The following open letter was written in response to comments made in the letters’ pages of the Newbury Weekly News on 30 June: this was published in full in the 6 July issue of Newbury Weekly News and is also reproduced in full below.
Hungerford Town Council Judicial Review Response
We are writing this letter in response to the criticism of Hungerford Town Council (HTC) in the letters pages of your paper which we feel are misplaced. It has been discussed with Councillors who have endorsed this response.
The key issue at stake is that the site is a major application in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and causes significant harm in terms of landscape and traffic. If it is allowed to proceed then other locations in the AONB will be threatened to a greater extent. The AONB has the same status of protection as a National Park and we have a duty to protect this when possible. It should not be built on unless there are exceptional circumstances and all alternatives have been investigated.
The Town Council are engaging in this JR process with great reluctance and are also very concerned about a potential waste of public money. But West Berkshire have consistently refused to listen to the town so it was the only course open to us. Hopefully, the crowd funding will minimise tax payers funding and please see the link below if you would like to help. As we write about £5,000 has already been collected.
The Council are not NIMBYs and this could not be further from the case. The Council has been proactively engaged in planning the future of the town and agrees with the 100 houses which are identified in the Parish Plan. It has also had a study carried out by professional planning consultants which identifies a similar number of houses but in low or minimal impact on the landscape and a reduced impact on the High Street.
The Town Council is doing this as there is a consistent and strong feeling from the local community about the impact of the development. At a meeting in the Corn Exchange when there was a discussion about the planning application a packed hall of over 200 people voted 96% in favour of objecting to the development. These are not just NIMBYs but a wide spread of interests across the town. Legal advice was promising and the Council was therefore unanimous in the view that the JR should proceed.
The letters that are critical of the Town Council are almost certainly from people who have connections with the land owners and we do not wish to engage in a tit for tat with those who have an interest in the development. We would just say that the content of the letters have a number of inaccuracies.
To summarise, the site identified in the DPD is on the highest location around Hungerford with most impact on the AONB and greatest impact on the High Street from traffic. Alternatives have been identified which have much less damage to the town so we have a duty as a Council to ask that West Berkshire follows these alternatives given the strong and consistent views of the town. This is failing of local democracy and it is indeed very sad that we have had to resort to our legal system to ensure the District Council protects the AONB.
Thank you for reading this and if you would like to know more about anything mentioned then please email our clerk on email@example.com and we will try and assist.
Finally, if you would like to help the Town Council then we would very much welcome your contributions to the crowdfunding website.
The Mayor of Hungerford
PS: For some other thoughts on this matter, you may be interested in this article (written by Penny Post, not Hungerford Town Council) which reflects on the issues of judicial reviews in a wider context.