Plans for a block of 48 retirement flats and 10 bungalows in Olney were thrown out for being “in the wrong place, and at the wrong time”.
Councillors at a meeting on Thursday (November 7) decided to throw their weight behind Olney’s Neighbourhood Plan, which earmarks land at the corner of Lavendon Road and Warrington Road for shopping.
The Development Control Committee was told that a new Sainsbury’s store, due to open on another part of the same site by the end of November, included a covenant to prevent another similar retailer opening there.
And despite 18 months of marketing for other retailers, no other company has stepped forward to take the rest of the site. Retirement living operator McCarthy & Stone has stepped up to fill the gap in another way.
The decision for the committee was whether to accept that there is no chance of a retailer taking the other half of the site, and to bend the rules set by the Neighbourhood Plan, to allow for another use for the site.
Olney Town Councillor Chris Tennant, a chartered town planner, said the application was “speculative, under the shroud of a retirement village. Our infrastructure can’t cope with the additional demand that would come from this.”
He also claimed that the site’s marketing had been “fundamentally flawed” and that “Olney has had its fair share of housing.”
But landowner Tony Williamson said the site had been marketed for 18 months but because of the rise of the internet, retail has changed. “There is no demand,” he said.
And a covenant signed with Sainsbury’s means that the part of the site in question cannot be used for another food store.
Mr Williamson argued that there is a demand for retirement homes, and was supported in that by planning officers who say there is a district-wide shortage of such housing.
A representative from McCarthy & Stone said there was a demand for 100 retirement homes from Olney alone, and it would create between 14 and 17 jobs.
Planning officers said the unmet demand for retirement housing could override the Neighbourhood Plan. But councillors queued up to disagree.
Cllr Martin Petchey (Lab, Stantonbury) said: “To say the Neighbourhood Plan is out of date is a kick in the face of Olney. The Neighbourhood Plan is not yet invalid. Come back in two years’ time because now is too soon.”
And Cllr Andrew Geary (Cons, Newport North & Hanslope) said: “We have no evidence that this is desperately needed in Olney. I do not believe it is meeting a need.
“I’m a big fan of neighbourhood planning and I’m not prepared to kick them in the teeth.”
Cllr Keith McLean (Cons, Olney) said he thought it was a “great scheme but in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”
Councillors voted overwhelmingly to refuse the plan.