09 February 2021 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of the Meeting of Thame Town Council held on 9 February 2021 at 6:30pm by Zoom Conference Call.
Cllrs B Austin, D Bretherton, N Champken-Woods, P Cowell (Deputy Mayor), D Dodds, M Dyer, L Emery, H Fickling, S Francis, K Gregory, C Jones, A Midwinter (Town Mayor), J Tipping and T Wyse
C Pinnells, Acting Town Clerk
G Markland, Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer
A Oughton, Asset Manager
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
P Jarvis, Jarvis Planning
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received from Cllrs Deacock (personal) and Dite (personal).
All Members who were present were able to be seen and be heard.
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
Cllrs Austin, Bretherton, and Midwinter all declared an interest in Item 7 as members of Thame Community Land Trust. The Acting Town Clerk advised that within the Dispensation Policy, as adopted in May 2019, a general dispensation was in place that allowed Members to speak and vote on Planning Applications where the Town Council was the applicant, and all discussions relating to Thame Community Land Trust Limited. The policy also gave “dual-hatted” Members a general dispensation to speak and vote on any matter (from a Thame Town Council perspective) on which the “dual-hatted” Member may be called upon to re-discuss in their capacity as a Member of a District Council Committee.
It was noted that, in relation to Items 7 and 8, Cllr Gregory and Cllr Bretherton as District Councillors on this Full Council will make their comments and decisions based upon information available at the time of the meeting. It is accepted that District Councillors may come to a different decision in the light of more information being made available at District Planning Committee Meetings.
3 Civic Announcements
The Mayor advised that she had no civic announcements to make.
4 Public Participation and Public Questions
Mr Tony Rushforth and Ms Helen Flitton spoke in support of planning application P20/S4963/FUL (Item 7) as Directors of the Thame Community Land Trust (CLT). Mr Rushforth explained that the aim of the Thame CLT was to provide a balanced community in terms of demographics by retaining family structures as much as possible locally through providing a basic need of truly affordable housing for people with strong connections to Thame. It was hoped this would avoid Thame becoming a dormitory town or retirement community. There are huge gaps in the local area not covered by local Government or Home Ownership schemes. In addition, current market prices are prohibitively expensive for families in Thame with average incomes. Of the 775 homes allocated in the Local Plan for Thame, only 46 were guaranteed as allocated to Thame residents for affordable housing or social rent. The concentration of these properties, typically 2 or 3-beds, by developers led to a concentration of larger 4-bed homes for sale on the open market. This has exacerbated the shortage of smaller houses for sale. 16 of the proposed 31 properties on the application site would be available at discounted market sale prices, which is currently 30% less than market value. There would be a restricted covenant on reselling to ensure the properties remained affordable in perpetuity. The remaining 15 properties would be rented through a housing association who would work with the Thame CLT to identify eligible tenants. In January 2020, the Thame CLT commissioned a housing needs survey which was sent to 5000 properties in Thame. The results were used to design the properties on the site, along with input from the planning officers at South Oxfordshire District Council who handled the pre-application enquiry submitted last year. The site provides easy pedestrian access to the town centre. Ms Flitton spoke in relation to the design benefits of the site which included attractive green spaces and landscaping, to provide a transition to the countryside, and pedestrian friendly streets. The properties were well-proportioned, exceeded national space standards and featured contemporary structures that took cues from the local area whilst acknowledging the site’s position on the edge of town. The scheme aimed to minimise its environmental impact through modern construction techniques which minimise the energy required to build and run the homes. It was a key principle of the Thame CLT to provide homes that were affordable to rent / purchase as well as to run. The scheme would also include design features such as air-source heat pumps and electric car charging points.
Mr Robert Smith spoke against planning application P20/S4963/FUL (Item 7). Whilst he supported the aims of the CLT, he did not support development on the proposed site. The proposal would significantly downgrade the Phoenix Trail due to the proposed vehicular crossing to access the site via Windmill Road. This would result in hundreds of additional vehicle movements across the Phoenix Trail which would make it unsafe for users of the Phoenix Trail, in particular school children, and undermine the aims of the recently adopted Green Living Plan. Mr Smith also expressed concerns about various dangerous highways issues, such as poor visibility, on Windmill Road and Nelson Street which would be made worse with increased traffic from the proposed development. It was felt that access to the site should be from the south so that vehicles did not have to cross the Phoenix Trail and go via the town centre. The proposals undermine the Thame Neighbourhood Plan (TNP) and should be reconsidered as part of the TNP revision where the best location for the site can be considered, rather than seeking an exception to policies of the Local Plan and delivering a poor legacy for the town. Overall, Mr Smith fully supported the CLT on delivering their laudable aims but felt they should not be rushing to shoehorn a significant number of houses on a poor site location, as it would leave a poor legacy for Thame, undermine the Green Living Plan, downgrade the Phoenix Trail, and cause highways problems.
It was moved and seconded that Item 7 be taken immediately after this item.
5 Members Questions (under Standing Order 11)
Cllr Gregory referred to the recent viral video of the Handforth Parish Council meeting which was recognised by many as an act of misogyny; something that was experienced by many women in local government. Cllr Gregory referred to her own experience as a Councillor and that she had witnessed sexist attitudes, although not necessarily intentional, the impact on the individual was the same. In light of this, Cllr Gregory asked whether equality, diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias training could be made available for all Members and Officers at the earliest opportunity?
The Mayor advised that if there were suitable training courses that had been identified, then Cllr Gregory should bring those forward but advised that training was a choice and not enforceable. Cllr Gregory advised that she had asked the Oxfordshire Association for Local Councils for training courses and would enquire at South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC).
The minutes of the meeting held on 19 January 2021 were approved.
7 1358 – P20/S4963/FUL – Land to the West of Windmill Road, Thame
The Chairman introduced Ms Philippa Jarvis of Jarvis Planning, who had written the recommendation report as to ensure objectivity as the application had been made in the Town Council’s name. Ms Jarvis had undertaken a site visit as part of her report. The site would be accessed via Windmill Road with a new crossing point created on the Phoenix Trail and widening of Windmill Road after the crossing to 6metres. A small strip of land that does not form part of the proposals is situated between the Phoenix Trail and the site. The site would feature a series of small terraces, of two-storey and contemporary design. The scheme had been well-designed, taking cues from local traditional features. The site proposed three areas of open space and will be well landscaped. It was considered that the southern boundary – where the site meets the countryside – needed to be well treated and the proposed hedge was not sufficient, and therefore the recommendation was that additional tree planting should be incorporated where possible along this boundary. Unfortunately, the Highways Officer had not yet responded to the consultation, however they had not identified any fundamental concerns in the pre-application enquiry. Windmill Road is narrow at the point it meets the north of the Phoenix Trail and whilst traffic calming measures are proposed, Ms Jarvis felt the input from the Highways Officer on these measures was needed. With regards to traffic generated from the development, the Transport Assessment submitted with the application expects 8-9 vehicle movements in each of the peak hour of the morning and evening and overall, an estimated 88 vehicle movements throughout the whole day. Several concerns had been raised through the consultation with regards to the safety of the new vehicle crossing over the Phoenix Trail. The crossing would be in the form of a raised ramp and will narrow to a single lane over the Phoenix Trail to allow only one vehicle at a time. There would also be a series of bollards and signage to alert users of the Phoenix Trail of the junction. It was considered that with careful use, this would be acceptable. The site is open and would enable a degree of planting to minimise the impact of the development on the countryside. Concerns regarding flood risk and ecology can be adequately dealt with through conditions. A question was raised with regards to the strip of land between the site and the Phoenix Trail, and what were the plans for it? Ms Jarvis advised that the land was not part of the development or under control of the applicant and therefore should not be relied on to provide screening. Cllr Austin later clarified that the landowner had written a letter of intent to gift a strip of land of 2m either side of the access to enable Windmill Road to be widened and redesign planting to improve visibility. Another question was raised with regards to the site, if approved, becoming a precedent for other development on unallocated land? Ms Jarvis advised that as this was an exception site, it could not be relied upon to set a precedent.
The Chairman thanked Ms Jarvis for her report and moved the item to debate.
A concern was raised over whether pedestrians or drivers would have priority on the Phoenix Trail / Windmill Road crossing? Cllr Austin provided reassurance that pedestrians and cyclists would have priority. The design and safety measures to warn pedestrians of the crossing and slow vehicle traffic were subject to input from Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) and Sustrans. It was noted that similar arrangements could be found across the country and most users of the crossing were likely to be local and therefore would learn to take care.
Members raised concern over the proposed additional vehicle movements, particularly on Nelson Street and Rooks Lane, and asked whether the Town Council could call for these roads to become one way? It was noted that a similar request had been made some time ago but was not progressed by OCC – possibly due to local objection – however Members felt these roads would feel the impact of the proposed development the most and therefore there was justification to resurrect the one-way request.
Concern was raised with regards to construction, particularly in terms of construction traffic crossing the Phoenix Trail during school hours, parking, and that it will possibly take place at the same time as development at The Elms. Cllr Austin advised that construction traffic would use Southern Road and not Nelson Street, although the construction traffic plan was subject to consultation with SODC.
With regards to the various highways concerns, Cllr Austin advised that upon identifying the site, the Thame CLT promptly sought the opinion of OCC on access and traffic flows to try and mitigate any issues before taking action. The Thame CLT has always followed the advice from OCC Highways, whilst making the site well-designed and liveable with open spaces and town centre connections.
A question was raised as to the legality of the site being a rural exception site? Cllr Austin explained that under the National Planning Policy Framework, sites can be allocated an exception site on the basis they will provide affordable accommodation through an identified need. The Trust will have to sign a S106 agreement with SODC to guarantee dwellings will remain affordable in perpetuity. An agreed selling policy and local lettings policy would form a legal agreement with SODC, and all resales would be subject to a resale price covenant. Although individuals would be allowed to have an accretion of value on sales, this would be limited by keeping the selling price 30% lower than the market rate at the time of sale. A housing provider would manage the rented properties on behalf of the trust.
All sites were optioned but this was the only one that came forward. Cllr Austin recognised that no site was perfect, but felt the cause was. Concern was raised that the cause should not outweigh the impact of the development.
- Thame Town Council supports this application and has a response to this application: the development should incorporate additional tree planting where possible, particularly towards the southern boundary of the site which will need to provide a suitable transition to the countryside.
8 1357 – P20/S4801/RM – DAF Trucks Ltd, Kingsmead Business Park
The Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer (NPCO) explained that this site was important within the Thame Neighbourhood Plan as an identified employment area. Outline permission had, however, been granted at appeal in March 2020 for 129 dwellings and office space, and full planning permission for a 68-bed care home. The Reserved Matter application (P20/S4801/RM) is for the 129 dwellings. It was noted that the Town Council was awaiting the decision of a Section 288 challenge to the granting of outline permission at appeal. As the decision has not been published, the Town Council must consider the Reserved Matters application as if the outline permission is valid.
The application site is approximately 3.52 hectares and mostly covers the former DAF site, although it was noted the applicant also owns land along part of the Phoenix Trail. The scheme had been partly designed with the Dementia Care Unit in mind. The Dementia Care Unit and office space would be located to the front of the site, closest to Howland Road, and would be three-storey along with the apartments. The remainder of the site would be two-storey. Two design themes can be seen across the rest of the site, Victorian / Edwardian style houses and more relaxed style houses with modern elements, taking inspiration locally and nationally. The affordable housing allocation is only 22%, lower than the usual 40% expected in TNP policy H8, due to the previous applicant’s use of vacant building credit. The housing mix of 2-3 bed units is welcome and appears to have been influenced following discussions with the Town Council and SODC and an identified need for dwellings of this size in Thame. The scheme does not offer much in terms of biodiversity and ecology other than where the site adjoins the Phoenix Trail, however it is considered that the site would offer a net gain in biodiversity through improvements in flora and habitats. It was considered that the scheme would offer an improvement to the site’s drainage.
The TNP asks developers to ensure that development relates well to its surroundings, however in this case the applicant has failed to do so as the design inspiration is not clear and does not work well as a whole. It was considered that the site could benefit from a unique design approach given that it is well-screened. The scheme has designed pedestrian access into the site well, with various access points. It was noted that CPRE have suggested that footpath FP13 be re-opened. The site appears to meet OCC standards with regards to parking, cycling and refuse storage.
The NPCO recommended that the Town Council objected on the grounds that the scheme is contrary to the Local Plan 2035 as it does not meet the minimum requirements for density. The design of the scheme is contrary to Local Plan policy DES2 and TNP policy ESDQ16 in not relating well to its surroundings. There was an opportunity for the open space and play areas on the site to be larger and better designed, particularly given the shortage of these spaces in Thame. It was noted that the proposed electric vehicle charging points for each dwelling would be inadequate for fast charging.
The NPCO acknowledged the written statement received from the applicant, adding that due to timings it was unfortunate that they were unable to provide representation this evening.
Members raised concern and disappointment at the location and inadequate provision of the recreational space within the scheme. It was assumed the play area had been intentionally sited to accommodate the drainage system.
The NPCO confirmed that the affordable dwellings would meet minimum internal living space requirements. With regards to density, the NPCO explained that the site did not meet the requirements of the Local Plan 2035 for a minimum density of 45 dwellings per hectare, which superseded the TNP requirements of 25 dwellings per hectare. The 129 dwellings limit on the site exists through the outline permission, however the NPCO felt that the site could be denser whilst retaining an economic return.
Various comments were made with regards to the footpath however rerouting / reinstating the footpath was outside the remit of this application. Concern was raised with regards to the credibility of the ecology report and it was suggested that the Town Council should request that ‘hedgehog highways’ were included in the proposals to enable hedgehogs, an endangered species, to safely access the countryside through the site. It was agreed that the design was unimaginative and there was an opportunity for the site to be more energy efficient and modern.
- Thame Town Council objects to this application on the grounds listed in the Officer report. This recommendation should be made subject to the outcome of the Town Council’s S288 challenge to the appeal decision of 27 March 2020.
9 Staffing Matters
Cllr Cowell advised of two matters following the Personnel committee meeting on 27 January 2021. Firstly, the committee recommendation was for Full Council to consider splitting the Town Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer roles. Secondly, the committee had been in contact with a professional independent consultant who would assist with the recruitment of the Town Clerk (including advertising, interviewing and decision making), review the organisation, Officer workloads and identify the required skill sets for the Town Clerk. The cost for this service would be £5,000 and the committee sought approval from Full Council to authorise this expenditure from General Reserves. Cllr Cowell clarified that the company would help the Council to decide whether to split the two roles permanently.
- The role of the Town Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer be split into two separate positions, subject to the advice of the independent consultant.
- Expenditure of £5,000 be authorised from General Reserves for an independent consultant to review the Town Council’s staff structure and assist with recruitment.
The meeting concluded at 8:09pm.
Chairman, 2 March 2021