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Residents make a stand

CHIPPING Norton residents are making a stand against garden grabbing developments which they say are threatening the character of the town. More than 70 residents, backed by the town's Mayor Gina Burrows and town councillors, staged a protest on Saturday to fight plans for 1, Churchill Road. Developer G. Ridley of Chipping Norton has applied to demolish the present family house on the site and use the large garden to build ten flats plus parking for 15 cars.

Horrified residents in the area have formed an action group and have been firing off letters of protest to West Oxfordshire District Council. Outline planning permission had been granted in 2005 for four homes on the site. Action group spokesman Simon Ravenscroft said: "We are not opposed to the site being developed, but it's a bit of a leap from four homes to ten flats," he said. "Also, the district council should not be allowed to keep approving applications when there is clear opposition from both the town council and residents. It is changing the whole character of the town. Susan Frater, who lives opposite the site, said: "The strength of feeling among residents is amazing. They are not just opposed to this plan but the trend being repeated across the town. All of us with long gardens could build houses on them, but what would that do to the skyline and character of the town It also puts a huge strain on drainage and other services. People are really worried about the run off from the car park area flooding homes. Chipping Norton doesn't need more flats. What we do need is more affordable family housing with gardens."

The Mayor Cllr Burrows said: "The town council has objected to this plan, which sets a bad precedent, and reiterated its concerns over the escalation of housing developments in the town which have taken us well over our quota for homes in the Local Plan." Jon Westerman, area planning manager for the district council, said: "The views of local residents and stakeholders are always considered as part of the planning process." The consultation period ends on June15. Mr Ridley's agents, West Waddy of Abingdon, declined to comment as agent Steve Simpkins was away.

CHIPPING NORTON NET writes: A Planning application to replace a detached house at 1 Churchill Road with 11 flats has really stirred things up. Neighbouring residents have bombarded the planners with extremely well-argued letters of objection. At the Town Council Planning Committee this week there was unanimous condemnation by councillors of what seems like a crackpot scheme - overdevelopment which ruins the character of the street, exacerbates an existing terrible road situation, creates a dangerous road access, overloads already over-stretched local sewers and drains, creates an alarming precedent, adds to the flood of flats rather than family homes. It is difficult to see how this application can possibly be granted but the WODC Planners are not known for their sensitivity to Chipping Norton's views. Considering they have over ruled the town on virtually every proposal for residential development since the Parker Knoll factory was closed down, many of us are convinced that the District Council strategy is to turn Chippy into a flat-dwelling commuter town. The vicious cycle continues....more small flats unaffordable for locals - fewer family homes and fewer well-paid local jobs. If you work in Chippy you certainly can't afford to buy a home here. This crazy spiral has to stop. The Churchill Road application may be the tipping point. A group of active locals have been very successful at generating a lot of publicity. Radio and Press coverage has been impressive. In a short time the Planning Officer will publish his report and (hopefully) a recommendation. In the event that he recommends approval to the Planning Committee that will be the time for this campaign  to go into overdrive and be cranked up to a much higher gear (and all hands will be required on board!). If he recommends rejection the campaigners will be able to congratulate themselves on a job well done.
(Protesters were outside 1 Churchill Road in the sunshine on Saturday afternoon. The eagle-eyed will be able to spot the Mayor, the Mayor's Consort and the Deputy Mayor lending their support)



by Jemma Callow

Furious residents are revolting against proposals to build ten flats in a street in Chipping Norton. Residents of Churchill Road are up in arms after the plans were submitted to Chipping Norton Town Council at the end of last month. They argue that erecting the flats will harm the character of the Cotswold town and create a domino effect around it. Tina Ravenscroft, who lives next door to where the flats will be built, said if approved, the block would be 8 feet away from her home and would create problems with blocking the light. She said: "We're not saying there should be no development, we're just saying there should be the right kind of development. We're very angry about these plans and all the neighbours are rallying around. We have formed a group called SORT IT (Save Our Rural Town In Time) because we believe if this is granted it will set a hugh precedent not just for here, but for the rest of Chipping Norton."
The site where the flats would be built is currently home to a family house. In 2005 West Oxfordshire District Council granted planning permission for the house to be demolished to make way for four town houses - against the recommendations of the Town Council. Since then the site has been sold and an application to demolish the house in favour of ten flats has now been submitted. The flats will included associated parking and will see the existing access closed and a new vehicular access created.
The application was discussed by town councillors at a planning meeting last Wednesday. More than 20 residents attended this meeting to listen to councillors strongly oppose the plans. There was a lot of fighting talk from the councillors, particularly Cllrs Jo Graves and Gerry Alcock who both called for public protests against the plans.
The councillors also agreed to press the district council which they claimed regularly ignored their recommendations. Mr Alcock said: "over the years we have made a number of representations that have been ignored by the district council. If this application is approved there would be a domino effect across Chipping Norton and it will change the character of the town. If the district council recommends this proposal then placards are absolutely the right way to go. We will turn this into a fight for our town."
The councillors agreed the construction of flats would be out of context with the stone built properties in the town, particularly in Churchill Road where thE properties are all houses and bungalows. Jon Westerman, area planning manager said: "the views of residents and stakeholders such as town or parish councils are important and are always considered as part of the planning decision making process. However, when making decisions on planning applications the council must always adhere to both Government guidance and development plan policy. It is anticipated that the application will be reported to the uplands area planning sub-committee shortly."




Round One goes to the protestors. The Planning Officer Jonathan Westerman is recommending refusal of the application to build 10 flats on the site of one house at 1 Churchill Road. That is really excellent news. The actual decision will be confirmed at the Planning Committee on July 2nd (a formality now) There was a strong protest from the Town Council and over 35 letters of objection. In the last few weeks local residents have mounted a determined media campaign and festooned the town with posters - as well as turning out en masse for several protests. Everyone was terrified about the precedent which approval of this application would set for the future. The potential domino effect down Churchill Road was clear! The Planning Officer recommends rejection on the basis of the "massing" and "cramped" nature of the proposed development - its impact on the local street scene and more specifically its effect on immediate neighbours. Less reassuring is the statement....."Your planners consider that the principle of a building fronting Churchill Road in the manner proposed and sub-divided into flats is acceptable in principle. Your officers also consider that the design and form of the proposed building is generally acceptable"  So it looks as if a proposal for fewer flats - with a lower roofline and a bit more space between the new building and neighbouring properties might be OK. Not exactly what we wanted to hear!

READ THE REPORT :http://www.westoxon.gov.uk/files/reports/7927.pdf



The Uplands Planning Committee rejected the application to build ten flats in the place of one detached house at 1, Churchill Road.  They thought the proposed development was too overbearing, was too close to neighbouring properties and. impacted on their amenity. But this was only a reprieve. The principle of a block of flats in this position was fine - according to Jonathan Westerman - the Planning Officer. Jonathan had developed some really strange architectural concept that a block of flats on this site would constitute a "transitional bridge"  between the three storey urban red brick terraces at West End and the less densely-built detached houses on Churchill Road. It sounded like complete twaddle to me! But Jonathan obviously felt strongly about his vision. He explained that all the developer needed to do to achieve the necessary height was to dig down deeper into the ground so the roof line could be lowered to a level half-way between the two neighbours. Easy Peasy! Parking space was another issue. Fifteen parking places were proposed for the ten 2-bedroom flats - apparently meeting government guidelines of 1.5 spaces per flat. (Hilary Biles made the rib-ticklingly funny comment that she didn't know anyone who drove half a car!). In an area of double yellow lines it is clear that this kind of inadequate provision would make Chippy's existing parking problem worse. Mike Howes thought the distance between the space allocated for rubbish bins and the kerbside was such that people would be "doing themselves an injury". Nobody knew whether emergency service vehicles would actually be able to get through the archway to access the rear of the building. One councillor said he couldn't see why - in a downpour such as we are increasingly having these days -  the water would not come cascading down the bank at the back then through the courtyard, across the road and into the basements of the houses in Churchill Terrace opposite. (This guy obviously knows about towns on steep hillsides) Oh no - said Jonathan. We will sort that out in the plans.  I don't think so - not if that plan depends on having drains that actually work. Councillor Robinson commented that it seemed as if the developer was simply trying to establish a benchmark and would soon be back with something smaller. He then proceeded to set out the specification for what would be acceptable...An access road on both sides and so greater separation from neighbouring properties, a lower roof line, seven flats instead of ten, the whole thing set further back from the road and the hedge left in place and 15 car park spaces retained.  Bingo! I bet the architects are working on that plan as we speak. It was all very depressing and you had the feeling that Chippy's quirky character was all set to be whittled away in slices and handed over in small pieces to developers. Why couldn't  the Planners see that these pastiche Cotswold (reconstituted) stone boxes (with dormer windows) - which they were happily allowing to be crammed into any available space - were going to eventually wreck this town for good. Jonathan did remind developers that it wasn't just a question of building something in keeping with the context. We should also be trying to "do better", he said.  Some hope of that, I thought as I shuffled off!! But at least these same planners haven't yet done to us what they are doing to Carterton.




"This committee is not here to make decisions in accordance with what the local townspeople want" was the in-your-face statement from Councillor Warwick Robinson this afternoon at the Planning Meeting. (So why do I keep reading articles about how the government wants to try and bring decisions closer to the grass roots and give more power to town councils etc etc) "We are here to make decisions in line with council planning policies which have all been subject to consultation" And so (he didn't actually say this but is presumably what he meant) that's as much public participation as anybody need expect in West Oxfordshire Planning decisions. Which rather makes a mockery of the Town Council's "strong opposition" and the campaign which SORTIT have run for the last nine months, and the piles of letters which have been written to committee members. The trouble with Planning policies is that they are all open to an interpretation which depends entirely on your point of view. Whether you think that something is "in keeping with the Street Scene" or not begs a lorra lorra questions. Whether you think that ensuring a reasonable mix of housing types in line with local need means you can't turn an application for flats down because local people want small houses with gardens seems to depend on your political philosophy and whether you believe that the developer is king. "Its up to the developer to decide what will sell" "We can only consider what is proposed to us. We can't tell developers what to build".  They are real Free Marketeers these West Oxfordshire Planning Committee members. "It is our responsibility to encourage the maximum possible use of land in our towns. Otherwise we will soon be building on greenfield sites and nobody wants that!" Despite a barrage of comments like this Mike and Hilary mounted a really determined attack. Full marks for effort and ingenuity. Tony Walker spoke strongly in support. They all hammered away remorselessly at the fact that this block of flats is too big and too out of character and flats are not what local people want. The planning officer was insistent that if the committee wanted to reject the application they needed a jolly good "planning" reason to do so or the council would lose the appeal which would surely ensue. A slugging match followed. Policies H3 and H5 were quoted by "our" side as clear reasons for rejection. The planning officer responded that the present application for eight flats isn't going to look very different in terms of mass and appearance and impact on the street scene from the plans which were produced in a previous application for the site which the committee has already approved. The vote was taken and the application was approved 7-3. Later the committee moved on to discuss a garden-grabbing development in Ascott under Wychwood about which Hilary again got fairly incensed. "Just what are you doing to our towns and villages" she asked her fellow members. It was the best question of the afternoon.