Newsletter #1

9th February 2021

Dear Villager,

Welcome to our first Village Voice Newsletter!

Firstly, a big thank you from the team @CHVillageVoice for your support and for completing the Village Survey. We have had a tremendous response, with 50+ submissions within our first week and still counting!  The Results so far make for some very interesting reading, as do the comments submitted by you that have been anonymised and made available on our website

WHO ARE WE AND WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?

We are a group of local residents that have become increasingly concerned about the lack of openness and transparency around the proposed Neighbourhood Development Order (NDO) and the decisions being made by the Parish Council and various Steering Groups without proper governance, open dialogue and robust consultation with the residents that are directly impacted.

Originally we wondered if we were in the minority with these views, but more and more,  as we walk around the village and chat to neighbours, we realise that in-fact, many in the village share our concerns about the plans currently being developed and the process currently being undertaken to get these plans approved, without proper consultation with those individuals that are directly impacted.  More worrying, is that a number of these concerned residents are too scared to voice their objections and opinions out of fear of retaliation and retribution from the more established parts of the community (or the ‘Village Elite’ as they have been described to us). 

We find this extremely concerning and for this reason we have chosen to remain anonymous, however, it has strengthened our resolve to continue to provide the services of our website and twitter account in order to champion those parts of the community who feel they either do not have a voice or are too afraid to raise it.

WHAT ARE CONCERNS OF THE LOCAL RESIDENTS?

The concerns we’re hearing from our discussions with local residents, broadly fall into the following categories:

 Environmental and Village Impacts

  • There is genuine concern for the impact on local wildlife, flora and fauna that currently thrive on the development site locations.  This includes miles of ancient hedgerow, mature trees, birds and mammals that call these green belt sites home.
  • Proposed designs do not consider carbon footprint, use of sustainable building methods, etc.  The housing plans do not appear to have any ‘eco’ design features which should accompany new developments (e.g. solar panels, heat exchangers, electric car charging points, sustainable drainage features, etc).
  • The sites selected are already currently prone to flooding and filling them with concrete foundations will simply exasperate what is already a critical issue across the village
  • The proposed location of homes to be developed will significantly impact the privacy of those neighbours that will share a border with the development sites with homes and gardens being directly overlooked
  • We cannot see any justifiable ‘Very Special Circumstance’ (VSC) for the desecration of village greenbelt land where any benefits clearly outweigh the harm caused – and it appears from Parish Council minutes, that the Developer and Steering Group have themselves struggled to come up with a reasonable set of VSC that will withstand independent scrutiny

 Motivation and Need for Housing Development on Greenbelt

  • On the basis that planning permission has been granted for 12,000 new homes in the area, including 3,500 new homes at Culham (three miles to the west) and 1,700 new homes at Berinsfield (two miles to the East) it is arguable whether there is still even a need to irrevocably destroy greenbelt land in Clifton Hampden village, simply for 25 new homes that are no longer needed
  • Whilst the narrative from the Parish Council / Steering Groups talk to ‘benefits for the village’ as a result of the development, the primary drivers continue to be commercial gain for the Developer / Landowner
  • No plans have been presented to provide current villagers with priority to purchase any of the new homes for downsizing
  • The small two-bedroom houses proposed are likely to be cramped for a family and will result in future extensions
  • Once the village has supported the NDO development beyond the restrictions of Green Belt and Conservation Area, there will be plans for further development which will not be under the control of the village

 Process Governance and Transparency

  • The Governance of the Parish Council over the NDP / NDO process has been lacking in a number of levels and falls far short of the Code of Conduct that governs their activities
  • Access to critical information relating to decisions made / being made has not been provided – despite requests placed under Freedom of Information Act
  • The Parish Council has not responded to the concerns raised formally by a group of local residents as far back as December – apart from declaring that they are now seeking legal advice on how to handle these queries
  • The Parish council have confirmed that they will not share any legal advice they receive with the community due to ‘Legal Privilege’ (despite this legal advice being funded by public money)
  • Over £100k of public funds have been spent on the NDP/NDO with no transparency or accountability on who authorised this spend for what

 Community Engagement

  • The narrative from the Parish Council (on e-mails, websites, in meetings, etc) has been that the community has been extensively consulted and that the ‘majority are in favour’ of the NDO plans.  This has been demonstrated to be false by our own survey results thus far
  • The Parish Council and Steering Groups have failed in their duty to consult with local residents and any consultation to date has been delegated to conflicted parties such as the Developer – with no feedback as to the results
  • It is clear from their own website and meeting minutes (where they exist) that the Parish Council continues to mis-represent the views of the community (including to statutory bodies such as the South Oxford District Council – SODC)

WHAT CAN WE / ARE WE DOING ABOUT THESE CONCERNS?

It easy for us all to be complacent that ‘someone will see sense, do something’ to address the concerns we have. However, without residents taking an active interest in what’s happening to their local community and speaking up about these issues, Developers and Landowners will be allowed to proceed un-checked until it’s too late.  So what can we do?

 Put the NDO on Hold

  • On 25th January, based on a motion requested by a group of local residents, the Deputy Chair of the Parish Council confirmed at the Parish Council meeting that the project was being ‘Paused’
  • Unfortunately, when questioned what ‘Paused’ means and what criteria would be used to ‘Un-pause’ the project, the Parish Council were unable to answer, claiming that they would need to seek legal advice in order to respond to the queries residents had previously raised
  • Even despite the so called ‘Paused’ status, the Parish Council have continued to lobby community members about the benefits of the NDO at events such as the monthly ‘Parish Coffee Morning’ and on their website

 Challenge the Approach and Governance

  • There are numerous of examples of poor governance practices employed by the Parish Council and Steering Groups and they have clearly failed to follow the Code of Conduct (for which they are now seeking legal advice to address)
  • Where villagers have asked to be included on the NDO Steering Group, they have been denied (despite a Terms of Reference that allows for any resident to join)
  • Conflicts of interest on the Steering Groups have gone undeclared through key decision making processes
  • It appears that representatives of the Developer and Landowner have been able to participate on Steering Group activities and influence decision making
  • The Parish Council has spent over £100k of public funds on the NDO project – with no details of where and why this money was spent
  • The Parish Council has repeatedly stated that they are all ‘Volunteers’ – this is no excuse for poor governance or failure to follow the code of conduct

 Obtain full Transparency From the Parish Council

  • Under Freedom of Information requests, a number of villagers (both as individuals and collectively) have formally requested the release of materials, papers and details of decisions taken by the Parish Council and Steering Groups regarding the NDO development.  These include:
    • Legal Counsel opinion obtained by the Parish Council
    • Financial analysis and assessment of the NDO project
    • Details of the Locality grant application
    • Minutes of all meetings held by the Parish Council with the SODC
    • Results of the Developer Led consultation process conducted in December 2020
  • Responses from letters to the SODC clearly direct queries on the NDO to the Parish Council – who have to date, not been forthcoming in responding

 Demand  an Independent Review

  • The mis-management and poor governance of the NDP / NDO processes now needs a full and independent investigation to ensure that the community gets the answers that it deserves and that any further progression of NDP / NDO plans are adequately / transparently managed and fairly governed.

 Ask the Community

  • Perhaps the easiest thing we can do is ‘Ask the Community’.  Our survey has demonstrated that the real feeling of the community is very different from what the Developer / Landowner / Parish Council will have us believe.  Surely the best way of resolving this quickly, is by holding a Parish Referendum to gauge the Communities appetite to proceed with current NDO plans BEFORE any further work or expense is committed to them by the Parish Council?

 HOW CAN YOU HELP?

  • You’ve already helped by responding to the survey – Please keep monitoring the website and ensure that you ‘Have Your Say’ on Twitter
  • Attend the monthly Parish Council meetings and articulate your concerns / show support for those that are not afraid to speak out against the issues surrounding the NDO – the next meeting is on Monday 22nd February at 7:30pm (note: pre-registration is required to attend via Zoom)
  • Contact us by e-mail (info@cliftonhampden.org) if you have any feedback on the above or to find out how else you can get involved

AND FINALLY. . .

If you have any suggestions or content for future issues of this e-mail newsletter, then please contact us at: info@cliftonhampden.org

Thanks!

CH Village Voice