Plans for 2,500 homes in Thatcham: the interested parties have their say (February 2021)

In West Berkshire Council’s (WBC) emerging local plan, published in December 2020, the most prominent aspect was the “strategic development” for 2,500 homes to the north-east of Thatcham, between the town and Bucklebury. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this proposed allocation has led to a number of reactions.

The purpose of this post is merely to summarise the positions of various interested groups, including West Berkshire Council, WBC’s opposition parties, Thatcham Town Council and the adjoining parish councils which feel themselves to be potentially affected by this. If any other organisation wishes to have its views included, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.

You can also use the Comment box at the foot of this post to add your views. Once approved, these will be visible to all other visitors to the post (but your email address won’t be, unless you put it in the message).

This post will be updated at Penny Post’s discretion but it may not keep abreast of all the debates, issues and changes of policy which may take place. Weekly commentary on this important matter can be found in in Penny Post’s Local News column and also on other local media sources. Links have also been provided to the websites or social-media pages of the various organisations, all of which may issue their own statements at any time.

West Berkshire Council (25 January 2021)

(The following is a transcript of the statement made by Hilary Cole, WBC’s portfolio holder for planning, on 25 January 2021. You can also see a video of this here.)

I’m Hilary Cole the Portfolio Holder for Planning. I want to welcome you to this question and answer session which we are holding as part of the consultation on WBC’S local plan review. This review represents the Council’s views on the most sustainable ways for development within the district over the next 15 years or so

Thank you for taking time to submit your questions. Unsurprisingly, we had a number of questions submitted, all of which relate to the strategic development we are proposing at Thatcham.  I have to acknowledge that past development in Thatcham has been rather piecemeal, and as a result the facilities provided have been woefully inadequate. This is why we have commissioned a masterplan for this development which will deliver these much needed facilities, not just for the development but for the wider Thatcham community.

Many of you have been asking “why Thatcham?” You will all know that West Berkshire has very little land suitable for development because of the constraints of flooding, the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Atomic Weapons Establishment. Despite that, the government expects WBC to deliver housing to meet the needs of our population. WBC has looked across the whole of the district and its research identified north-east Thatcham as the best place to put a large-scale development.

As many of you know, Thatcham has, over the years, been targeted by developers who are only interested in providing housing, with no additional facilities. As the local planning authority, we are determined to put a stop to these sorts of developments which bring no benefit to local residents. In the current local plan we took the conscious decision not to allocate any significant housing in Thatcham. However, the time is now right to look again at a major development.

To that end, we held workshops with Thatcham Town Council and the community. The views of the attendees were taken into account and incorporated into the masterplan: so, this is us delivering back to you what you have told us you want.

You have asked many interesting questions which fall into seven areas: transport, education, flooding, affordable housing, climate change and general facilities. I will talk about these in turn.

Transport

I know there is a lot of concern about the impact this development could have on traffic. But, if the development does go ahead, then travel planning, improvements to public transport links, walking and cycling infrastructure; and improvements to the road network will all be part of how the impact on traffic will be managed.

The way we are travelling is changing. We can see that due to the pandemic. But that is also due to changes in transport technology and we must consider this in planning for this development.

Education

If development goes ahead at North East Thatcham, it must provide community infrastructure – including schools. The proposed development would generate a need for two new primary schools and additional secondary school places.

You all know that there is a wider issue regarding secondary school provision in Thatcham and if this development went ahead, it would provide an opportunity to address that issue. It could provide a site for a new secondary school, together with the funding for the additional pupil places and address the issue of secondary school provision for the benefit of all Thatcham residents. The Council is very firm that infrastructure must be delivered when homes are delivered. That means that schools will be open for pupils when new residents start to move in. 

Flooding

I know that Flooding and drainage are critical issues for Thatcham and we will not allow any development which increases flood risk. We already have a local plan which includes a policy on flooding and the local plan review will update this policy based on the most recent evidence. We also have additional guidance dealing with sustainable urban drainage systems which developers much take account of when they apply for planning permission.

Affordable housing

Providing affordable homes for everyone that needs them is a key priority for West Berkshire Council. Everyone should have access to affordable accommodation. We have an excellent track record of securing that affordable housing and refusing applications that do not want to provide it. This local plan proposes to continue our approach of seeking 40% affordable housing on a large site such as this.

The Thatcham Strategic Growth Study shows that the developers can afford to provide this percentage of affordable housing on the site. So if 2,500 homes are built, then 1,000 of those homes will be affordable and will help 1,000 families make a new home.

Climate change

WBC is committed to climate change. It has produced an environmental strategy. It has a proposed general policy in the local plan to replace and enhance our existing policy. Its policy SP5 responding to climate change links into flooding biodiversity and geodiversity and also a wide range of development control policies on house building, transport etc to ensure that West Berkshire is future-proofing development.

General facilities

Many have commented about the lack of infrastructure or the need for certain services to be provided up front. Part of the issue has been small-scale development can’t fund these facilities but a large development can allow for two new primary schools and a new secondary school; assist WBC’s work with the Prime Care Trust, Thatcham GPs, the Care and Commissioning Group and Berkshire NHS to ensure joined-up funding and timelines; and ensure that £2 million Community Infrastructure Payments for local facilities over and above what the development provides will be passed to Thatcham Town Council over the years to use for the benefit of Thatcham’s residents.

Thank you once again for your questions. You will find more detailed answers to these on WBC’s website. If you have any further comments on the consultation, please submit them directly to WBC so that they can be considered as part of the local-plan process.

• See also the News section of West Berkshire Council’s website. 
• See also he West Berkshire Conservative Party’s website.

Thatcham Town Council (23 February 2021)

Thatcham Town Council (TTC) strongly opposes the proposal as it stands. We have produced, in the short time available, a detailed point-by-point analysis of relevant parts of the emerging draft local plan. Our main conclusions, based on the information that was available to us, are that the proposal’s evidence base is incomplete, that it is not self-consistent across policies, that it gives no assurance that the shortfall in services and infrastructure in Thatcham are being addressed and that it contains traffic projections that are fanciful. 

TTC is also very concerned that the infrastructure delivery plan was, despite assurances, not published before the end of the conciliation (and as of 20 February had still not been) which makes it impossible for us judge how the town’s infrastructure needs, which already fall well short of what is required, will be addressed.

TTC also doubts how “strategic” the proposals are. We appreciate that it was only in 2020 it became clear the council’s plan to build 3,000 homes at Grazeley was not viable. The transfer of the bulk of this requirement to Thatcham thus has the look of a last-minute and second-choice option, a suspicion backed up by the fact that much supporting information is either missing or out of date. 

TTC doesn’t dispute the need for more housing in the area as a whole, though it does not accept this all should be in Thatcham. We look forward to working with West Berkshire Council and our neighbouring parishes to help arrive at a solution which is more equitable, sustainable, evidence-based and deliverable than the one currently on the table.

• See also Thatcham Town Council’s website.

Bucklebury Parish Council (23 February 2021)

Why are Bucklebury residents up in arms over a proposed new development in North East Thatcham for 2,500 houses? No, it’s not another example of ‘Nimbyism’ but reasoned and logical argument against West Berkshire Council’s inappropriate proposal to build a massive housing development on a greenfield site. Take a look at Bucklebury Parish Council’s (BPC) 20-page response as to why this is a misguided idea. BPC’s opposition rests on a number of counts.

BPC is unconvinced that the government calculation for the housing need in West Berkshire over the forthcoming Local Plan period still holds good.It fails to take account of the economic, social and medical impact of the pandemic. WBC’s housing supply numbers could benefit from re-examination. By our reckoning there is a shortfall of 607 houses in the Plan period excluding the NE Thatcham development. Why is there a need to build 2,500 houses to cover this shortfall? Surely there are brownfield and low-grade agricultural land sites that could be chosen to meet a shortfall target of 40 houses a year.

One of the cornerstones of WBC’s planning policy has been the need to preserve strategic gaps to provide separation between communities. This would breach the Thatcham Settlement Boundary and see a merger of Thatcham into Upper Bucklebury.

The local plan’s analysis of the impact of the significant additional traffic from the development is a gross underestimate. There would be much higher traffic volumes in Bucklebury and adjacent parishes using single-carriageway roads, often without pavements, and so be a danger to pedestrians and schoolchildren. Speeding is already a major problem in Bucklebury. Hundreds of additional cars on the parish’s roads can only exacerbate this.

The proposed development is on the edge of the North Wessex Downs AONB and would inevitably harm its natural beauty and special qualities well as threatening biodiversity habitats of protected and endangered species. A development of the scale proposed would also result in greatly increased air, noise and light pollution.

Flood risk is a significant threat to Thatcham and this proposal can only heighten that risk without substantial mitigation. This could well call into question the economic viability of the whole development.

Bucklebury is implacably opposed to this highly inappropriate development. The strength and persuasiveness of the arguments against it dictate the need for an urgent reappraisal.

• See also Bucklebury Parish Council’s website.

Midgham Parish Council (18 February 2021)

Midgham Parish Council (MPC) is resolutely opposed and strenuously objects to the proposed development.

Thatcham has expanded massively in all directions.  MPC recognises the need to provide housing but considers Thatcham has had to take on far more than its fair share of new housing. This new proposal will have a seriously adverse effect on the countryside and local villages. The result of this is that Midgham will be overwhelmed by development, traffic, and pollution.  It is highly likely that, combined with ribbon development along the A4, Midgham will be absorbed into a greater Thatcham which will extend as far as the east of Woolhampton.  It is important to preserve green spaces between conurbations for the general well-being of the population.

The impact on the already overloaded traffic system will be quite severe. Not only is the A4 congested during peak hours as but the additional traffic will inevitably seek to use rat runs to escape delays. Some of the lanes in Midgham parish are very narrow and some are single-track and so unsuitable for increased traffic levels.

Traffic problems will be further exacerbated by the additional pressure on the level crossing at Thatcham railway station. There are already significant tailbacks when the barriers are down.  With the electrification of the railway line it is reasonable to presume that there will be increased rail traffic causing additional delays.

There is already considerable pressure on the infrastructure of Thatcham with adequate school places being a matter of concern. Medical services in the area already stretched and are likely to have considerable difficulty in coping with a large increase in population.

MPC objects to this whole development on the basis that it will cause considerable damage to the local environment, remove large areas of green spaces and will have a deleterious effect on the well-being of the local population. It is very important that local villages be able to preserve their identities and that open spaces be maintained  to provide a welcome respite for many people from the close proximity of urban dwelling. We simply cannot continue to lose these precious green spaces.

• See also Midgham Parish Council’s website. 

West Berkshire Liberal Democrats (23 February 2021)

The West Berkshire Council (WBC’s) Lib Dems largely relied on the views of their Thatcham Town Council colleagues (see above) for their references to this in their own response to the emerging draft local plan. However all our comments were predicated on the assumption that the recent abandonment of the Grazeley Garden Village (10,000+ homes) isn’t the last word. Because of it, little thought seems to have gone into Thatcham North East because it only began to feature in the WBC’s plans within the past few months.

The infrastructure of Thatcham still hasn’t caught up with the under-investment over the past 30 years. You cannot expect new development to pay for existing deficiencies: it would not be legal to do so. Therefore substantial additional funding for this needs to be secured before a new local plan could be found ‘sound’.

In particular the transport links between Thatcham and the strategic road network are not good enough. Without either a new bridge over the main railway east of the town to relieve the A4 and stop rat-running towards Basingstoke, or improvements to the link NW towards A34/M4 which would harm Cold Ash and Hermitage, we feel sure the local road network will become unacceptably congested.

We also think there is over-provision of new housing in the local plan more generally, largely because not enough account has been taken of ‘windfall’ numbers which have always been much higher than this draft Plan estimates. Therefore we feel that one smaller site – and nothing the size of this proposal – would be plenty for Thatcham. If the Kennet School were redeveloped for housing as well then perhaps another site could also re-provision a new larger secondary school. The LEA, through planning policy, should be more proactive in this respect.

Finally, we would wish to see a significantly larger share of new housing go to ensure more villages in West Berkshire remain viable communities. Changes in working, shopping and the way all services are accessed mean that concentrating so much housing around Newbury & Thatcham is less socially sustainable as well as from a climate-emergency perspective. Tackling climate change is “front and centre” in our approach to this plan.

Therefore we oppose any site as large as this being in the Local Plan. As the Sandleford saga has shown, it is unwise to put so much into one very large site: much better to spread the burden.

• See also the West Berkshire Liberal Democrat Party’s website. 

West Berkshire Green Party (24 February 2021)

We recognise the need for housing but questions about the infrastructure remains unanswered. Time and time again, developments have been left deficient in this area. There are, for example, still no significant infrastructure gains from the Kennet Heath development.

We would like to see the existing population are not left without the services they require to be a vibrant community and not merely a dormitory town. For too long Thatcham has been seen as an extended housing estate.

The council has yet to prove capable of delivering its commitment to required levels of affordable and social housing, showing time and time again that they are either unwilling or impotent when enforcing the levels outlined by planning.

• See also the West Berkshire Green Party’s website.

Thatcham Residents Say No to 2500 New Houses (online petition established in January 2021)

West Berkshire Council’s Planning Department is proposing to allow developers to build 2,500 new houses to the north east of Thatcham, increasing the size of the town by 25%. Thatcham has not had any significant infrastructure investment for well over 10 years, despite recent rapid residential growth.

This development will not make the lives of the existing residents of Thatcham better. It will put excessive strain on our infrastructure and services: the railway crossing, traffic congestion, roads, doctors surgeries, nursery places, leisure facilities, support services for the elderly and for Thatcham’s youth, the library and much more. It makes no real commitment to town centre regeneration nor does it do anything to address air quality issues.

The proposal fails to make any specific requirement for the development to be net zero carbon, which is a commitment of both West Berkshire Council and Thatcham Town Council by 2030.

This petition from Thatcham residents demands that West Berkshire Council must think again before supporting such a huge new housing development in Thatcham, as outlined in it’s emerging local plan.

• See also the page for this petition here.

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4 Responses

  1. I have not seen Newbury Town Councils response to the Local Plan Section 18 Consultation. Is it available please? As it surely must comment on these plans for a neighbouring and abutting Council?

  2. Given the effects of CV19, the huge numbers leaving the country because of BREXIT and the huge debts racked up is this the wrong time to be thinking of projects like this?
    Why , oh why aren

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