For just over 4 years the Homes England (HE) plan to build on Chalgrove Airfield has caused much discussion. Emotions ranging from anger to incredulity as residents try to understand and challenge the common sense of this proposal.
SODC Objective 1.2 is to support rural communities and their way of life, recognising that this is what attracts people to an area. Chalgrove is a thriving village; people live here because they want to live in the countryside and not in a town. This plan does not support community life as we know it in Chalgrove, therefore does not comply with this objective.
As well as destroying the rural character of the village, there is the risk that there will be a “them and us “ divide between the village and the new town. This is alien to the people of Chalgrove who over the past 50 years have seen the population expand 5-fold, whilst creating a vibrant village community.
The planned new town bears no resemblance to Chalgrove as it is today or indeed during its centuries of history. Certainly Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) surveys showed a need for affordable family homes in this area. In fact rural village housing density averages 25 homes per hectare, but this new town is planned at 50 homes per hectare, increasing to 100 homes per hectare at its centre with proposals for 4-storey buildings and blocks of flats. Where will all those cars be parked?
The village community has shown itself to be very self-sufficient, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown, supporting itself, with the shops, 3 pubs, pharmacy and Post Office. However, if the plans are to be believed, competition from amenities created in the new development will undoubtedly force our existing resources to go out of business and close down. We have fought long & hard to retain our Post Office, but the likelihood is that it would be relocated into a commercial outlet and that’s only IF we get to retain it at all.
During Phase 1 of the proposed build, 500 houses could be built but there will be very little additional infrastructure created at that stage, meaning existing residents will have to share the surgery and the primary school, which will inevitably lead to overcrowding. Parents of primary school children may have to use cars or buses to ferry them elsewhere. Also latterly the surgery is scheduled to be relocated, thus requiring extra car journeys for those who cannot walk or cycle to the new facility. The Local Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) talk about creating recreational space for health and wellbeing, but the new extra 500 homes would still have to share the current amenities such as the skate park, children’s’ play areas and sporting facilities. Can these facilities cope with these new numbers? Or will it lead to overcrowding and the negative results that could cause? Can the existing village take this additional strain?
The construction of Chalgrove Meadows has already caused some traffic congestion and noise pollution, but the plans for Chalgrove Airfield would lead to at least another 15 years of dust and traffic chaos ahead, in the village and surrounding area. The proposed closure of Rofford Lane will mean extra mileage & congestion as we have to travel into Stadhampton and then to around through Little Milton, when driving to Thame, J7 of the M40 and all points north. Then there’s the construction traffic, which we will be meeting coming in the opposite direction!
Berrick Road and Mill Lane are described as residential roads in the Framework Travel Plan, without highlighting that they are narrow lanes with passing places, ending in single lane stone bridges. Increase in traffic projections for Mill Lane range from 98% to 208%. There is also concern that Chalgrove High Street will become a rat run; congested due to closure of the bypass and the realignment of the B480. The Travel Plan makes promises about improving paths for cyclists and pedestrians for them to move around the new town, but nothing for those venturing outside the boundary, so a car-based settlement it shall remain.
The proposed relocation of Icknield Community College to the new town will also obviously bring more traffic to the area, as pupils are bused or driven in from outlying villages. From figures quoted, it would appear that there will be double the number of pupils coming into Chalgrove compared to those currently leaving. Add to that the new sixth form numbers and it rises to 3 times the existing amount.
HE have clearly realised that with all of this transport in and out of the new town on just one B road, they needed to extend their plan boundary, so that it now encroaches on the NDP site to the west of the village, giving them control of another exit from the town. This alone demonstrates their ill-preparedness and incompetence, so how confident does this make you that they can create a whole new town without affecting the existing character and charm of our rural idyll?
(credit: Ann Pritchard, Chair of Chalgrove Parish Council, as presented to the Inspector during the recent Examination in Public).