UPDATE posted on 6th August 2021:
South Oxfordshire District Council today announced that it “considers that there are sufficient grounds to challenge the Planning Inspector’s decision” allowing the Little Sparrows Care Village to gain planning permission. The council “has therefore made an application to the High Court for a review.”
Original article follows, posted on 30th July:
Chilterns Conservation Board makes formal complaint to the Planning Inspectorate about Sonning Common appeal decision
The Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) has written to the Planning Inspectorate to raise serious concerns about the handling of an appeal decision approving the development of 133 assisted living homes on a greenfield site in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Beauty.
The CCB has consistently opposed the scheme at pre-application, application and at the recent planning inquiry. South Oxfordshire District Council had rightly refused permission for the proposal in June 2020, but this decision was appealed by the developer, which led to the case being examined by a Planning Inspector.
A photo from the footpath running to the immediate south of the appeal site. The farmstead nesting on the right hand side is Blounts Farm.
The Chilterns AONB is a nationally designated landscape protected for its special qualities, including the steep chalk escarpments, its wild-flower-rich downland, nine rare chalk streams, its ancient woodland, ancient routeways and an extensive and diverse archaeological history. Development of this land will demonstrably harm the special qualities of the Chilterns AONB including the mosaic of semi-wooded dipslope that envelopes Sonning Common and which provides a strong sense of rural openness around the village.
In his decision, the Inspector rejected the views of South Oxfordshire District Council (including its landscape advisor and consultants), the parish council and local residents, as well as the Chilterns Conservation Board – the statutory body responsible for the protection and enhancement of the Chilterns AONB. Instead, the Inspector drew heavily on the views of the developer’s consultant and, in our view, has gone significantly off-piste.
We are particularly concerned that the Inspector has developed his own approach to assessing the landscape value of the area, which falsely implies that the legal and policy protections that apply to AONBs can be selectively interpreted. In effect, he decided (a) that the appeal site and its surroundings were not in themselves special enough to be protected, and (b) that the site’s proximity to the village and existing commercial buildings justified its development.
To do so represents a significant change to the interpretation of planning policy relating to the conservation and enhancement in AONBs at a time when the Government has made clear its intention to protect more of the countryside for people and for nature. The Inspector’s decision is likely to have serious consequences for not only other locations in the Chilterns, but also across all of England’s protected landscapes.
The Inspector also unnecessarily and unreasonably undermined the council’s assessment of its five-year supply of housing land and did not give sufficient attention to the possibility of alternative ways in which the need for extra-care housing could have been met without harm to the AONB.
As a result, the Chilterns Conservation Board has written a letter of complaint to the Planning Inspectorate. We are also in conversation with South Oxfordshire District Council exploring what other actions may be taken.
Image taken from Blackmore Lane just beyond Blackmore Farm. The development site is just behind the trees on the field boundary, but the development would still be visible from here.