The Planning Inspector has now given his preliminary findings following the second stage hearing for the Vale of White Horse Local Plan Examination held in February. The Inspector has to determine whether the Plan is ‘sound’ in terms of national policy.
Vale of White Horse District Council had included new housing sites in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for 1,400 houses on greenfield sites adjacent to the Harwell Campus. It is thought that this represented the largest housing allocation ever proposed within an AONB or National Park in England.
The North Wessex Downs AONB Partnership objected strongly to this proposal alongside countryside groups including CPRE Oxfordshire.
The Planning Inspector has found that the two sites proposed for housing are not soundly based, as no evidence has been provided to demonstrate a need for them, or the exceptional circumstances required under national planning policy to justify major development in an AONB. He also cited the harm development would do to the landscape.
The Inspector concluded that alternative sites could be found outside the AONB and the local authority can demonstrate a five year land supply of housing without the inclusion of the two Harwell Campus sites. As a result of his findings the Inspector has requested confirmation from the Council that the two Harwell Campus sites will be deleted.
Henry Oliver, Director of the North Wessex Downs AONB Partnership, welcomed the announcement:
“This is great news after a long process where we have maintained our objection to these two sites because of the harm massive new housing development would do to the natural beauty of the North Wessex Downs and the precedent that would be set by allowing an allocation for 1,400 homes within a nationally protected landscape.
It is also a gratifying and timely reminder to the local authority to recognise its legal duty to have regard for protecting the natural beauty of this landscape in line with its own AONB Management Plan.