THAME LETTERS: ‘Town plan works fine, unless there are jobs at stake...’

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In response to the letter from A.Conrad, he/she is being most disingenuous in suggesting that the Neighbourhood Plan has been overridden and is not worth the paper on which it is written.

As many of your readers will be aware I have been closely associated with the Neighbourhood Plan from inception, throughout its consultation and development period, through the referendum process, and subsequently in monitoring and policing its implementation, yet it was I who spoke at SODC’s 
Planning Committee, on 
behalf of Thame Town Council, in favour of the application relating to commercial development on Site B (Cotmore Wells).

The Town Council were well aware, and openly acknowledged, that the amount of land affected was in excess of that allocated in the Neighbourhood Plan but were unanimous in agreeing there were strong material reasons to justify such a deviation – namely, local jobs!

The two companies (Groves and Windles) intending to occupy the new buildings are both currently based in unsuitable premises in Long Crendon and are substantial employers of people from Thame.

Both companies wanted to remain local if at all possible but would otherwise have considered moves to Bicester, Aylesbury, or further afield, taking jobs away from Thame.

Approval of the development not only retains those jobs but, with both businesses expanding, should bring another 80 new jobs over the next five years.

I would also point out that the extra piece of land involved is behind the allocated site and has no increased impact on its frontage.

Whilst I am dedicated to protecting the Neighbourhood Plan and will defend it against any threats, I hate to think what the public outcry might have been if the Town Council had allowed those jobs to be lost, and perhaps we would instead have been reading the headline ‘Council sacrifices jobs in defence of Neighbourhood Plan’.

I would be most interested to learn where your correspondent has identified ‘large vacant industrial sites’ in Thame and hope for further enlightenment, but certainly there is no site available in Thame which would have been suitable for the needs of either of these two companies.

I would strongly support the regeneration of our more tired industrial and commercial buildings but round pegs and square holes don’t generally fit.

Finally, I totally share your correspondent’s horror at the conversion of Angus House into flats but, regrettably, this was totally outside the control of the Town Council or the 
influence of the Neighbourhood Plan.

A fundamental principle of Neighbourhood Plans is that they must conform to higher level policy, and the highest level policy of all is the law of the land.

Unfortunately planning law clearly states that conversion of offices into flats does not require any form of planning or change of use permission.

I have raised this matter 
personally with both our Member of Parliament and the Minister for Planning on a number of occasions, and our disillusion with the way this law has been applied in Thame is well known but, whilst we might have some small influence on future policy reviews, we were powerless to resist this most unwelcome development in Thame.

The Neighbourhood Plan is and will remain a strong 
barrier to speculative, 
windfall, or unsuitable development in Thame and I am committed to defending it against all threats for as long as I remain an elected representative of the people of Thame. 
Mike Dyer
Thame Town Councillor

I write with reference to a letter from A Conrad concerning the decision of South Oxfordshire District Council to grant planning permission for two commercial units at Cotmore Wells Farm, and more particularly the role of the town council in that process.

In this regard, any planing application considered by the town council (and district council) is assessed in the context of the legal framework provided by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act which (in Section 38(6)) essentially requires that all decisions on planning applications should be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

The development plan comprises a range of documents of which the Thame neighbourhood plan is one component.

The town council, in its formal response to the district council on the planning application , fully recognised that the proposals were a departure from the neighbourhood plan, but considered that in view of the proposed occupiers of the units and the benefits of the proposals, namely:
Retaining local jobs in Thame, facilitating the expansion of two local business, creating additional employment in Thame, secondary economic benefits from retaining existing and creating new business linkages and off-setting for loss of existing employment land/building through permitted development.

That these factors were, in combination, sufficient to justify a departure from the neighbourhood plan.

The decision of the town council was thus clearly recorded and made in a rational and logical manner that balenced the degree of conflict with the neighbourhood plan against the benefits that the proposed scheme would deliver, all in accordance with the requirements of Section 38 (6) of the act.

Moreover, the decision recognised the unique circumstances of the two companies involved and, in so doing, is not a decision that otherwise impacts on the weight and strength to be attributed to the neighbourhood plan as part of the development plan and in determining future planning applications in the parish.
Helen Stewart BEM, town clerk