The following letter was sent by the Chairs of Midgham, Cold Ash and Bucklebury Parish Councils and the Mayor of Thatcham Town Council to the Newbury Weekly News and to Penny Post. We reproduce it here verbatim.
The issue it refers is one that many will be aware of: the announcement in West Berkshire Council’s emerging local plan review that 2,500 new homes will be built in north east Thatcham. You can read more about this in this separate article and also in the Thatcham & Area Weekly News on the Penny Post website.
If anyone, from West Berkshire Council or elsewhere, wishes to add a comment to this, please use the comments box at the foot of the post or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is highly unusual for a local issue to gather such a large consensus of public opinion and strength of feeling across multiple parishes in West Berkshire. Nevertheless, the Emerging Local Plan from West Berkshire Council (WBC) achieves just that.
Their recently published Plan proposes a sprawling development of 2,500 houses to the North and East of Thatcham in an area of countryside that currently separates Thatcham from its neighbouring Parishes of Bucklebury, Cold Ash and Midgham. Although the proposed site is labelled as Thatcham NE it could equally be called Eastern Cold Ash, Lower Bucklebury or West Midgham. Its enormity is akin to a new town of a scale equivalent to that of Hungerford being squeezed into the strategic gap between the parishes and Thatcham, damaging the unique characteristic of each. The implications if it proceeds will be far-reaching, to every resident in Thatcham, the immediate neighbouring areas, and beyond.
The area of proposed development in unspoilt countryside is characterised by mature hedgerows that separate fields of high-quality agricultural land, interspersed with ancient trees, and bounded by natural woodland. Adjacent to several ancient woodlands, a wildlife site, and an area identified for bio-diversity improvement, the site forms the setting of the surrounding Area of Natural Beauty (AONB). The site is important for many reasons – its ecology, biodiversity and wildlife, but also for the residents in the neighbouring parishes who currently access the site through six rights-of-way which make it one the most precious and valuable sites for health, exercise, and well-being.
In WBC’s own site assessment, published in April 2020, their “AONB Unit” stated that any development would affect the setting of the AONB, and that Floral Way in North Thatcham is a strong settlement boundary that should not be broken. The Thames Valley Environmental Research Centre stated that there would be a high risk of adverse impacts on priority habitat and neighbouring wildlife sites. On highways, it was identified that the development would have a very significant impact on Thatcham and the A4, and that the roads to the north of Thatcham such as Heath Lane and Bowling Green Road would need to be widened and new routes across the north of Thatcham to link the north of Newbury may be required (yet this has been ruled out by the Planning Officer). With the site near the A4 and the Thatcham Air Quality Management Area it was also noted that there would be a significant worsening of air pollution including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. It seems remarkable that with all these concerns the Planning Team would consider Thatcham NE to be the preferred strategic site for development.
Located outside of existing settlement boundaries, and at distance from major retail, leisure, and employment hubs, it’s inevitable that a development of 2,500 dwellings will generate thousands of extra car journeys per day. With no primary North/South traffic route serving Thatcham, these journeys will either be funnelled into the often congested A4, the notorious Thatcham level crossing, or the residential and village routes that pass through Bucklebury, Cold Ash and Midgham. No credible traffic forecast has been provided by WBC that describes the impact on local roads or mitigation.
For such an enormous development it might be expected that WBC would have consulted with each of the impacted Parishes to explain in detail how such colossal growth would be accommodated, the new infrastructure and services that would be required to sustain the population growth, and how the adverse impacts on the natural environment and its carbon footprint would be mitigated. Disappointingly, details have not been published on many of the most pressing issues, and on some issues there has been a complete lack of consultation.
As a result, Thatcham Town Council and the Parishes of Bucklebury, Cold Ash and Midgham, all oppose the Plan which appears to be rushed through, poorly thought out and inadequately assesses alternative options.
Chair of Bucklebury Parish Council, Barry Dickens
Chair of Cold Ash Parish Council, Marigold Jaques
Chair of Midgham Parish Council, Tony Markham
Mayor of Thatcham Town Council, John Boyd