West Berkshire Council’s local plan – the three represented parties have their say, December 2022

On 1 December 2022, West Berkshire Council agreed to pass its draft local plan to a public consultation (known as Regulation 19) from 6 January until 17 February 2023. More information about this will be provided in Penny Post as the information becomes available.

The purpose of this post is too to publish the views of the three parties represented on WBC. First we have the official statement from WBC which includes some comments from the (Conservative) portfolio-holder for planning, Richard Somner. There then follows the text of the speech made at that meeting by Lee Dillon (Leader of the the WBC Lib Dems) followed by a statement received a few days later from Carolyne Culver, the Leader of the Green Party group at WBC.

Should you wish to get in touch with them, or your local ward member, on any aspect of the local plan, you can find contact details on this page of WBC’s website. You town or parish council may also have opinions on the matter. The Regulation 19 consultation will probably be the last opportunity that members of the public will have to comment on the proposed plan, which will (if passed by the Planning Inspectorate) act as the bible for planning decisions for the next 15 years. All are invited to contribute.

Statement from West Berkshire Council

1 December 2022

Councillors voted tonight to move the Local Plan Review submission to the next stage, ensuring that West Berkshire remains a ‘Plan-led’ authority.  The Local Plan Review, a long-term strategic document used to set out the vision and framework for the area’s future development, will become open for public consultation beginning 6 January 2023 for six weeks.

By 2039, the Local Plan Review will have provided approximately 9,000 much-needed new homes for our residents, ensuring a mix of new homes, including affordable homes, homes for growing families, first-time buyers and even downsizers.  This includes infrastructure proposals to support new development as well as services to our existing communities.

The advancement of the Local Plan Review to the next stage is a significant step toward maintaining West Berkshire as a ‘plan-led’ authority where development and growth are managed and planned for. This means that the District’s valuable assets will be both protected and enhanced, with growth allocated to the least sensitive areas.

Councillors wanted to make sure that the environment and the effects of climate change were prioritised by supporting ambitious standards for suitability and environmental impact outlined in the Local Plan Review ahead of government targets.

Following extensive consultation with local stakeholders during the previous Regulation 18 consultation, major themes have been addressed and resolved. Councillors allocated a new strategic development of 1,500 new homes in north-east Thatcham, a significant decrease from the 2,500 previously proposed. Ensuring 600 of the 1,500 proposed homes for north-east Thatcham will be affordable.

The Plan is also business-friendly, with areas for existing West Berkshire businesses to expand and spaces to attract new businesses in to our District, creating new jobs and opportunities for all.  The proposals prioritise the preservation of the District’s valuable assets, such as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and important green spaces, as well as local flora and fauna.

As part of the votes, over 40 development management policies were also updated.  These include minimum house sizes, maximum amount of water to be used in new dwellings as well as policies relating to health and well-being, and residential amenity.

The Local Plan Review is the conclusion of years of work (it began in November 2018), including extensive evidence gathering, thousands of hours of Officer time, consultation with the public, our neighbours, and land owners in the District, and regular cross-party meetings with Councillors who have shaped the Plan.

Councillor Richard Somner, (Executive Member for Planning, Transport & Countryside) said:

“This plan is a green plan, a business friendly plan, a housing plan for our children and future residents and a good plan for West Berkshire. I’m pleased that Councillors voted to send the Local Plan to Regulation 19 Consultation, which will start in January 2023. Tonight’s debate showed how important this Local Plan is. It identifies where 9,000 new homes can be built by 2039, focuses on how development can help solve the climate crisis, and protects the district’s most valuable assets.

By moving the Local Plan to the next stage, Councillors also made sure that over 40 of our Development Policies, such as those about enforcement and environmental protection, have been updated and start to carry weight when we decide future planning applications. Without waiting for the examination process to be over. Officers will now prepare for the Local Plan to go out to public consultation in January 2023. Those wishing to comment on the Plan should wait until the consultation period opens. Further details to follow.

We couldn’t have gotten to this point without input from the community and other important people. We have cut the proposals for any future development in north-east Thatcham by 1,000 homes, which is a big change. We have been listening and will continue to do so.”

Speech at WBC’s Full Council by Lib Dem Leader Lee Dillon

1 December 2022

Mr Chairmen

As We won’t be supporting this motion this evening, but that doesn’t mean we are against every detail or policy in this plan and we welcome more environmental policies being given more prominence. However we are against a rushed vote to get this through before the elections;

From the worrying lack of key documents and outdated information that seems exactly what is happening here, working to an electoral timeline rather than one that delivers the best outcomes for West Berkshire. This seems particularly true for those communities that are taking the largest share in this plan period.

In the Reg 18 submission the Thatcham Strategic Growth Study carried out a viability study assuming 2500 dwellings and 2300 dwelling which now surely must be considered invalid.

A key point of previous viability study was a 50% contribution to a secondary school would be available at phase 4 of the build programme (2000 homes) so where now is the funding for the school coming from?

Although no viability assessment has been completed for 1500 homes there are references in the old viability plan that education provision would be affected with reduced number of dwellings – so which is it? The simple answer we simply don’t know yet and so shouldn’t ask our local community and stakeholders to give a view on an unfinished piece of work!

But what one can assume is that this local plan as currently written will deliver more houses in shorter period with less education infrastructure – this is simply unfair, unsustainable and sets us up for future failure.

The reduction or loss of any school will also impact on the playing pith strategy which requires the use of school fields to meet the required criteria of pitches within the area. Again this is at risk under the current proposals.

My final comment on the Thatcham allocation is in relation to the Growth Study for the town. SP17 states the study provides the guiding principles however this study is based on 2500 homes – doesn’t state what the principles are and then in the final paragraph of SP17 (6.63) states that a coherent master plan required. This would seem to confirm that TSGS is no longer a valid master plan so where is the new one on which people can make informed decisions?

Mr Chairmen, in just a couple of minutes I have highlighted loss of education provision, studies based on old numbers, inconsistency within the councils own documents and I could go further such as the Transport Assessment being from 2020 – 3 years after this will be consulted on. Or no updated Infrastructure delivery plan. With such discrepancies it can not be right that we approve this motion and leave the future housing allocation for the next generation to be left to delegated decision by officers when the public will be making comments on flawed thinking.

As councillors we need to say now is the time to pause, to get the correct information together and then go out the public in full confidence that they can make informed contributions.

I think this administration knows that its time is up, and it has lost any concern for the future planning of this district: otherwise why, Mr Chairman, would they be putting forward a plan with so many holes in it?

Thanks.

Statement from WBC’s Green Party Leader Carolyne Culver

5 December 2022

I was a member of the cross-party Planning Advisory Group which spent many hours going through the policies in the draft Local Plan one by one. I particularly welcome the policies about climate change, sustainable homes and housing mix. If and when the Local Plan is approved, planning officers and planning committees will be able to impose more stringent conditions. Local Plan policy SP5 says developments must “achieve net zero operational carbon” and ‘generate and supply renewable, low and zero carbon energy’. A company called Bioregional was hired by WBC to advise the council about how far it can push zero carbon, and based on their understanding of legislation and what other councils are doing, they helped us come up with wording that will allow us to push hard without falling foul of planning inspectors.

A big part of the challenge is that national legislation is not good enough. If national legislation said all homes have to be zero-carbon from January, no ifs not buts, then councils would be in a much stronger position. If we try to push beyond the law, and an applicant goes to appeal, the council is likely to lose and incur costs which the taxpayer has to pay. So, the lesson of this is vote for parties, locally and nationally, who care about the environment and zero carbon and who aren’t funded by fossil fuel companies and big construction companies.

Another policy I welcome is SP18, Housing Type and Mix. The council is increasing its targets for one- and two-bedroom homes, for rent or purchase. There are too many new developments with massive houses that commuters buy and not enough small homes for retirees to downsize and young adults to buy or rent. During the height of the pandemic it was clear that extended families and support networks need to be maintained so that the generations can look after one another. Too many young adults move away from the area, leaving their parents behind. Smaller homes are more affordable and cheaper to heat, too.

When the draft Local Plan was debated at Full Council on 1 December I made the point that it’s all very well having policies, but if councillors at planning committee ignore them, or cherry-pick the ones they prefer, then it begs the question why bother to have written policies? A recent planning committee decision put the economic interests of a horse trainer above the fact that he had cut down priority habitat and been told to replant by the Forestry Commission. The North Wesssex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty mentioned this planning application as their main “disappointment” of the year in their latest annual review. Only myself and Liberal Democrat Councillor Adrian Abbs had the strength to stand up to this desecration of woodland.

So I would caution that while one might welcome policies in the draft Local Plan, when used in decision-making policies can be cited rather selectively. Planning decisions are made by humans so they can be very subjective despite the existence of written policies.

I encouarge the public to participate in the next round of public consultation and look forward to us having a robust Local Plan for 2023 to 2039.

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