allocated for employment space.  Despite this space being allocated for employment use, it has not been developed and remains a potential site.   The TNP2 site selection report deems this land unsuitable; it’s unclear why this land was suitable for development in 2013 but not in 2021.
  • The Windles and Groves site was built opposite the Daf site and thus not opposite or adjoining a residential area.  The boundary for these new buildings stopped before encroaching on the residential area of Pickenfield opposite.  These employment sites have however had impact on the local residents through increased noise (i.e. paper mill operating at night) and increased traffic.
  • Unlike the original TNP, the site selection doesn’t even acknowledge existing large employment sites outside East Thame and doesn’t recommend any sites outside East Thame for employment space despite other areas being in close proximity to the A418 and having better access to the M40
  • Although employment space has been lost in the town, the unemployment rate of Thame is very low and effectively zero.  The biggest challenge currently for employers appears not a lack of space but difficulties recruiting staff.  A needs analysis is planned for the residential development but not for the employment development.  Given the pandemic has dramatically changed the working environment and many more people are working from home resulting in an excess of available office/employment space, the Town Council should conduct a needs analysis to understand the exact needs of local employers.
  • In the initial Thame Neighbourhood Plan (2013) we had to allocate 3 hectares of new employment land.  The Groves and Windles site is 4.6 hectares, so above and beyond this allocation.  For TNP2 we have to allocate a minimum of 3.5 hectares to employment space, however the recommendations amount to 4.22 hectares.  It’s unclear why the Town Council is allocating more green field sites to employment land than required by the SODC local plan particularly in the current post pandemic environment.

Other concerns

Notwithstanding the impacts on East Thame outlined above the ETRA committee have a number of other concerns about this neighbourhood plan.

  • The process by which the plan is being developed is quite different to that used to develop our first neighbourhood plan back in 2012. Then the process used involved all the residents associations and other community groups coming together to develop a plan that had the best chance of being acceptable to a majority of the town. In particular the residents associations worked together to ensure that the housing developments were spread across the town so that no single part was bearing the burden of new developments. With TNP2 there has been no involvement of residents associations or other community groups.  We appreciate that timescales imposed by SODC and restrictions of COVID have impacted the process but we feel strongly that Thame Town Council should have found a way of including community groups in their development of this plan.
  • Communication of the plan so far and details of the consultation period have been less than satisfactory. The documentation available via the Thame Town Council website is very difficult to read, maps are hard to understand and at least one document is too large to display on a computer screen. Each household is supposed to have been sent a leaflet about the consultation process but we are aware that some parts of Thame have not received this whist the leaflets have been delivered to addresses in Haddenham.
  • We understand that the proposals now out for consultation have not been discussed nor voted upon by the full Thame Town Council. This is a very worrying situation as it appears that our elected representatives have not been afforded the proper opportunity to scrutinise the proposals and that there may therefore be a lack of accountability of the officers and consultants who have developed these proposals.
  • The sites that have been listed for consideration for either housing or employment is flawed. The list includes two sites, [we should insert their proper names here but I don’t know what they are], which are designated as ‘reserve sites’ to take the 135 houses that are not now going to be built on the Lord Williams Lower School site. 
  • Also included are sites for which there are existing planning applications in progress namely the site at the Kingsey Road roundabout for a proposed Health Hub and the land at the end of Windmill Road for the proposed Community Land Trust development of affordable homes for Thame families. These sites should not be included.
  • The documents provided on Thame Town Council’s website include a timeline for the project. This document lists one of the steps as being a housing needs assessment. We are somewhat perplexed as to why the council thinks this is needed. SODC has already allocated a new requirement to Thame of 339 houses. The fact that Thame Town Council wishes to carry out this assessment suggests that they are going to propose that the town has more than 339 new houses.

Consultation Period

The consultation period for TNP(2) opened on 2nd August and will consist of the following activities:

  • Two consultation events on:
    • Tuesday 17th August 9am-2pm at Thame Market
    • Thursday 19th August 1pm-9pm at Thame Town Hall
  • Two online questionnaires that must be completed by 23 August 2021

What Residents Can Do?

Given the lack transparency and the disproportionate negative effect these site recommendations could have on residents living in East Thame, we urge you to voice your concerns. Please go to one of the consultation days if you can and provide feedback to the Town Council on these site recommendations via their survey.  Link provided below.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/18JK9ciCA0w1y9ox9xEA67V4EB5yn2hP0hn6XMz7-I20/viewform?edit_requested=true

There is also a second questionnaire about the character Thame.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1TBHG9w-R0D6auytBCm7uta5jIL60is6iOeNo6S6_RZI/viewform?edit_requested=true&fbzx=-5427980171925776323

What ETRA will do

The ETRA committee consider the TNP(2 )site recommendations to be unfair and place a disproportionate burden on East Thame to accommodate additional development, this in turn will negatively impact East Thame residents.  Ultimately this isn’t the basis for a Thame Neighbourhood Plan, it’s the basis for an East Thame Development Plan.

Hence we will work with the Town Council to ensure our concerns are considered in the development of TNP(2).  However, to successfully shape the TNP(2) we will need support from residents, so please ensure you raise any concerns and have your say in the next version of our Neighbourhood Plan.