Neighbourhood Watch #8: Homes approved in frontrunner area

The first major housing application to be tested against a community-made plan has been given the go-ahead in a landmark decision for the government's flagship neighbourhood planning policy.

The Thame Neighbourhood Plan, which covers an Oxfordshire town, was the first document of its kind to allocate housing sites.

The plan, drawn up by Thame Town Council, proposes that 775 homes be built on seven different sites around the town and was adopted into South Oxfordshire District Council's local plan in July.

Earlier this month, the district council's planning committee unanimously approved outline plans, submitted by developer Commercial Estates Group (CEG), for 175 homes in Thame. The land is in the neighbourhood plan's site D, which is earmarked for 175 homes.

Independent planning inspector and consultant Nigel McGurk, who examined the Thame plan, said the decision was "incredibly important" given the concerns many communities embarking on the neighbourhood planning process felt about whether they could see it through.

He said: "It demonstrates that neighbourhood planning is taking immediate effect in determining and controlling how places evolve, according to the views and aspirations of local people.

"The implication of the Thame decision is potentially huge. It's saying to neighbourhood plan-makers: 'Hold on and stick with it. You can make a difference and here's the tangible evidence.'"

Jon Kenny, CEG's development director, said the firm had been working with the town council and residents on the plan for the past three years. He said: "There will be developers concerned about the process but in our experience there's nothing to fear.

"The decision demonstrates that developers and communities can work together to deliver new homes which meet local aspirations."

Helen Stewart, Thame Town Council clerk, said the decision was a "significant step" in the neighbourhood planning process.

The town council felt "a lot of pride" to see the first application approved "based on what the community wants", she said, adding: "There were only nine letters of objection, which is quite a significant change to how these sorts of developments are usually accepted by the community."

Plan updates

- A neighbourhood plan for Lynton and Lynmouth, north Devon, was backed in a local referendum last week.

- Examiner Nigel McGurk recommended that the neighbourhood plan for Broughton Astley, Leicestershire, should proceed to a referendum.

- St Albans City and District Council's cabinet has approved a request from Redbourn Parish Council to designate the current parish boundary as a Neighbourhood Plan Area.

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