WITH less than a week to go to polling day on May 7, Newbury Weekly News asked senior Thatcham councillors why people in the town should vote for them to run the district council.
There are 53 seats up for grabs at West Berkshire Council. The Conservatives currently hold power with 39 seats, the Liberal Democrats have 13 seats and there is one vacant seat.
The deputy leader of West Berkshire Conservatives, Roger Croft (Thatcham South and Crookham) (pictured right) said that his party would create a Thatcham Town Centre Task Group, modelled on the one in Newbury which brought Parkway to the town.
Mr Croft pointed to the Conservative record to provide flood defences for the town, and that money had been invested into local schools.
When asked about any Conservative plans for another secondary school in Thatcham, Mr Croft said: “The only way we will get a new secondary school is part of a major development, which Thatcham does not need.”
Building on the development theme, Mr Croft said that there were not enough brownfield sites in West Berkshire to meet the housing need; leading to greenfield sites being put forward as preferred options.
He said it was time for a change at Thatcham Town Council, saying that the Lib Dems had been “more interested in political posturing than working with West Berkshire Council to achieve more in Thatcham”.
He added that a Conservative-controlled town council would work constructively with the district council.
A Conservative-led Thatcham administration would also do everything possible to reverse the Lib Dem borrowing to refurbish the Priory.
“Liberal Democrats call it a community hub – it’s actually totally unnecessary new council offices,” he said.
The leader of West Berkshire Liberal Democrats, Jeff Brooks (Thatcham West) (pictured left), said that his party would protect the town from over-development while investing in amenities.
“If we are elected we will make sure that the Lower Way field is not developed. We will make sure that we don’t get overdevelopment; we are already seeing applications for the north of Thatcham and we will protect greenfield sites from development. Period.”
Mr Brooks said that Thatcham’s 900 housing requirement was over capacity, with around 980 houses currently either planned, built or being built. “Right now nothing is saying to me that we need more housing in Thatcham,” he said.
A Liberal Democrat council would invest in the town and he pointed to their track record of securing funding for the initial refresh of the town centre, providing facilities at the Henwick Worthy Sports Fields and the swimming pool at the Kennet Leisure Centre.
Mr Brooks pointed out that his party, which runs Thatcham Town Council, was bringing the Priory back into use as a community facility.
The Liberal Democrats had also voted to keep the public toilets open in the Broadway, which Mr Brooks said would have been bricked up under the Conservatives.
As for the Conservative manifesto pledge to work with the town council to refresh the town centre, Mr Brooks said: “They have not worked with them to keep the toilets open – why would they start working with us now? I’m highly suspect of when they will start taking Thatcham seriously.”
He said that the Conservative pledge to provide flood defences was nothing new as the joint venture between the district, town, Thatcham Flood Forum and Environment Agency was already planned.
Mr Brooks said that it was unforgivable that Taceham House had been derelict for so long while there were families in need of affordable housing.
“To say that it’s been plagued with delays but it will be all right; that’s just not satisfactory.
“It’s blighted the area and it should have been replaced with affordable housing years ago."
When asked about education in in the town, Mr Brooks said that, as Kennet School was now an academy, any plans for its expansion would have to be carried out via a consultation with the school and parents.
He described the future of schooling in the town as “a big piece of work but it involves listening to people. Something that the Conservatives are not good at doing”.
He added that the Liberal Democrats would make the journey for pupils attending Trinity School easier by investing in buses and cycle ways.