West Berkshire’s Lib Dems “will not be supporting” the new local plan on 1 December 2022

Penny Post received the following statement from Councillor Tony Vickers, the West Berkshire Lib Dem’s planning spokesperson, on 29 November 2022. We’re happy to publish it in its entirety.

“West Berkshire Council Lib Dems are this Thursday (1 December 2022) being asked to approve at Full Council a new local plan for final public consultation, known as the “Regulation 19” version. It has been much improved by the hard work of our planning officers and colleagues on the Planning Advisory Group (PAG) who have spent four years on it. However we will not be supporting it.

“Before summarising our main reasons, I would like to urge readers who are concerned about the future of our area to read the document for themselves. Not an easy task, because it amounts to nearly 500 pages (start at page 181 of 682 in Full Council agenda) not including thousands of pages of supporting evidence which PAG weren’t directed to scrutinise until a week ago.

“We want to hear from you before we finalise our own comments. You don’t need to wait for the formal consultation to start on 6 January 2022.

“Lib Dems think green fields need to be used for tackling climate change and growing food for local consumption. We are very disappointed that two large sites within Newbury that almost everyone agreed need redeveloping – the Kennet Centre and the London Road Industrial Estate, both well known to your readers – have no housing allocated to them: they could take nearly 1,000 homes and need little new infrastructure.

“The main reason these two sites have no housing allocated is that they are said to be at risk of flooding from the River Kennet. However suitable mitigation from risk of flooding is perfectly possible and it is absurd to think that sites far from essential infrastructure can be better alternatives. It is a quirk of planning law that can allow them to have homes on them if a suitable planning application is made but which won’t allow their potential use for housing to be included in a “sound” local plan.

“The result of leaving these highly sustainable housing sites out of the Plan is that up to 1,000 more homes are allocated for north east Thatcham – all on green fields in car-dependent estates – than would otherwise be needed. Thatcham can take a much more modest number. Pressure from local residents and the Lib Dem-run town council has helped reduce the number from 2500 to 1,500. But that is still too many and in the wrong place.

“So, it is this that is the main reason we are all likely to vote against the Regulation 19 local plan. Lib Dems represent almost all Newbury and Thatcham residents and we act in their best interests.

“Many of the improved district-wide policies in the local plan can be traced back to our response to the previous version published two years ago. We said that tackling the climate emergency must be “front and centre” in all new development from house extensions to factories. And it is.

“You can be sure that Liberal Democrats will do everything in their power to make the future development of our district as comfortable and secure for our children as it has been for us and our parents.

“Where we are so frustrated is with this Tory government which has failed so blatantly to meet the challenge of climate change. The opposition to this Council sits in Westminster.”

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale