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Merton College’s plan for 540 homes near Oxford rejected over flooding concerns

Merton’s application for over 500 houses was overwhelmingly rejected by Cherwell District Council’s Planning Committee on 2 November.

Merton College had applied to build 540 homes on farmland to the west and north of Yarnton village, alongside a community work hub, two playing fields, and elderly care space, to help meet Oxford’s housing needs. The plan was initially part of the 2020 controversial allocation for 4,400 new homes in Kidlington, Yarnton, and Begbroke.

Villagers have raised concerns over the impact of the plan on the character of Yarnton, transport infrastructure into Oxford, and green spaces as parts of the site have been removed from Green Belt protection.

Prior to the meeting, council officers recommended that the plans be refused until concerns could be resolved and both Yarnton and Begbroke parish councils formally objected to Merton’s plans. Yarnton Parish Council’s website claims that their objections are “on the grounds of it being on Green Belt; inadequate traffic infrastructure; and potential of increased flooding risk to the village of Yarnton.”

The Oxfordshire village has been prone to flooding for many years, with heavy rainfall in 2021 (the same year that Merton’s planning application was submitted) submerging many roads and stopping traffic.

The committee chairman George Reynolds said that “everybody is well aware” that flooding was “a major problem in the area” and that “everything will be done to ensure the development does not increase the risk of flooding in Yarnton.”

Members of the local Yarnton Flood Defence group objected in the meeting that the plans would increase the existing flood risk in the area and that the design brief “failed to consider existing flooding issues in Yarnton” and that the flood considerations in the plan only mitigated flood risk within the development and not for neighbouring developments or Yarnton itself.

At the meeting, a representative of Merton College, Robert Davis, said on the flooding concerns that: “It is not the responsibility of any applicant to address pre-existing issues.” He reiterated that the college had engaged with all relevant agencies about flood risk since the plans were submitted and that all reasons given for refusal were resolvable through clarifications or planning.

Counsellor Barry Wood emphasised that the local lead flooding authority had found no objections to Merton’s plan.

Nevertheless, the Planning Committee rejected the planning application with 16 councillors voting to refuse the application, and 2 abstentions.

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