On 17 September 2020, the Planning Department of West Berkshire Council published a Planning Policy Response to many of the key issues that have bedevilled the long-running saga of the proposed development at Sandleford. (This, and all the major documents, can be seen here.) Some of these points were considered in the Local News column in Penny Post for 24 September to 1 October 2020. (see the ‘Newbury Area’ section).
We have invited local councils, campaign groups and the political parties represented at WBC to make their comments which can be seen below, arranged chronologically by when we received them with the most recent at the top. We also welcome any further comments from others on this issue which will be likewise be added to this post. Please email paste-able copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
West Berkshire Conservative Party
Sandleford is a strategic site, and West Berkshire Council’s position on this hasn’t changed.
If this site is not developed out, we would have to find another site in West Berkshire which will deliver the 1,500 homes allocated to this site. Of course no one wants development in their area: but we, as a local authority, have to meet a set annual housing allocation number which, using the current MCHLG formula, is higher than the one we currently have.
West Berkshire Green Party
The Green Party is completely opposed to any development at Sandleford.
It is incompatible with West Berkshire Council’s environment strategy, would damage wildlife and biodiversity and poses a severe threat to five areas of ancient woodland. It would also lead to a big increase in road traffic, not just in the immediate area but across Newbury.
It is opposed by the overwhelming majority of local residents, Newbury Town Council, and Greenham Parish Council.
It is not needed to enable the council to meet its housing demands and is based on outdated assumptions, particularly in the wake of Covid-19.
West Berkshire Council is already drawing up a new core strategy and this is therefore the time to rethink Sandleford and retain this precious greenfield site.
Say no to Sandleford campaign group
I have been through the Planning Policy Response but also responses from Transport, Ecologist, Tree Officer, Landscape and Highways as well as responses by Natural England and BBOWT. One theme is clear: they all recommend the current applications for the development are refused. But some go further and as you rightly state frustration at the two developers responsible for delivering Sandleford still being unable to agree and work together is evident and has real implications on delivery of the infrastructure needed to support the project. This is particularly so with the bridge needed to link the two developers parcels together and which is vital for emergency access and for the main part of the development to be linked to the community hub. The much vaunted Memorandum of Understanding on how they would work together is not worth the paper it’s written on if they cannot even agree an overarching plan for the whole site let alone how the bridge will be built or who will pay for it.
Moreover the responses from the various planning departments reveal massive differences on what they need to see from the developers in order to make it compliant with current planning law. It is hard to see how these contradictions can be reconciled and therefore calls into question the viability of the site for any development. Key to this is the fact it is home to 25 acres of ancient woodland in five separate parcels which is acknowledged by the Government as a precious national resource for biodiversity making up as it does less than 3% of our current countryside. Yet to mitigate the traffic implications from the development even on the reduced scale of 1350 homes now proposed (from the original land allocated under the Core Strategy) would severely compromise these and the other protected habitats on the site, yet without these mitigations Newbury would be brought to an effective standstill far worse than anything seen pre bypass days and with the inevitable negative consequences on air quality in the town.
Even with mitigation the transport assessment makes pretty bleak reading acknowledging that there is a limited amount that can be done within the current infrastructure given the improvements that have already taken place. Moreover the assessments do not take into account the new Lidl store in Pinchington Lane (still to be opened but likely to draw a lot of additional traffic to the retail park) nor fully for the massive Manydown development (nearly 4,000 homes) taking place on the north side of Basingstoke which is behind delivery schedule. Yet even without these the assessment of the future of traffic in Newbury by 2031 is depressing for anyone using our road network:
The big issue as it always has been is the A339/A343 St Johns Roundabout/Greenham Road Roundabout. With the proposed mitigation, significant improvements have been obtained on the A339 southbound arm and the Greenham Road arms, but not on the A339 northbound arm, where if anything the traffic queues will lengthen. The question for the highway authority is which is worse? By 2031 without this mitigation, during the PM peak this junction causes a southbound traffic queue that is so extensive, that it trails through the A339, B3421 Kings and Bear Lane junction to the north. This in turn causes traffic queues to trail through each junction in turn until almost at the A339 (The Connection) at Vodafone roundabout. At times this gives a total continuous traffic queue length of some 2.2 km. At least with the mitigation reducing the southbound queue, it provides opportunities to break this queue up and improve southbound travel. This mitigation will unfortunately be at the expense of the northbound queue at the A339 and A343 St Johns Roundabout/Greenham Road Roundabout, but at least this will not trail through any other junctions. It may be possible that northbound traffic can be managed much more from the new traffic signal junctions being proposed to the south when they are completed. Overall, whether this is acceptable will depend on the Air Quality reports for this junction that have been submitted. I am sure that colleagues in Public Protection will view the Air Quality Report and provide a response.
Even with mitigation we face increased traffic congestion which is not a surprise but the detrimental affect on air quality has still to be accessed and given it is already been breached regularly at the Burger King roundabout this cannot be good news for Newbury. But the issue is the traffic mitigation measures Highways want to see are the ones that have the greatest impact on the environment in terms of destruction of current wildlife habitat and environmental degradation to the ancient woodlands. The plans are riddled with contradictions where in some parts they state they are preserving important trees which house owls and bats where in other parts these trees are earmarked for removal. But the real issue is the 15m buffer around the ancient woodlands that in some places are encroached on by “green spaces” but are widely recognised as being insufficient for the maintenance and enhancement of these important habitats that inevitably will see further degradation if these proposals were approved. Moreover the mitigation measures required by Highways compound the environmental degradation especially to the northern ancient woodland Crooks Copse which becomes completely cut off with the requirement of a southerly link road to take traffic to A339. There is even concern about pollution being carried over to the SSSI in Greenham. Yet without the traffic mitigation measures, Newbury is brought to a standstill.
If we are to properly protect a precious national resource then it is clear that the buffers around the woodlands need to be vastly increased to prevent further degradation brought about by Sandleford Partnership’s irresponsible use of the woodlands for pheasant shoots. Yet this will result in far fewer houses than the 1350 now being promised on the original site allocation (down from 2000 promised when approved as a strategic site). This may mean fewer mitigation measures are need for the traffic (because of fewer houses) but then why build here at all as it moves away from the rational of originally approving Sandleford of an urban extension with all the infrastructure required to support a development of this scale. Yet if it is built without the traffic access routes to the A339 and highly controversial link via Warren Road (which requires wholesale removal of trees that have TPOs because fo their age and importance in hosting bat roosts), then all our lives will be made a misery by the resultant congestion of our highways.
As the article in the Local News column in Penny Post for 24 September to 1 October rightly identifies, Sandleford no longer forms part of the Council’s housing delivery plan to 2026 as they have more than enough houses committed to being built to meet their five year housing supply targets and beyond. The question then is do we need Sandleford to meet our housing requirements to 2036? The answer has been brewing for eight years since it was originally adopted as a strategic site for the core strategy, and the contradictions posed by the development of the site in terms of protecting an environmental resource of national importance cannot be ignored. It is the wrong solution raising far too many problems in its fulfilment and is no longer fit for purpose in light of the environmental needs of our district, not least meeting the council’s target of a carbon-zero economy by 2030.