Oxfordshire council taking legal advice in response to campaign to change adopted neighbourhood plan

Out-Law News | 15 Aug 2014 | 4:17 pm | 1 min. read

An Oxfordshire town council has announced that it is taking legal advice in relation to comments made by campaigners seeking to remove a site allocated for development from the town's adopted neighbourhood plan.

The Thame neighbourhood plan (NP) was drawn up by Thame Town Council and adopted, or 'made', by South Oxfordshire District Council in July 2013. The NP sets out a vision for Thame which includes the construction of 775 new homes, three hectares of employment land and up to 5,700 square metres of new retail within the town centre. The NP allocates seven sites in the neighbourhood for housing development, including an allocation of up to 45 homes on a field known as The Elms in Thame town centre.

The NP was approved by an examiner in March 2013 and passed a referendum of local residents in May 2013, with 76% of the 3,634 voters that turned out voting in favour of the NP being used to help decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area.

Campaign group Save The Elms set up an online petition asking the Town Council to "remove Elms Field ... from the Thame Town Plan by holding a second referendum". The group claimed on its website that the Elms Field site was "quietly slipped" into the NP "under questionable circumstances" and called on local people to sign its petition and to oppose an application by developer Rectory Homes to build 45 homes on the site. The petition has received 895 signatures.

In a statement in response to the claims, the Town Council said: "This is a very difficult and stressful time for those being accused of gross misconduct without any foundation and the Town Council is taking legal advice about the defamatory statements and will continue to resist taking part in the media circus".

The Town Council defended the NP consultation process, noting that The Elms site was identified for development throughout the process, first appearing on display boards presented at a consultation meeting in November 2011. The Town Council said that the allocation of 45 homes to the site was included in the NP "with the understanding that this would probably be reduced as more detailed proposals came forward" and that its inclusion did not automatically mean that the site would be developed.

"The reality is that everyone had some aspect of the NP they found difficult to accept or did not agree with, but the democratic vote was taken based on open and accountable information that required an understanding and appreciation of the effect of the 775 units on all the residents of Thame." the Town Council said.