West Berkshire Council has announced a surprising last-minute addition to its emerging local plan. This document, which defines the nature, volume and location of development throughout the district for the next 15 years, is due to start its process of examination in the autumn before being adopted in the spring of 2022. It was thought that Hungerford would only need to supply 55 homes during the lifetime of the plan: however, due to what has been described as “likely delivery shortfalls elsewhere” this figure is set to be increased.
“We’ve created a three-pronged development strategy for the town,” WBC spokesperson Peter Lambert-Brown said on 9 August 2021. “Firstly, a new site has been identified for 85 homes between Charnham Park and the River Kennet. Secondly, a landowner has come forward with plans to develop the apron of land between Atherton Crescent and Salisbury Road which can accommodate 12 four-bedroom homes. Finally, a revised application for the Oakes Bros site near the station proposes the construction of a seven-storey block which will provide a range of up to 36 luxury flats.”
All of this is, of course, subject to planning consent but, if granted, work could start as early as next year. “Mitigation measures will include building a new access road from the A4 across Freeman’s Marsh to Smitham Bridge Road via Marsh Lane,” Mr Lambert-Brown continued. “The Atherton site will demand the felling of all the trees on the apron and will require a contraflow on Salisbury Road for about eight months. As for the Oakes Bros site, construction work will only start when Hungerford station closes permanently in late 2022, so freeing up the car park to the south of the railway line. The replacement station at Froxfield Parkway will be easily accessible via the new Freeman’s Marsh road and will afford adequate parking.”
Now for the good news. All of this is total fiction. I’ve just made it up.
As a few quick internet searches will reveal, no such plans exist. There is no WBC employee called Peter Lambert-Brown. No new railway station is planned at Froxfield – though that idea at least might be worth considering – and there are no plans to close Hungerford’s (nor does WBC have the power to do either of these things). There are no proposals for high-rises near the station, nor for contraflows or tree-felling at Atherton Crescent, nor for a new access road to the A4 across the Marsh. Hungerford’s housing allocation remains unchanged.
However, that’s not to say that such unwelcome surprises are impossible. One of the best ways a community can prevent them is to work with its planning authority on creating a neighbourhood development plan (NDP). This must be in accordance with the overall local plan (indeed, it becomes an integral part of it) and so cannot prevent development: but it can help determine where this development will be and of what nature. Of course, if the government says that West Berkshire’s housing allocation must, say, double then the local plan would need to be amended to reflect this. However, the presence of an NDP ensures that the community has a real voice in how development is conducted and reduces the risk of unforeseen and unwelcome projects. The views and policies of the town and of the planning authority become more aligned and their relationship thus therefore less adversarial. NDPs also make financial sense: although there are costs in creating the plan, once it’s “made”, as the phrase goes, such parishes receive a higher percentage of developer contributions thereafter.
Hungerford is now moving towards the final stages of its own NDP, a time-consuming process which started in May 2018. A consultation period is now under way which will last probably until the end of September. This is effectively your final chance to have your say on a document which, once adopted, will guide development in Hungerford for the next 15 years. You can respond to the consultation even if you don’t live in Hungerford (although you will not be able to vote in the referendum, the final stage, unless you do). Click here for more information.
(When looking at the various proposed sites, it may help if you don’t consider them from the point of view of a current resident of the town but as someone who might be moving here for the first time (as you or your ancestors did at some point). What are the pros and cons of each location? How accessible are they from places like the schools, the Library, the High Street, the Common or the station? Would you need to drive to or from them or could you walk? In short, would you like to live there? As an existing resident, you in many ways understand these issues better than a developer or planning officer ever can. This reflection of the local voice is, to a large extent, what NDPs are all about. Your response will therefore be influential.)
So, that’s the simple message: have your say in the time that remains.
Sorry if I alarmed you earlier on, by the way. NDPs can’t completely avoid the risks of unwelcome surprises like these but they do help local communities to reduce them – and, in this imperfect world, that’s as much as anything can realistically promise.
(Note: if you live in Lambourn, Marlborough, Wantage, Compton, Cold Ash or any other place which is currently doing an NDP, try mentally replacing local place names and possible projects for those mentioned in the opening paragraphs.)