On 6 May, the Secretary of State announced that the appeal by the one of the two developers against WBC’s refusal of permission for the controversial 1,000-home Sandleford development would be allowed: so, unless there’s a further appeal within six weeks, the development will go ahead though subject to up to 58 recommended conditions. This could be seen as something of a snub to WBC, which offered a detailed 14-point refusal in September 2020 after many years of disputes with, and between, the two developers. Click here to visit this separate post which includes a link to the refusal notice and the reactions of some of the interested parties at the time. The Secretary of State’s decision also without doubt adds to the workload of WBC’s already over-stretched planning team which will need to assimilate the 174-page report and decide on its response (whilst also finalising its revised local plan including the 30-year vision that Sandleford and the proposed 2,500-home plan for north east Thatcham require; and getting to grips with the recent nutrient neutrality regulations for the Lambourn Valley).
Below we have published six comments: the original reaction from WBC in the aftermath of the decision; statements from spokespersons for the three parties represented on WBC; and two comments from the Say No to Sandleford campaign. In the week commencing 30 May we gave all the five individuals the opportunity to review and, if they wished, add to comments they had made to Penny Post in the hours and days following the decision. The statement from WBC is as it was made on 6 May.
Statement from WBC
“WBC is disappointed with the outcome of the appeal Inquiry for Sandleford Park, which is an allocated strategic development site. However, in order to provide a sustainable urban extension to the south of Newbury, the Council is actively seeking and will continue to engage positively with the landowners/developers and interested parties on moving the site forward. This will ensure the delivery of a high quality residential-led development at Sandleford Park, along with the necessary infrastructure, within the context of this appeal decision.”
Statement from Lynne Doherty, Leader of WBC
“While I have sympathy for the argument against development on a greenfield site and think we should avoid it if at all possible, I am afraid this is not possible in West Berkshire. If you look at a map of our district and discount the 74% of the area that is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Flood Zones and the Detailed Emergency Planning Zone required by AWE, we have a relatively small space left for new homes. Yes, ideally we should always look to brownfield sites in the first instance: but West Berkshire has very few of these and certainly not of the size required to keep up with the demand for housing.
“The response from the Minister of Housing in this appeal includes 58 conditions. Many to mitigate the impact of this development on the environment, including a 15-meter buffer zone to the ancient woodland and managed access to the woodland areas. With the right conditions attached, this should result in a significant biodiversity net gain to the area. An additional benefit of this will be the residents of Newbury will have a new country park in which to enjoy this area.
“To suggest that the development of new homes in south Newbury is unnecessary is not true. This will provide 1,080 new homes, 40% of which will be affordable. Residents often tell me that they want homes that their children, and key workers such as teachers, can afford. These are not people who can be pushed out of the area to empty homes elsewhere in the country – they are vital to our own economy and society. As of mid-May 2022, we have 668 housing applicants on our housing register.
“This leads me to the Liberal Democrats’ declared position to ‘fight on’ and the views of Councillor Tony Vickers expressed on 12 May. I am somewhat perplexed by this. National Liberal Democrat policy is for more housing than the current Conservative policy. Yet locally time and time again I hear how they do not want homes here, or there; leading me to the conclusion that they will actually say just about anything at a local level to try to get elected. In 2019 the Liberal Democrats fought in Wash Common on the promise that they would stop Sandleford. Outline planning permission has now been granted by the Secretary of State, so nothing other than a successful judicial review can now stop this development from happening.
“As we saw here in my own ward of Newbury Speen, the north Newbury development was allowed on appeal due to the lack of delivery of homes in Sandleford. If the Liberal Democrats attempt to slow this process dwn, rather than working with the developers to ensure good quality homes for residents, then they will risk more speculative development across the district.
“So, while I was disappointed that the appeal went against us, believing these types of decisions are always best made locally, I will now look forward and work with the developers to ensure they deliver the high quality new homes that they promise and that Newbury so desperately needs.”
Statement from Tony Vickers, WBC’s Lib Dem spokesperson for Planning
“This comes as no surprise. The die was cast over 12 years ago when the Conservative-run Local Planning Authority allocated the site for 2,000 homes. This is just the end of the beginning of the process.” He added that his party has “not given up on being able to stop the worst happening. All that has been decided is that ‘up to a thousand’ homes can be built on the main part of the site, which has direct access to A339 and Monks Lane in the north. There is no vehicle access to Andover Road in the west, which is where the main opposition to Sandleford comes from in Wash Common. There are numerous planning conditions to be dealt with by the applicants which must satisfy our planners before any work can start. We fight on.
“An estate of 1000 homes (plus up to 500 more on the other developer’s part) must become a community. As I see it, the job of local councillors – on Greenham Parish, Newbury Town and West Berkshire Councils – is now to focus on creating a “vibrant and well designed community which is a desirable place to live”, in the words of the Supplementary Planning Policy document for Sandleford Park, adopted by the Planning Authority in 2015.
“It also says there must be a “space for indoor community use that may include a place of worship” and “library provision”. The landowners for the Bloor Homes development are Sandleford Partnership. Instead of a negotiated “Section 106” Legal Agreement, as would have been part of the planning consent if West Berks Council hadn’t refused the application and lost the Appeal, there is now an imposed “Unilateral Undertaking” (UU) endorsed by a Government Minister which, among other things says “The Owners undertake to the Council to offer to transfer … the Community Facility Land” and “such offer to remain open for acceptance for a minimum period of 12 months”.
“What the UU doesn’t say is when the 12 months starts. Being of a suspicious mind, I believe the clock might have started when the Minister’s letter upholding the Inspector’s decision was signed. In that case, the offer of land for a Community Facility could expire the week of next year’s local elections. That may be more than 7 years before the Facility itself has to be open for use but unless the Council takes up the offer before then, Sandleford may not get its Community Facility.
“Newbury Town Council has written to West Berkshire Council to say it wishes to be involved in discussions with Bloor & the Partnership on this. I believe the District Council would be happy for the local council (or councils) to manage the Facility, because it will be their community that uses it.
“I have asked for the Council’s Legal Officer to establish for certain, without delay, what the UU means by the above. Everything else can wait.”
Statement from David Marsh,WBC’s Green Party spokesperson for Planning
This decision makes a mockery of the government’s claims to care about the environment,” WBC and NTC Green councillor David Marsh told Penny Post on 10 May. “It will mean years of misery and disruption for local residents, whose views have been completely ignored. It contravenes West Berkshire Council’s environment strategy and will seriously damage biodiversity, including five areas of ancient woodland. There is still a long way to go and the Green Party will continue to oppose this development and any further applications to build on Sandleford every inch of the way. We will also strongly oppose any proposals for vehicle access to Sandleford via Warren Road, which would be devastating for Wash Common.
“The council should be challenging the government’s house-building targets, which even Michael Gove admits are arbitrary and unfit for purpose, or Newbury and Thatcham will merge into one big urban sprawl. Sandleford will do little to provide the affordable and social housing we actually need in this area. It is about making profits for the landowners and Bloor Homes, at the expense of our environment, which once destroyed can never be replaced. The Green Party has put forward proposals for homes on brownfield sites and on smaller, sustainable sites across the district. We need to get away from the outdated concept of huge estates on greenfield sites.
“The council leader says Sandleford will be “a huge benefit to the area”. If that is the Conservative message to Wash Common, I wish her candidates luck in next year’s election, because they are going to need it.”
Statement from Dr David Cooper of the Say No to Sandleford campaign group
“During our decade long campaign resisting this desecration of the English countryside, I was fortunate enough to meet the late Richard Adams, Author of Watership, who was appalled at this act of environmental vandalism. The site is the home of ancient woodlands which have stood unchanged since at least the 16th century. The government’s inspector has deemed that only the minimum statutory protection should be given to these, ignoring the recommendations of Natural England – a government agency – for greater protection from large-scale developments. When he was Prime Minister, David Cameron spoke of “green crap.” At heart nothing has changed with the current administration. This development is driven by a major Conservative party donor and the government has trampled over its own environmental pledges to suit the bottom line of its paymasters.”
Statement from Peter Norman of the Say No to Sandleford campaign group
“The decision makes a complete nonsense of the environmental protection afforded by the National Planning Policy Framework. Many of the problems which have bedevilled the scheme for the last 12 years still remain, despite this judgement. WBC’s options in the matter are in any case limited by the 2015 Supplementary Planning Document, to which the developers substantially agreed. SNtS will be considering its next move and an appeal cannot be ruled out.”
Photograph © West Berkshire Green Party