This article appeared in the Mail On-line on 28 April 2016 just after planning permission was granted for the Valley Park development.
A village which dates back to the Domesday Book is set to be ‘engulfed’ by a new estate consisting of 4,000 houses – after the council created a green ‘buffer zone’ just 115ft wide.
Historic Harwell in Oxfordshire has just 1,000 dwellings – many dating back to medieval times – but is set to merge with the town of Didcot when 4,254 houses are built in the space between them. Residents fear the unique charm of the village will be tarnished after Vale of White Horse District Council gave the development the go-ahead.
Harwell Parish Council had requested a 650ft-wide buffer zone – which meant no homes could be built – to separate the new Valley Park estate from the historic settlement. But their pleas were ignored at a planning meeting last week and the developers were told they will have to set aside just 115ft of green space – less than half the length of a football pitch. This is a reality which locals claim will have a ‘big impact on Harwell’.
Those living in the historic village also fear the new development will see Harwell merged with neighbouring Didcot, because the new estate fills the fields which currently separate the two.
Harwell Parish Council chairman David Marsh, who has lived in the 1,000-year-old village for nearly 40 years, said the community will ‘drown’ in housing.
He said: ‘We are trying to protect the settlement of Harwell village. The historic parish faces being engulfed because the estate is too big.
‘I’m very disappointed that permission has been given for the new estate because of all the efforts we put in.
‘We were told that the developers were going to have these green buffers in between Valley Park and Harwell, to keep it separate from the village.
‘A 115ft buffer is better than having houses right up to the end of the road, but we originally asked for one of 650ft.
‘I did say that this is going to have a big impact on Harwell but it was barely mentioned by the planning committee.
‘They gave the impression of rubber stamping it without giving it due scrutiny.’
Harwell currently has a population of around 2,300 – a figure which has barely changed in the past 35 years. Many of the buildings have medieval origins, with 56 households being recorded in the Domesday Book record of 1086, and St Matthew’s Church dates to the 11th century.
Local pressure group Keep Harwell Rural also opposed the plans, saying the main road does not represent an ‘adequate barrier to protect the rural environment’.
They said that permitting housing along the stretch of road would ‘forever end the clear separate identity of Harwell’.
The current plans for Valley Park show that it will feature a mix of detached, semi-detached and terraced units along with flats in buildings up to four storeys high. Around 250 to 300 homes will be constructed every year until the development is completed in 2031.
Hallam Land Management, Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon Homes will also build three schools, two parks and leisure facilities built. Plans have also been submitted for an extra 1,660 new homes to be built around the parish as well as 460 more on its border with neighbouring Milton.
This is on top of 65 which were completed in Harwell last December and a further 80 which are currently under construction. If permission if given for all of the new-builds, the number of houses in the rural area will swell by more than 6,500 – a whopping 650 per cent increase.
Some locals believe the modern settlement will overshadow the parish’s historical buildings, which are set in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Alison Goodall, 45, who has lived opposite the proposed Valley Park site for 11 years, said the area’s unique character is under threat.
She said: ‘We feel hemmed in and overwhelmed by development.’
Ben Meynell, development surveyor at Hallam, said his firm was ‘delighted’ to have won permission.
The next step will be to sign an agreement with the district council over how many millions to contribute to local council services such as schools, roads and leisure, he said.
The proposed development, known as Didcot Road, would take up the last green strip of land which separates Harwell from Didcot.