A CONTROVERSIAL plan to build 3,500 new homes near a picturesque village in Oxfordshire will ‘destroy’ 300 hectares of Green Belt, opponents have warned.

Villagers from Culham rallied against the major development proposed for the site west of Culham Science Centre that could provide thousands of new homes plus land for new offices connected to the estate.

The area can only be removed from the Green Belt under ‘exceptional’ circumstances.

Barrister Martin Carter, who was one of the first to speak at the ongoing public examination of South Oxfordshire’s Local Plan today, addressed how the development would affect the science centre – a major point in the proposal.

He pointed out that there was ‘no evidence’ to show that current and future jobs there are dependent on the homes.

Mr Carter, who represented Culham Parish Council, added: “We do not know how many jobs will be created at the science centre over time.

“I have also certainly not seen any materials that show how many of these unquantified new employees would not otherwise be able to live within a convenient travel distance.”

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The barrister also urged the council to ‘justify’ the number of homes it is proposing to be erected.

A number of other ‘significant’ problems were also identified during yesterday’s discussion lead by planning inspector Jonathan Bore.

Environmental consultant for the parish council Nicola Simonson pointed out that the ecological assessment did not reference any European protected species that inhabit the local area, such as otters.

Ms Simonson also said that while the site is elevated, the new development would pose considerable flood risks to its surroundings.

She said: “The site is essentially a raised island located within a meander of the river Thames.

“It is surrounded by land that is zone three flood risk according to the Environment Agency.

“There has been serious flooding in the area that has affected local communities in the winters between 2012 and 2014."

The consultant also pointed out that there would be ‘significant landscape and visual impact’ associated with the development of 3,500 homes.

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Culham resident Chelsea Owen was the youngest people who joined the discussion.

She said: “I have lived in the village all my life and I am genuinely scared that people are ignoring the realities of climate change.

“Any green space that is lost has an impact on the planet.

“It is incredible to me that our politicians are making announcements about how much they care about the climate and yet we are debating whether a large area of countryside should be build up.”

Ms Owen also argued that building houses cannot be characterised as ‘exceptional’ circumstances to remove the land from the Green Belt.

She added: “It makes me sad to think about the millions that landowners and developers are trying to make through the destruction of the countryside that belongs to all of us.”

Proposals for the lands at Northfield and Berinsfield will be discussed today.