The local plan 2022: residents of Bucklebury have their say at a public meeting on 2 December 2022

The proposal by West Berkshire Council (WBC) to allocate sites for 2,500 homes between Thatcham and Bucklebury, which would largely fill the gap between the settlements, has understandably caused a good deal of controversy. Even the reduction in the housing numbers to 1,500, announced when the latest draft was published in late November, has done little to mollify local opposition and concern.

At WBC’s full council on 1 December it was agreed that the draft should proceed to public consultation (click here for more from WBC on this). On the following day, Bucklebury Parish Council (BPC) hosted a long-planned meeting to give local residents a chance to learn more about the plan and to have their say on how it’s likely to affect them. Penny Post was not able to attend the meeting but we were supplied with some notes by BPC which we reproduce below in full.

Note that just because a concern was raised at the meeting, and published here or elsewhere, does not mean that it will be considered by the planning officers. The only way of ensuring that your views are known is to participate in the Regulation 19 consultation. This will run from 6 January to 17 February 2023 and will be given wide publicity in Penny Post and elsewhere. Officers do not spend their time looking at social-media posts, online articles or the letters pages of local papers to find out what people think: you need to tell them.

The points below – both those made at the meeting and the additional ones made by District Councillor Graham Pask at the foot of this post – may be worth bearing in mind when making your own comments regarding Bucklebury. Many of these will also be relevant if you live in Thatcham, Midgham or Cold Ash which also stand to be impacted by the proposed 1,500-home plan.

The local plan documents are long and complex. Whether you’re in Bucklebury or elsewhere, should you need any help or advice you can always get in touch your parish council and/or your ward member/s – click here for a sortable list of these with their contact details.

Residents’ points on the Regulation 19 consultation on the West Berkshire Local Plan, raised during a public meeting at the Memorial Hall, Upper Bucklebury on Friday 2 December 2022.

Approximately 110 residents, mainly of Bucklebury Parish, attended the meeting.

  • Councillor Barry Dickens gave an introduction to those at the meeting
  • District Councillor Pask giving a summary of the importance of a Local Plan and what it covered.
  • Councillor Peter Spours explained the headlines of the Local Plan, in particular mentioning the number of houses, traffic, services, doctor’s surgery, loss of gap between Bucklebury and Thatcham, no investment in Thatcham and strain on the Common.
  • Julian Dobbins gave an update on the environmental work which has been going on to support an objection to the plan including a biodiversity study and defining what a good country park looks like.  The three country parks proposed in the plan are seen as identifying gaps and have very little, if any, biodiversity net gain.  There are references to the country parks as facilitating access to the AONB.

The following points were raised by parishioners:

  1. Ability to handle the increase in sewage. Detail of figures for the sewage likely to be generated by developments on the Vodaphone site, the Sterling Cable site and from Thatcham as it exists today were shared. The existing sewage works cannot cope with this volume and as a result raw sewage will spill into the river Kennet causing significant damage.  Increased sewage capacity needs to be built before any more houses are built, but how is this funded?
  2. Land use. This country needs as much agricultural land as possible to feed the population.
  3. Local need. Are all of these houses needed by local people. Houses on the Thatcham MOD site ended up being sold to Slough Council who then moved people to Thatcham.
  4. Water supply. Questions were asked about where the water for the increased dwellings will come from.
  5. Site size. Whilst the number of houses has been reduced (2,500 to 1,500), there has been no reduction in the size of the site; why?
  6. Settlement boundary and numbers. Wording in the Plan is inconsistent. The number of houses has increased from 1,250 to 1,500 because the Plan extends to 2039 rather than 2036 (as originally proposed).
  7. Housing allocation. Questions about the housing number which are from 2014. Originally at 700 p/a, reduced down to 513 p/a plus 5% buffer giving 538.  It was noted that the Inspector could impose a larger buffer.  WBC has to determine where to put all of these new houses.  2018 figures project a need for 172 households rather than 384.
  8. Croudace Homes and Colthrop proposals. The Croudace Homes proposal includes a bridge over the level crossing and is on a brownfield site; why is this not being considered as an option?  It was noted that Croudace were late to submit to the HEELA, presented insufficient evidence to prove that it was financially viable with the bridge and the site is subject to flooding; these concerns have now been expanded and the finances/site plans proved to be sound.  It was clarified that the inspector would look at this thoroughly, however it was then questioned whether other sites should have been considered.
  9. Need for a country park. People in the villages surround NE Thatcham live in the countryside, why do we need a Countrypark?
  10. Clarification about whether the opposition group is looking at mitigation or outright objection to any houses being built north of Floral Way. The Siege Cross application was refused by the Secretary of State on the basis that the land was not included in the Local Plan, but the inspector had been minded to approve it.
  11. Cold Ash Neighbourhood Development Plan.  Cold Ash has prepared a NHDP to feed into the Local Plan, has assessed the sites in the parish submitted for the HEELA and developed policies.  The Henwick site does not work for Cold Ash.
  12. Even/fair distribution. There are 60 villages in WB.  Each village could have a development of 40 new houses.
  13. Farmlife and Ecology. Destruction of the countryside and wildlife habitat.
  14. Evidence Base. Concern was raised about the economic appraisal and how things are being mis-sold and diluted by section 106 arrangements. Matters of soundness cannot be mitigated.
  15. The future. If the inspector were to throw out the Local Plan at an early stage, what would happen then?

On 8 December, Penny Post contacted Bucklebury’s ward member, District Councillor Graham Pask. “There are a large number of very good things in the plan,” he said. “After careful thought and after listening the debate, I eventually decided that I needed to vote against the proposal that the local plan move to  a public consultation. I voted with my conscience and in support of the residents of Bucklebury whom I’ve represented for over 35 years.”

He went on to say that there were three aspects of the plan as it affected his ward with which he was unhappy. The first was that the proposals were likely further to increase the growing amount of traffic around and through the village. The second was that he was concerned about protecting and enhancing the “fragile eco-system” of Bucklebury Common, again something increased housing is likely to threaten. The third is that there is no mention of a defined gap (formerly known as a strategic gap) between Thatcham and Bucklebury, although local plan specified these between several other pairs of settlements.

He also re-iterated the point made above that the only way any views will come to the officers’ attention is by participating in the Regulation 19 consultation. He added that he would be happy to talk to any residents who wished to contact him with any questions.

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