Sibford residents outraged at planning overturn

Residents of Sibford Ferris - and some Cherwell district councillors - are furious that a government department has overturned a local decision to refuse planning consent for 25 homes in open countryside.
Some of the members of the Sibfords Action Group on the field where the homes will be builtSome of the members of the Sibfords Action Group on the field where the homes will be built
Some of the members of the Sibfords Action Group on the field where the homes will be built

The outline planning permission for the new houses on green fields on Hook Norton Road was overwhelmingly opposed by Sibford and their view was backed up by Cherwell's planning committee.

But earlier this month, a planning inspector overturned their decision and allowed an appeal by the developers, Land and Partners.

Helen Pearce, a member of the Sibfords Action Group, told the Banbury Guardian: "A planning application was made by a company not in the Cherwell area, to develop a piece of prime agricultural land being sold for millions by a farmer, again, not a resident, to the detriment of the village, the villagers Local Plan and the Cherwell district housing plan.

"The council voted 13 against the application with three abstentions following scrutiny of the case and a site visit. The application was dismissed, much to the jubilation of the residents of the village, who felt the council had listened and that local democracy had, for once been respected.

"On November 5 however, an appeals inspector appointed by the Secretary of State, reversed the council's decision and granted in favour of the planning company.

"We are devastated by the decision and feel that local interests are just ignored and ridden roughshod over in the pursuit of profit. According to the council's housing plan, house building targets are ahead of schedule and housing needs will easily be met before 2030."

"When the appeals inspector, Stephen Wilkinson, overturned the Council’s decision we were understandably stunned. We have to ask why someone who doesn’t live in this area can make a decision that overturns 14 locally elected councillor’s opinions and 110 local residents?" she said.

Mr Wilkinson, in his long report, said: "The integrity of the landscape character is not compromised by the scheme. The character of the landscape means that the scheme’s visual impacts are reduced. Its most sensitive southern boundary can be adequately mitigated through landscaping."

He said he did not feel the 25 homes would undermine planning policy and would go some way to supporting local services, including even going some way to helping sustain the bus service. He said the loss of Grade 2 agricultural land had to be balanced against the benefits.

Sibford residents fear the decision to overturn local decisions could result in their village being subject to unrestrained development. They cite Hook Norton as a village that has suffered in this way.

"We have to ask why someone who doesn’t live in this area can make a decision that overturns 14 locally elected councillor’s opinions and 110 local residents?," said Ms Pearce.

"The community has learnt that ignoring local concerns is the trend in rural areas where developments are concerned, as we have seen in numerous cases such as Hook Norton where, at the time the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, overturned a decision made by the community, local councillors and his own inspector. The village of Hook Norton has seen major development continuing ever since."

She said with a recent appeal for 80 houses in Ambrosden being allowed, followed by the 25 homes in the Sibfords, the policy created by Cherwell District Council is being made a mockery of and is no longer able to prevent unconstrained growth as it was intended to do.

Cherwell's policy reportedly cost £3.5 million to create. "It is simply not being enforced the council is being forced by lack of funding and pressure from central Government to move the goalposts. We find that this is all deeply disturbing and undemocratic," said Ms Pearce.

The Planning Inspectorate told the Banbury Guardian that following any decision there is a period of six weeks during which a legal challenge can be made to the High Court and during this period it would not be appropriate for the department to comment on it.

A Planning Inspectorate spokesperson said: “Inspectors are independent and impartial. When making a decision they give full consideration to the evidence submitted at the time of the appeal and take account of current planning policies, guidance and legislation.”