Frequently Asked Questions

1. General

What is a Neighbourhood Plan?

A Neighbourhood Plan is a relatively new type of planning document, introduced by the Localism Act 2011 and the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, to work alongside the District Council’s strategic planning policies. It is a community-led framework for guiding future development, regeneration and conservation within a specific area, known as the Neighbourhood Area Boundary.

Neighbourhood Plans can establish planning policies and allocate land for development, as long as these are in accordance with national and district policies. For example, a Neighbourhood Plan cannot allocate less than the required number of homes, which have been allotted in the District Council’s Local Plan.

Neighbourhood Plans introduce new powers to allow communities to set their own priorities for development, within the area boundary, including where new development should go and what it should look like.

A Plan typically explores issues such as transport, community, housing, sustainability and employment.

Once adopted, any planning applications that fall within the Neighbourhood Area Boundary (which is the same as the Parish boundary) will be assessed against the relevant policies contained within the Neighbourhood Plan, as well as any other relevant policies that may already be in place, such as the District Council’s Local Plan.

The Neighbourhood Area Boundary also determines who will get to vote in the referendum. This will be people who live within the Neighbourhood Area Boundary and qualify to vote in local council elections.

A Neighbourhood Plan must conform with national and local planning policy (this is known as the basic conditions test). Once the Plan is finalised it sits as part of the District Council’s Development Plan (for the Benson Neighbourhood Plan this is part of South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC’s) Local Plan). All applications are determined on the policies contained within the Local Plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

For further information on Neighbourhood Plans in South Oxfordshire, go to SODC’s website.

Who is responsible for the Neighbourhood Plan?

The Parish Council is legally responsible for the delivery of the Neighbourhood Plan and will co-ordinate the plan-making process. However, the wider community is encouraged to become actively involved in the plan-making process. The Parish Council have engaged a consultant, recommended by SODC, to help produce the Plan.

The Benson Neighbourhood Plan will be adopted and become part of SODC’s Development Plan for the area, if successful at referendum.

A person is entitled to vote if at the time of the referendum, they meet the eligibility criteria to vote in a local election for the area, if they live in the referendum area and they are on the electoral roll.

Why is the Parish Council producing a Neighbourhood Plan?

To allow the community to shape development and have a say in the future development of the village of Benson.

Is this only relevant to the Littleworth Road development?

No, the Neighbourhood Plan will be relevant to all development within the Plan boundary once the Plan is ratified by referendum.

Currently there is interest from developers in the majority of the sites identified for development in the SODC strategy document. The Neighbourhood Plan, once in place, will shape how any future development of these sites is carried out.

This Plan is about the future of Benson village as a whole and will therefore benefit all residents. We really encourage you all to be engaged with the process.

How is the Neighbourhood Plan developed?

A steering group (The Benson Plan Team) was established from Parish Councillors and co-opted volunteer villagers after the Public Meeting held at the Parish Hall on 15th January 2016. The Benson Plan Team has met with a consultant to assist us in developing the Neighbourhood Plan. As an initial guide the proposed next steps are as follows:

  • Develop the Vision and Objectives of the Neighbourhood Plan. COMPLETE
  • Survey all residents to ask for feedback on the Vision and Objectives. COMPLETE
  • Set up working groups to provide input on the 5 streams that have been identified as key areas. COMPLETE
  • Neighbourhood Plan drafted by working groups and reviewed by The Benson Plan Team. COMPLETE
  • Perform a housing needs survey. COMPLETE
  • Period of public consultation of the draft Neighbourhood Plan. IN PROGRESS
  • Finalise Neighbourhood Plan and submit to SODC Council.
  • Plan is reviewed by SODC and independent examiner.
  • Incorporate feedback from the reviews.
  • Local referendum.
  • Ratification of the Plan (if approved by referendum). The Neighbourhood Plan then becomes part of SODC’s Local Plan.
How can the community get involved?

Members of the local community can register their interest in the Neighbourhood Plan working groups by signing up to our newsletter and clicking the volunteer option. Working groups commenced in mid March 2016.

Once the working groups have come up with some policies for the Neighbourhood Plan we will host a public consultation at the Parish Hall. If you cannot attend the consultation in person, do not worry as all information will be available online so please check the website regularly.

For more information, please contact the Benson Plan Team at info@bensonplan.org.

What time period does the Neighbourhood Plan cover?

The Benson Neighbourhood Plan covers the period until 2032 and will be a vital document in shaping what gets built in our community (and what does not) for the next 15 years.

How much weight is attached to the Plan prior to it being adopted?

The Plan has some limited weight from the time the Full Plan is submitted to SODC (likely to be early May).  As the Plan progresses through the statutory process to adoption (e.g. review by Independent Examiner) it carries more weight at each stage until, having passed the Referendum, it carries full legal weight.

What happens if the Plan is rejected at the Referendum?

If 50% or more of the respondents to the referendum vote in favour of the Plan, it is accepted and moves forward to adoption.  If 50% or more of the respondents vote against the Plan, it is rejected and does not proceed – effectively the village would have to start the process all over again.

Where are we now with the Plan?

Benson’s Draft Neighbourhood Plan was submitted to SODC and other stakeholders on 3rd March 2017 for a 6 week consultation period.  At the same time it was published on the Neighbourhood Plan and Parish Council websites, so everyone in the community is aware and can read and comment on the Plan if they wish to do so.

The plan can be found here: http://www.bensonplan.org/pre-submission-plan/

Why has it taken so long?

It has taken the team 13 months to produce Benson’s Neighbourhood Plan (most plans take 2 years or more).  This is 3 months longer than we had hoped, but we had not expected to be asked to provide a Strategic Environmental Assessment, requiring us to go out to the market to procure a specialist external consultancy; nor were we aware when we started that SODC would announce their strategic selection of a new town at Chalgrove Airfield halfway through our planning process.

What happens after you submit the Draft Plan to SODC?

The Plan will be reviewed by SODC and other key stakeholders over a six-week period and questions and comments relayed back to the team.  The team will then process these, amending the Plan as required, and adding detailed elements that were not ready for inclusion in our Pre-Submission (Draft) version.

When the revised (Final) version of the Plan is ready, this will be submitted to SODC and they will then assume responsibility for the final set of Inspection, Referendum and Adoption processes.  This final process set runs to a statutory timetable that typically lasts 6 months from the point of submission.

When do I get to vote on the Plan?

When SODC triggers the referendum – all residents of the Parish over the age of 18 are eligible to vote in this referendum.  The referendum is likely to take place in July or August.

Won’t it all be too late to stop massive development?

Given SODC’s current lack of 5 Year Land Supply, the Government’s instruction to councils to apply a ‘presumption in favour of development and the fact that our Neighbourhood Plan is not yet adopted, there is clearly a risk that some of the development applications in process could be approved by SODC, before our plan is adopted.  We are doing all we can to avoid this, but there are no guarantees.

That said, it is unlikely that all the development applications in process would be approved before our plan is adopted.  Furthermore, when our Plan is adopted and incorporated into SODC’s Local Plan, it will provide the framework for development over the next 15 years until 2032, so we need to complete it whatever happens in the interim.

2. Planning

Why is it important for the District Council to have a 5 year land supply and how long will it take for SODC to get back to a 5 year supply?

The Government requires local planning authorities to identify (and update every year) a supply of specific deliverable development sites, sufficient to enable them to meet their housing quotas for the next five years.

In common with many other districts, SODC does not currently have sufficient deliverable sites to meet their housing quota, so their ability to refuse applications is constrained.  Unless they can show a development is ‘unsustainable’, Government rules insist on them adopting a ‘presumption in favour of development’, until they can rectify their 5 Year Land Supply position.

SODC has not specified a target date at which it expects to be able to demonstrate a 5 Year Land Supply, but it is in the process of developing its new Local Plan, which will run to 2032 and which will incorporate all the Neighbourhood Plans in the district that have been adopted.  It is not clear when SODC will be able to achieve a 5 Year Land Supply, but it would help strengthen all Neighbourhood Plans in the district, if this could be achieved in time for the adoption of their Local Plan in Summer 2018.

I’ve heard that Government recently changed the rules to ‘3 year land supply’ – what does this mean for our ability to defend against unwanted developments?

On 12th December 2016, Gavin Barwell, the Housing Minister, issued a ministerial written statement advising that where a planning application conflicts with an adopted neighbourhood plan and the council can demonstrate a 3 year land supply (as opposed to the previous 5 year condition), then the planning application should not normally be granted. So now, if a council can demonstrate 3 years of land supply, Neighbourhood Plans that have already been adopted are afforded a 2 year window from their adoption date, during which they cannot be overridden just because the local council’s Local Plan is out of date or incomplete. SODC can currently demonstrate 3.8 years of land supply and will not publish their new Local Plan till Summer 2018, so the new rules with the two year window could be very important to us – but only once our plan is adopted. It should also be noted that a consortium of major developers is challenging Government’s right to change the rules without proper consultation with their industry – if they win their case, the new rules will be rescinded from the date of that decision.

Why is the Neighbourhood Plan recommending additional housing above the indicative 190 houses given by SODC?

The figure of 190 houses indicated for Benson is based on the out-of-date Strategic Housing Market Assessment (‘SHMA’) and is viewed as an interim minimum figure by all the Government organisations involved.  This figure is very likely to rise significantly when the final quotas are issued.

More importantly, the Neighbourhood Plan Team is clear that the traffic that will be added by the new developments already underway and pending in the village, make an Edge Road essential to the future of Benson.  This is the case, even before the extra traffic arising from the 3000-house development at Chalgrove Airfield and from the creation of an Edge Road around Watlington is taken into consideration.  And we cannot secure an Edge Road without offering reasonable development opportunities to the developers who will provide the land and build this road.

3. Transport

Why is it important for the Neighbourhood Plan to secure provision of an Edge Road?

Benson’s road systems are not coping well with traffic today, as witnessed by residents’ feedback to the Housing Needs Survey – ‘Improved roadways’ and ‘Village bypass’ were the top two responses to the question ‘What benefits to the village would you like to see realised from any development?’;  95% of respondents said they were concerned with one or more aspects of traffic (heavy lorries, pedestrian/cyclist safety, dangerous junctions, speeding, lack of parking) and about half rated each of these areas at the maximum ‘5-Very Concerned’ level.

It is certain that new developments underway and pending in the village will exacerbate traffic flows and the associated risks and inconveniences severely, unless solutions can be found.  The south and east of Benson are tightly bounded by the A4074, the River Thames and RAF Benson; and many of Benson’s most used roads are ancient routes wholly unsuited to large vehicles and high throughput.  So there are not many ways to solve the problems that new development will bring. The Neighbourhood Plan team, Benson’s Transport Advisory Group and the Parish Council all believe an Edge Road offers the most practical and effective solution.

What are you doing about all the traffic on the roads?

We are looking to keep the extra traffic generated in the village by new development, to a minimum and to find new solutions to all the through traffic.  This includes the provision of an Edge Road around the north of the village, to divert traffic away from the village centre.  This Edge Road would be funded by developers and is included as a pivotal policy in the Plan.  We have made it clear that our housing recommendations will change significantly if we cannot secure the Edge Road.  We have also proposed a number of policies aimed at encouraging residents to walk or cycle round the village rather than driving.

What are you doing about parking?

In the village centre there is not a lot we can do, except make better use of the parking we already have, but we are in discussion with SODC about the Parish taking on responsibility for the Millstream car park and we are trying to find extra parking near the riverside.  A number of our policies aim to encourage people to leave their cars at home and walk to the village centre and other facilities.

What are you doing about road safety?

As part of our Neighbourhood Plan and generally, we are trying to get crossings in key locations, such as the High St and across the main A4074, whilst seeking 20 mph speed limits in the High Street and outside the school when it is in use.

4. Local Services

Why might the Millstream Surgery have to move to a bigger site in the future, and if so, where might it be located?

The Millstream Practice believes that the new developments will increase patient numbers beyond the level it can adequately serve in its current premises and they therefore wish to identify a site for new premises.

The Plan recommends siting the new GP Surgery on BEN 7.  The new surgery will need to provide a reasonable amount of car parking space and BEN 7 has the advantage that it would allow easy overflow of parking onto St Helens Avenue during busy periods.

What new facilities are envisaged in the Plan for the youth of the village?

In 2015 the Parish Council carried out a survey of needs for improving youth facilities in the village.  Over 300 families representing 636 children responded to the survey questionnaire. In answer to which existing village facilities most needed improvement, respondents clearly prioritised the existing Youth Hall and Scout Huts and most suggested complete rebuilds were required.

The Plan responds to this by specifying a number of facilities that the village needs to secure from the levies placed on developers as part of the planning process.  These facilities will include a Youth Facilities building (a shared facility for Guides, Scouts, Youth Club etc), a Skate Park and a trim trail. Money from development will also go towards enhancing the current play areas in the village.

In due course the Parish Council will have input into the facilities to be provided, but no detailed proposals have yet been presented by the developers.

Why does the village need a new burial ground and where should it be?

The current burial grounds in the church precinct and on the land opposite only have limited plots left.  This is sufficient for the next few years at most, so we have to secure land now to meet the needs of the village.

Given the desirability of siting the required new burial ground close to the church on the south side of the village, the Plan recommends that it should be located on BEN7.

Isn’t the school full now?

No, the school is not currently at full capacity.  It still has some places and there are also places at the RAF Benson School in the Parish – enough for the village as it stands today, before any new development.  However, the new developments already approved plus those recommended in our Plan mean that the school will certainly require more space and OCC has plans to extend it to cope for more children.  The final decision on how many additional school places will be required and how they are to be provided rests with OCC, but we are doing all we can to ensure that the solution reached is right for the children, the school and the village.

5. Environment

What are you doing to promote Green travel?

The Plan advocates the provision, protection and improvement of footpaths and cycle paths in all future developments – and looks to improve signposting to make walking and cycling easier.

How can we preserve Benson’s rural setting in the open countryside as it grows?

The Plan is clear on the importance of preserving Benson’s rural setting, as a defining and highly valued characteristic of our village in its own right; as a vital asset for our community, promoting health and recreation; and as a crucial buffer against convergence with other settlements like Roke.  Developments are required to observe these principles and we are seeking to negotiate land transfers to the Parish wherever possible to secure a buffer for the future.

All developments are required to include good quality green spaces in and around their sites, so that Benson’s green ratios (set by Government guidelines) are not compromised but enhanced.

Heavy emphasis is placed on maintaining and, wherever possible, enhancing Benson’s paths and cycle routes into the wider countryside, so that the community can realise the benefits of the rural setting we are trying to preserve.

The Plan also stresses the importance of maintaining views from Benson out to the open countryside and back into the village from our country roads and paths, seeking to protect them from insensitive development.  Specific policies also cover the need to preserve trees and hedges wherever possible and to replace and compensate for any green cover that cannot be saved.

What is the Plan doing to help protect wildlife and maintain biodiversity?

The Plan takes a strong, proactive approach to ensuring that Benson remains rich in wildlife, by requiring developers to build in biodiversity enhancements and create wildlife corridors so nature can move around.   We are requiring the creation of some new nature reserves, some of which we hope to manage as wildflower meadows.

There is a lot to treasure in the green spaces of our village (some of which are quite hidden) and our People & Nature Strategy defines a long term approach to looking after them and enhancing their value for wildlife and for the community.

Lots of the sites up for development have got public footpaths running through them – what’s the plan doing to protect these?

Our plan recognises that pedestrian access around the village is critical to encouraging people to leave their cars at home.  We want people to get out and enjoy the countryside around Benson, so our plan requires developers to maintain all established public access routes through and within their developments – or where this is not possible, provide alternative access routes of equal convenience and value.

Benson is low-lying, has drainage problems and a spring-fed brook running through the centre. Won’t building more houses increase the risk of flooding?

This is a valid concern. Thames Water has recognised Benson’s drainage problems: http://www.thameswater.co.uk/tw/common/downloads/literature-company-information/Benson-stage-1.pdf

In recognition of this, SODC will impose binding conditions on all developments affected that require the necessary drainage infrastructure to be put in place prior to houses being built.

Developers will also be required to create onsite sustainable drainage systems (SUDS) within their development sites to manage the extra surface water generated by all the new hard surfaces – we have included these requirements in our Plan.  We have also recognised in our plan that some of the fields around us provide flood storage capacity and our policies do not permit development on these.

Sunnyside isn’t big enough to meet all of the needs we have for recreation. Are we going to get any more green spaces if we allow development?

National guidelines specify the total amount of open green space that should be provided in villages for a given population size.  As villages grow, developers are expected to contribute land to ensure the open green spaces increase proportionately.  Benson’s need for new green spaces is highlighted in our Plan and we intend that these should generally be multi-purpose to meet a number of needs. We are proposing a new sports pitch/playing field at Littleworth Road, plus some new nature reserves with footpaths to allow people to enjoy them.  We are also requiring developers to provide space for the extra allotments that will be required.

6. Housing

What is ‘Affordable Housing’?

‘Affordable housing’ means housing provided to specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market, including social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing.  The properties involved can be existing social housing stock; new stock explicitly built to be affordable homes (often by developers as a planning consent condition to enable a larger ‘mixed’ development); or existing private sector houses that have been subsequently purchased for use as affordable homes.

Rentals for affordable housing can be on the basis of a simple rental agreement tenancy or may involve ‘shared ownership’, whereby tenants obtain a share in the equity of the house they are renting by paying a deposit and/or a higher rental.  Agreements usually include restrictions to ensure rentals remain affordable and that subsidies provided to tenants who subsequently buy their homes can be ‘recycled’ into new affordable homes for someone else.

Who may apply for a place on the ‘SODC Affordable Housing Register’?

Anyone resident in the SODC district (and sometimes residents from outside) who is in need of housing may apply for a place on the Register.  SODC does not own any housing, but works with Housing Associations like SOHA and other Social Landlords, who do own such housing, to find rental homes for people who are unable, for financial or other reasons, to buy or rent on the open market. The rental for these homes is intended to be at least 20% lower than on the open market, depending on local conditions.  As applications always exceed available homes, SODC uses an allocations policy to determine who gets priority.

SODC may lawfully exclude people from the Register if they:

  • Have a record of ‘unacceptable behaviour’
  • Fail to show any local connection to the District
  • Are already owner-occupiers of property
  • Fail a ‘means test’.

The SODC Affordable Housing Allocations Policy can be downloaded via this link: http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/services-and-advice/housing/housing-policies

If you wish to learn more about the Housing Register and how to apply, go to: https://www.southoxfordshirehomechoice.org.uk/

How many ‘Affordable Houses’ will be included in a new development?

The SODC and National Planning policies determine how many Affordable Houses are to be included in a new development.  The current policy is that for developments of more than 12 houses, 40% of the number built must be affordable – they are typically built for a Housing Association.  Reduced percentages of Affordable Housing are often agreed between Planning Authorities like SODC and developers for a variety of reasons – e.g. to secure other community or public benefits or to ensure the development is commercially viable.

What is ‘Supported Housing’?

‘Supported Housing’ is housing where services are provided for frail or vulnerable people who might otherwise be unable to remain in the community.  This might be in the form of independent accommodation with care support; independent housing with a live-in carer; housing association sheltered warden-assisted housing; supported living for adults with learning difficulties wanting to live independently in homes of their own; private sheltered warden-assisted housing; or a residential nursing home.

What is ‘Lifetime Housing’?

Lifetime Homes are ordinary homes designed to incorporate 16 specific design criteria that can be universally applied to new homes at minimal cost. Each design feature adds to the comfort and convenience of the home and supports the changing needs of individuals and families at different stages of life – e.g. parking area and paths provided to account for the needs of those with mobility scooters or parents with young children; internal ground floor cloakrooms designed to convert easily later on to accommodate a shower; and bedrooms designed to convert into a home office.  Go to http://www.lifetimehomes.org.uk/pages/lifetime-homes.html for more information.

What is ‘Sustainable Housing’?

All new housing must meet the SODC Core Strategy and/or the Government approved ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’.  This code sets out standards for new houses that are designed to reduce energy, heat loss and water consumption; to minimise impact on the environment; and to lower running costs for the occupants.

7. Design

Does the Plan promote Benson’s character as a village?

Yes.  Benson is classed by SODC as a “large” village, and it will be larger with all the new housing, but the Plan looks to ensure that it grows as a village community within a village environment.   Landscape policies seek to protect the rural setting and community infrastructure policies look to promote the village shopping centre.  The Design Policy requires high quality design that respects the distinctive character of Benson; and the Design Statement in Appendix B bases principles for new design on the existing character of Benson as a village.

Will developers be able to build exactly what they want?

No.  The Plan policies set out basic expectations as to what each site should provide, and design is covered by a Design Policy (BEN NP8), which links to a detailed Design Statement.   This Design Statement sets out how development should respect and complement the local character of Benson, and notes what that character is.   It can’t dictate a particular style or appearance for new development, but it sets Principles relating to layout, density, scale, mass, height, materials and complexity of design that derive from existing local building patterns and from the particular character of each site.

Does the Plan say anything about smaller (infill) development in back gardens and small plots of land?

Yes.  Design Policy BEN NP8 and the Design Statement are relevant to all development. The Design Statement has Design Principles to guide any future design, and has two sections, K and L, that are particularly relevant to the historic core of Benson and the areas of more recent expansion that make up the current village.   The Principles here talk about neighbourliness, and about respect for historic buildings and the character of the neighbourhood, including the existing street scenes.  As with major developments, the Principles don’t dictate what new buildings should look like, but they do deal with layout, density, scale, mass, height, materials and simplicity/complexity of design.   Heritage Policy (BEN NP7) may also apply in some cases of infill development.

What are the main messages for the design of new housing?

The main messages for the design of new housing are these:

  • Informal village layouts that provide a typical sense of spaciousness
  • Off-street parking
  • Density that is efficient but avoids a high-density urban feel
  • Village scale
  • No concentrated masses
  • 2 storeys, with some limited opportunity for 2.5 storeys maximum
  • An orderly mix of housing types
  • Bungalows, but with attic accommodation for detached bungalows
  • Design that seeks to complement the architectural character of Benson and its distinctive building materials, either in local traditional styles or re-interpreting these styles for the present day
  • Energy efficiency, but without visual harm to the landscape setting.