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Plans for 26 homes in Highclere refused as council protects AONB

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HIGHCLERE residents were celebrating this week after plans to build 26 homes in the village were unanimously refused.

In a borough council meeting, the development control committee rejected plans to build the homes on a greenfield site off Andover Road on the grounds that it would have a significant impact on the surrounding North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Development company JPP Land had been hoping to build the homes on a site originally targeted five years ago, when the company had plans for 50 homes turned down.

The plan for the homes. (51745383)
The plan for the homes. (51745383)

The scheme received a boost last week after planning officers recommended it for approval, saying it wouldn’t “result in material harm to the landscape character and scenic beauty of Highclere”.

However, despite the borough council being under pressure to build around 900 homes every year until 2039 and unable to demonstrate a five-year housing and land supply, the committee unanimously dismissed the application, choosing instead to protect the AONB and citing the climate emergency the council has declared.

In a debate ahead of the vote, councillor Angie Freeman (Lab, Winklebury & Manydown) said it wasn’t a “suitable application” due to the lack of sustainable transport links.

She said: “We’ve declared a climate emergency and we’re supposed to be supporting sustainable development.

“We should not be approving developments that have no sustainable transport links.”

Councillor Paul Harvey (Ind, Norden) added: “I think the integrity of the AONB is compromised by the scale.

“A 13 per cent increase on the settlement total is a significant impact on Highclere.”

The committee heard from two of the ward councillors for Evingar, Graham Falconer (Con) and John Izett (Con), who both roundly condemned the scheme.

Mr Falconer questioned why planning officers had recommended the scheme for approval, pointing towards a borough council decision in August this year to reject an application for nine homes on a brownfield site in Headley on the grounds that it was in the AONB.

He said: “I struggle to see why someone would go for approval on this application, especially as the revised National Planning Policy Framework would seem to give more protection to Highclere’s greenfield site, which is in the heart of the AONB.”

Mr Izett added: “It’s a measure of our concern about this case that for the first time both councillor Falconer and I wished to address this committee.

“Highclere is a small rural settlement entirely in the North Wessex Downs AONB – allowing this huge development by Highclere standards would rip apart the AONB.

“I understand the pressure officers are under to find more homes in the absence of a five-year housing land supply, but this is the wrong site.”

The committee also heard from Highclere Parish Council chairman Brad Norton, who said the development was “not sustainable” and would lead to “material harm to the valued AONB and does not provide neither economic nor environmental benefits” to the parish.

JPP Land was represented by Douglas Bond, who said the scheme was a “sensitive, high-quality residential development” that would deliver “much needed market homes” while ensuring the “private amenities of the neighbouring properties are protected.”

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