20/09/12....Passions run high at public meeting -
IT became very obvious at last night’s public meeting about the Draft, Thame Neighbourhood Plan, that the ‘hot potato’ subject is where 750 future new homes should be built around the town, and how that decision should be arrived at democratically. Despite the intended topic of last night's meeting being ‘Movement’, it soon turned into a passionate but civilised exchange of grouses, questions, concerns and, eventually, some appreciation for the hard work the town council has put into producing the Thame Neighbourhood Plan.
But before the ‘nitty gritty’, the explanation of what the Neighbourhood plan is came from the Town Clerk, Helen Stewart, who described it as a Blueprint for the development of Thame for the next 15 years. This current, final consultation lasts until October 3, until when the Council will take comments into consideration before submitting the final plan to SODC in November. It will check that the plan complies with High level planning policy (The National Planning Policy Framework and SODC’s Core Strategy). If it does not, they will consult for a further six weeks. Then there will be an Examination in Public, a low key affair, to make sure that what is in the plan is deliverable. People and Developers can make representations but only in a layman’s way, with no QCs or barristers etc.
Then there will be a three week lead into a referendum at local polling stations, a simple Yes/No vote. 50% of those who vote must say ‘yes’ for the plan to go forward.
The ‘Movement’ section of the plan is part of the ‘Green Living Plan’ aimed at improving things like cycling and pedestrian connections around the town, and between the villages. One of the aims is to work towards the development of a cycle route to Haddenham & Thame Parkway railway station, towards which Developers would have to contribute. It was pointed out that there would be difficulties and challenges because the route crosses from Oxfordshire into the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire.
The policy is also to work with transport providers and Oxfordshire County Council towards linking time tabling better, eg between train and bus connections. A separate ‘Movement’ policy point, it was explained, is to retain the same number of parking spaces in any development on the Cattlemarket site. LINK to Draft Thame Community Plan and associated documents
Moving around Thame
The discussion on plan polices for ‘Movement’ began when Angela Wilson, Chair of the Lea Park Residents’ Association, said that there was a problem of lost parking when garages were converted into living space. The Clerk pointed out that it is current planning policy that there must be space for two cars in driveways before such a change of use can take place.
Resident, Owen Davies suggested that Thame should capitalise on the enthusiasm for cycling following Olympic cycling success, and provide more cycle racks. He also suggested that Chiltern Rail be approached about allowing bikes to be taken on trains, and for the plan to include the introduction of a 20 MPH speed limit in the town to encourage more people to cycle into town.
Local GP, Helena Richards asked about improving links to near-by villages, especially with the growing popularity of running routes out along the Phoenix Trail and back along Thame Road where there is no pavement - potentially very hazardous and dangerous.
Another resident asked about traffic flow along Nelson Street and Southern Road and the possible introduction of a one-way system. The Clerk said that there is a design concept already being looked at by the Transport working group around that proposal.
Resident, Catherine Hollingworth was concerned that any development on site C/D would exacerbate existing traffic flow problems along Chinnor Road and Park Street, as it would be the quickest way into town. A discussion followed about possible ways of encouraging traffic to turn right instead using ‘No Left Turn’ signage for instance.
What about the actual process of the consultation?
At this point, the audience was warming up and the discussion turned to the part of the Neighbourhood Plan concerned with future housing development. Resident, Roger Cole, wanted to know about the actual process of coming up with the Draft plan's housing 'preferred sites', and questioned whether the Residents’ Associations in the core group involved in formulating this part of the plan, did actually represent the views of the town; he doubted it and described this aspect as ‘a weakness’ in the plan.
At the end of a very eloquent presentation of his views, the audience applauded enthusiastically (The full text of Roger’s comments and questions HERE
Resident, Rosalie Gibson agreed with Roger’s expressed views and said that the problem of fair representation needed addressing: “before we go any further.” She suggested that a petition might be a way forward, adding: “This is not just about our futures, but for all those thousands who will come after us.”
Catherine Hollingworth criticised the way that plans for the proposed key sites, exhibited and published in the local press, were not illustrated in the same way, some being larger and more detailed than others and so not appearing to be of equal merit.
Another resident raised concerns about the extra pressure on parking in the town and an apparent footpath through the Memorial gardens, as a consequence of a plan to build 60 new homes at The Elms.
To all these criticisms and questions, the clear message from the Town Clerk was for everyone to go to the website or to the town hall, to make their views known on the consultation comment form. The more information the council has about how local people feel, she said, the better and more representative the plan will be.