HBAG: 28th November, 2022
Summix have embarked on a campaign to promote Harrington as a strategic development site in the Joint South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse Local Plan 2041 currently under development.
The essence of the Summix proposal for Harrington is to create a new town of 6,500 households on 429 hectares of agricultural land immediately to the south of the M40 Junction 7, the bulk of it in the triangle between the A329 and the M40 plus a smaller element between the M40 and the A40 between J7 and the Tetsworth village. Their proposal includes provision for business establishments, shops, schools and doctors.
They are professing such a settlement would be an important part of the Oxfordshire- Buckinghamshire innovation corridor. They also emphasise a commitment to embrace sustainable development principles and claim that the development would be carbon neutral.
HBAG and the local Parish Councils (Tetsworth, Great Haseley, Great Milton, Little Milton) are united in their view that the Harrington site would be an exceptionally poor location for a major housing development, would not in any way satisfy the Oxfordshire Housing need and would be very likely to become a car-based commuter town for people working outside of Oxfordshire.
The view of HBAG and the local PCs is that the recent circulation of vision and consultation documents and the various presentation and discussion events carried out by JPC Consultants on behalf of Summix are purely a marketing initiative designed to demonstrate that they have engaged with the local population, rather than to establish what the local population actually thinks about any such development. Feedback we have received from local residents indicates that the public resents the way the promoters have held out that their consultations have some sort of official legitimacy.
Although any submission of a formal planning application for a Harrington development would still be a number of years away, the local PCs are actively communicating with South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC)’s elected councillors and planning policy staff to articulate their opposition to such a development.
It is important to realise that the capacity of the current SODC Local Plan Strategic Housing Developments, which specify all the developments up to 2035, far exceed the housing need that is considered to be required over this period. Given that it is likely that the additional housing growth in South Oxfordshire between the end of the South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2035 and the end date of the Joint Local plan 6 years later will be relatively minor, it is likely that the Local Plan to 2041 will not call for any additional strategic development sites and a new town of 6,500 homes would be of no value whatsoever.
If it was the case that a new strategic development was to be considered for the timescale 2035 and beyond, the Harrington proposal would be a very poor option for South Oxfordshire:
- The Harrington site is some distance away from these areas of employment (the City and in the Technology Arc, particularly Didcot, Abingdon, Culham), with very poor transportation links to these areas. Although vastly improved bus services might provide a degree of mitigation, the distance from railway connections at Oxford, Haddenham, or Didcot, and remoteness of places of work would inevitably result in a massive increase in private car commuting and its associated traffic and environmental implications. There are already signs that the Covid-inspired ‘working-from-home’ arrangements are on the wane, so the associated reduction in commuting traffic may not be sustained into the longer-term future. The Harrington proposal has all the characteristics of creating a dormitory town without identity or community cohesion.
- The site is directly next to a busy motorway and is therefore not likely to be particularly attractive to residents.
- Whilst the site is adjacent to the M40 this actually will impede vehicle access: The current plan shows only three road access points to the site, one under the M40 between J7 and Tetsworth and two onto the A329 between J7 and the road to Great Haseley. Not only will this mean that access into and out of the site will be highly restricted, there would be an immense impact on congestion in the adjacent roads: In particular:
- M40 J7, already difficult, would become a complete nightmare:
- Traffic through Milton Common, Tetsworth, Little Milton, Stadhampton and other local towns and villages would increase significantly.
- In the unlikely event that permission be given to the Harrington development, it is clear that this would only be granted conditional on massive improvements to the road transportation infrastructure around the site, to be paid for by the developers, and therefore undermining the financial viability of the development. It should be noted the Sustainability Appraisal carried out by SODC on the Harrington proposal submitted at an early stage of the SIDC Local Plan 2035 process indicated that there would be some 5 years of total traffic chaos at the start of any development due to the existing road infrastructure being unable to cope.
- The site is currently good agricultural land. The Harrington promoters’ suggestion that urbanisation of 1,260 acres of open countryside currently in gainful agricultural use could be achieved as a net-zero carbon development and result in a biodiversity net gain is nonsense. Once destroyed, land dedicated to food production cannot be replaced, and habitats of wildlife fauna and flora are lost for ever. Mitigation schemes rarely if ever deliver compensating environmental enhancements.
- The Harrington promotional material is enthusiastic about the ‘distant views’ of the Chilterns AONB. The unfortunate counter to this is that the Harrington development will be very much visible from the Chilterns and, in particular, would be very visible as you come through the cutting on the M40, entering Oxfordshire. Whilst this may not appear to be particularly problematic, Oxford is exceptionally proud of its internationally renowned image and is unlikely to support any developments that would materially damage it.
- The eastern section of the proposed Harrington site is barely a field’s-width away from the western edge of the Tetsworth village settlement. Similarly, the western and southern edge would be in close proximity to Great Haseley. Issues such as noise, light pollution, traffic etc would have a significant detrimental effect on these communities. These are small rural communities, and the Local Strategic Development criteria clearly stated that strategic developments must not damage local culture.
HBAG and the Local Parish Councils are unanimous in the view that the Harrington new-town proposal being promoted by Summix has no merit. It would not respond to a demonstrated need, would be in an inappropriate rural location and would impose unacceptable and irreversible environmental harms on the local countryside and neighbouring villages.