News

Proposed Oxbridge link comes close to village

Proposals for the new Oxford to Cambridge Expressway just announced by the Government show the planned route options appearing to come very close to Steeple Aston. Villagers are already expressing concern that plans for extensive development along the route may impact the village.

Announcing the scheme, the Government said, “This expressway will enhance both transport connectivity and growth across the region for the benefit of the UK as a whole….

“…Building the new link close to the east/west rail link will also offer more options for the commercial development of up to 1 million new homes, in line with proposals by the National Infrastructure Commission, and encourage more people to travel by train rather than by cars.”

The plan is for 300.000 of these new homes to be in Oxfordshire.

A full public consultation will be held next year, in which residents and businesses in and around the corridor will have their say on more detailed designs for the route.

The full government announcement can be found here.

Highways England’s booklet about the expressway can be found here.


Council hears of plan for houses on Paines Hill field

Plans for the development of the proposed “Local Green Space” at the heart of the village on Paines Hill have been presented to Steeple Aston Parish Council.  The owner of the Paines Hill field, Lynda Sanders, came with her designer to present their outline scheme for the housing development on the field to the council’s July meeting.

Many local people think of this open space as an essential feature of the village, part of its special character. Indeed, this was the main reason why Lynda purchased the field back in 1985 to stop it from being developed. She has kept chickens and the distinctive brown Soay sheep there for many years.

So it was with a sense of some irony that councillors listened to an explanation of the options now being considered for development on the upper part of the field, promoted by its owner. The options at present are for one single dwelling, a group of five, or a crescent of nine small houses (occupying most of the field). In each case there would be a new access road on to the site from Paines Hill. There would be some left over green space at the foot of the hill, by the stream, which the designer suggested could be available for public use.

Councillors, asked if they had any comments, did not have much to say other than to remind those present that in 2017 the Parish Council had nominated the field, along with three other green spaces in the village, as “Local Green Space” in the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan. If approved at examination (which is expected in October) this status would protect the spaces concerned from development. The others are Robinsons Close recreation field, the Allotments also off Fir Lane, and the Old Sandworks site off Fenway.

The presentation ended with the designer promising that an application for planning permission would be forthcoming in due course. Cherwell District Council had so far not been approached.

A set of the sketch drawings was left for the Parish Council’s records. Anyone wishing to see the drawings can do so by contacting the Parish Clerk Cathy Fleet on 01869 347000 or parishclerk.steepleaston@gmail.com


Revised plans for Southside development presented

In its second meeting of the week Steeple Aston Parish Council’s Planning Committee met on 31st May to hear about the revised proposals for the development on Southside opposite the entrance to Hill House. They included a new footpath plan and a revision to the size and number of houses to be built.

Rectory Homes (www.rectory.co.uk) withdrew an application for planning permission to build six four-bedroomed houses on the site in February following a number of objections from local residents, the Parish Council, the Mid Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan Forum and the OCC Highways Department.

At a previous meeting, it was clear that neither the Parish Council nor other commentators were hostile to some development on this site. But there were major objections to the original scheme proposed. The Parish Council summarised the three main objections as:

  1. Housing mix: the proposal is for six houses of four bedrooms. There is however a clear need locally for a mix of house sizes, including some with smaller number of bedrooms…..
  2. Safe pedestrian access: walking into the village with no footpath – especially in darkness – is dangerous, and difficult to solve where the road narrows at the Red Lion.
  3. Safe vehicular access: the new road junction for the development will exacerbate an already dangerous stretch of road unless measures are taken to improve safety. Both speeding and limited visibility on the bend here have caused several near misses for traffic using the Hill House lane used by about 20 cars serving various dwellings.

Amy Atkins for Rectory Homes said their new proposal for pedestrian access would involve a “shared surface” for cars and pedestrians from the development to the junction with Water Lane. This would be indicated by rumble strips on the road, and different colour paint on the road marking the ‘virtual’ footpath. She said that the Highways Department had accepted a similar proposal in Harwell village near Didcot. However subsequent investigation shows that the road there is not comparable with South Side, as it excludes buses and HGVs.

Parish Councillors and members of the public were unconvinced that this would provide a safe space for pedestrians, especially those with pushchairs and small children. The general view was that visibility on this stretch of road makes it unsafe. It was suggested that if the Red Lion’s hedge were removed visibility would be improved, but Hook Norton Brewery had not been willing to take down the hedge when asked on a previous occasion.

It was also suggested that a footpath which went around the back of Kiftsgate and emerged further along South Side might be safer, but this would involve the purchase of additional land. Other suggestions were a 20mph speed limit or a chicane. The developers took these points on board and said they would investigate further.

On the objections to the mix of houses, they said they had listened to the Parish Council’s objections and had also been informed that Cherwell District Council would prefer greater density and more of a mix. So they were now proposing to build 10 houses on the site – two two-bedroomed houses, three four-bedroomed houses and five three-bedroomed houses. This would increase the number of houses, but the greater mix was generally welcomed by villagers as more in line with local demand. Because there will be only 10 houses, there won’t be a requirement for the developer to include affordable housing in the mix. There was some concern however that this would lead to an increase in the number of cars on the road.

Finally an issue discussed at the previous meeting was raised again by the Chairman Stuart Ferguson. He asked the developers to look at the question of drainage, and whether the existing provision could cope with 10 more houses. In the past there have been overflows of sewage from the drains in Bradshaw Close after heavy rain, which indicated that the existing system, thought to be Victorian, was operating at its limits. The developers said this would be the responsibility of Thames Water.

See below for the draft sketch plans and the potential footpath solution which were presented to the village. Rectory Homes have asked us to emphasise that these are drafts, and they are far from being ready to submit a planning application to the district council.

To see the suggested footpath solution, please click here.

To see the proposed site plan, please click here.

To see the proposed street scene, please click here.


Old Quarry meeting produces several surprises

There were quite a few surprises to emerge from the Parish Council Planning Committee’s open meeting about the future of The Old Quarry, Fenway, which was attended by around 30 villagers on 29th May.

The meeting had been requested by the developers Spitfire Bespoke Homes (https://spitfirepg.co.uk/) as a presentation of initial proposals for the land, an old sandworks behind Old Quarry House, an 18 acre site which some have described as a nature conservation area. It was recently a subject of controversy when it was proposed for development, and was subsequently nominated as a Local Green Space in the Mid-Cherwell Development Plan and made the subject of a new area Tree Preservation Order (TPO) by Cherwell District Council.

Representing the company were Connor Chamberlain from Spitfire and Guy Wakefield, their planning consultant on the project. They said that Spitfire has an option to purchase the land, but there is no specification about the number of houses to be built.

The first surprise of the evening came at the start when the developers reported that the area Tree Preservation Order on the site imposed by Cherwell District Council had been modified. The TPO which originally applied to the whole site now covered a large area furthest away from the road, and a number of separate areas closer to the road. This left less than 50 per cent of the site available for development.

This change was news to the Parish Council and most villagers. Chairman Stuart Ferguson said they hadn’t been informed and would investigate. One neighbour had received a letter from the council, but others had heard nothing.

The second surprise came as a consequence of this. It was reported that the landowner has agreed that the land covered by the TPOs which is not developable would be gifted to the Parish Council. There was a mixed reaction to this both from parish councillors and the public, particularly as it could impose more costs and responsibility on the council which might not be welcome.

The third surprise was perhaps the most controversial. Though the developers have had no preliminary contacts with the planning authority, Cherwell District Council, as yet, they have been in contact with Oxfordshire County Council’s Highways Department about access to the site. To the surprise of local residents, it was reported that the Highways Department had agreed in principle that road access beside the existing Old Quarry House could be provided for up to 60 homes.

Villagers were very concerned about the impact that would have on traffic in Fenway, a single track road where there has already been recent development. There was also much concern when the developers said that an ecologist had walked the site and reported that any damage from development could be mitigated. There was a demand from some villagers for a proper independent ecological report on the site, and concern that work already undertaken may have damaged the site’s biodiversity.

The developers said that there would have to be reports on ecology, traffic and other matters before planning permission could be granted. They were here on a fact-finding mission to find out what the Parish Council’s attitude was, and they were aware that the draft Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan designated the whole area as a Local Green Space.

Steeple Aston Parish Councillor Martin Lipson is also the Chair of the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan Forum and he explained in detail why the Parish Council had backed the move to include the quarry as a Local Green Space, responding to a request from residents convinced that the site was of ecological importance.

He also explained why the Plan proposed only a five per cent increase in housing in the village (ie 20 houses) over the next15 years. The draft Neighbourhood Plan is open for public consultation until 19th June, then it will go to an independent examiner before being the subject of a referendum later this year or early 2019. The developers say they will want to see what the examiner says before deciding whether to go for planning permission.

In order to facilitate future discussions, the developers invited the Parish Council along with a small number of local residents to visit the Old Quarry site. This invitation was accepted, but has not yet been confirmed.


Rector answers questions about proposed church re-vamp

Following the public meeting where many villagers expressed concern at aspects of the plans for the ‘re-ordering’ of Steeple Aston church, and at the lack of public consultation, the Rector has tried to answer many of the questions and concerns in his blog on the church website. He has also promised more public consultation in future.

At the meeting on July 18th attended by over 40 villagers, there was disappointment that neither the Rector nor members of the Parochial Church council were there to explain their proposals and answer questions. At the Parish Council meeting the following week, some members felt the whole process was rather undemocratic and that there had been a certain lack of communication.

In his blog, Revd Marcus Green writes: “We have been asked all sorts of questions about the proposals for the Building Project in recent weeks. Thank You for all your interest! Please keep it coming!

To try and answer some of these questions, we’ve compiled a list of ‘FAQs’ – Frequently Asked Questions. Do write in if you’d like to ask about anything else!”

The questions (here with abbreviated answers) are:

  1. Why spend so much money on paths and ramps? The PCC has six guiding principles, six values in this Building Project: Access; Better Heating; Room for Children; Providing Loos; Hospitality & Service; Flexible Space. Really, there isn’t much of a hierarchy or order to these six – except that access comes first…….
  2. Why are you turning the Church into a Community Centre? We aren’t!…….. The PCC are simply trying to make the very most of what we have in order to ensure we don’t leave this fantastic place empty most of the week. Hospitality & Service are essential parts of church life.
  3. But why not just use the Village Hall or the Sport & Rec if you want to do something other than Sunday worship? Well… because we have a great building, and it seems such a waste not to use our own place for our own activities…………………..
  4. Why does the Church need loos and heating? It’s always been OK in the past!………. If the young and the elderly are to use a public building, we have to help:………
  5. Why does the Church need space for Children’s Church? Haven’t the children always used the Pre-School? ……….. We haven’t been able to use Pre-School for quite a while because of an insurance issue, but we have used the Samuel Radcliffe room in the school. However – that’s quite a walk when it’s raining or snowing or cold…………..
  6. Why are you putting a kitchen in the Lady Chapel? We aren’t! No-one would let us, and we would never want to. We do want to open this space out so it can be used for different things………..
  7. Why are you taking the famous wooden screen down? We are planning to move the screen to the arch between the lady chapel & the chancel, in such a way that if a future PCC want to move it back – they can………………
  8. Why are you ripping all the beautiful and historic pews out? ….there has been a huge desire to remove all the pews. Not just within the PCC – lots of people in the village have asked for this ….. Early on, however, independent heritage experts told us that both the bench ends and the pews themselves were important, and we needed to work with them. So we listened, and with the independent experts, the Diocesan committee that oversees historic buildings, and with other outside agencies, worked out a compromise…..
  9. Why haven’t the PCC consulted the village? We have! At the start we had a campaign with people filling in cards about what they wanted us to do, we had large open public meeting, and every Easter since then our annual congregation meeting has been advertised as an open meeting so anyone in the village could attend and hear and ask questions and vote about the project. For three years, people have voted with a deafening ‘yes’ to the PCC taking the project forward……
  10. Will there be further consultation? Yes. … When we have worked through the next stage of developing detailed plans with the Diocesan authorities and the consultative bodies that are part of the legal framework we have to work with, and are ready to place these plans before the Diocesan Chancellor to ask for Faculty (the Church equivalent of planning permission) we plan to hold an exhibition weekend where everything will be made really clear for everyone in the village to see, with full opportunity for everyone to respond and express their views. All of this will be passed on as we apply for the Faculty. We are rather tied to other people’s timetables here, but we very much hope this will be early in 2019.

To read the full set of answers on the church website, please click here.

To read the full minutes of the public meeting on July 18th, please click here.


                                                                         

Local district councillor re-elected

Conservative district councillor Mike Kerford-Byrnes was re-elected in the local elections on Thursday, May 3rd. There were no parish council elections as there were only six nominations for the seven vacancies.

The election result for the Deddington ward of Cherwell District Council was as follows:

Candidate Party Votes Elected
BLISS, Aaron James Green 317
DAVIS, Nigel Geoffrey Liberal Democrat 350
KERFORD-BYRNES, Mike Conservative 1637 Elected
MURPHY, Annette Labour 597

Out of an electorate of 6,340 potential voters, there were 2,910 ballot papers issued, giving a turnout of 39.78 per cent.

The six candidates for the Parish Council were all councillors already, and have now been re-elected unopposed. They are Charlotte Bartlett, Charlotte Clarke, Stuart Ferguson, Martin Lipson, Richard Macandrew and Graham Porcas. They will be able to co-opt a seventh councillor if they so wish.

The new Parish Council will be meeting on Monday, 14th May at 7.30pm, unusually in the Sports and Rec Building. They will also be holding the Annual Meeting and the Annual Parish Meeting at the same time. All villagers are welcome to attend for all or part of the evening.


 

Mid-Cherwell plan on its way to the Examiner

The Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan, which  was  published for public consultation in May received a favourable response from many. Now there are a few changes to make, but it should be on its way to the next stage, inspection by an external Examiner, within weeks.

John Coley, a Steeple Aston representative on the MCNP Forum, reports:

“There have been 46 representations in response to CDC’s formal consultation. The main points of interest are:

  • The vast majority of responses are supportive and many of those favour our nomination of the” Old Quarry” in Steeple Aston as a Local Green Space.
  • There is criticism that there could be more emphasis on biodiversity and landscape, which we acknowledge, but we have been clear that we were restricted by lack of resources. It is not a requirement that neighbourhood plans should address everything – especially where other competent bodies have already done so.
  • We are retaining the use of ‘brownfield’ before ‘greenfield’ land as a stated objective, even though it was not possible to make this one of our policies.
  • CDC say that some settlement boundaries are drawn too loosely (not in Steeple Aston). We will query these with CDC when a proposed meeting takes place.
  • They also say that some Local Green Spaces may not meet official criteria (again not in Steeple Aston). The Examiner may in due course request further information.
  • CDC supports a new cemetery at Heyford Park provided there is evidence for need and that it does not affect the Heyford Park main policies. Dorchester Living have tried to identify sites but so far without success because of shallow ground rock.

“We had a meeting with Cherwell District Council on 16th July.  Essentially, CDC see no reason why we shouldn’t proceed to examination. We have to make some slight changes to our schedule of minor modifications for submission to the Examiner, which will take a week or two. We also have to make a few changes to the wording of policies, but we hope these can be agreed without too much delay. Then CDC will get a shortlist of potential Examiners, one of whom we will jointly select and appoint. The examination should take place in September/ October.”