Thatcham residents jeers as councillors approve housing document
Document identifying Lower Way field for development site voted through
CAMPAIGNERS have spoken of their disappointment with their elected representatives after a document identifying the Lower Way field as a preferred development site was voted through.
West Berkshire Council’s Housing Sites Allocation Development Plan Document (DPD) was passed at a special meeting last Thursday.
Lower Way field has been outlined to accommodate approximately 85 homes – helping to make up 1,600 homes to be built on 27 sites across the district.
Thatcham residents have formed a campaign group to save the field from possible development saying that the vital green lung between Newbury and Thatcham should be preserved for the community.
The field, which is the only site identified for Thatcham, forms part of the Thatcham Moors Nature Reserve and is located next to the Nature Discovery Centre.
Persimmon Homes Thames Valley has expressed an interest in building on the site.
Thatcham residents brandishing placards and banners chanted “save Lower Way field” in an attempt to have their message heard by the district council at last week’s meeting.
There were cheers when the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, Alan Macro (Theale) asked for a number of sites, including the Lower Way field, to be removed from the document. He was told that amendments could not be proposed, however, as it would negate the DPD.
Supporting the DPD Roger Croft (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) said it was needed “to protect Thatcham from large scale speculative development”.
And there were jeers from residents when he added that Lower Way was “not a perfect site from a planning viewpoint” but was “the least worst site in Thatcham”.
But there were cheers for Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) who said that the town had taken its fair share of development but the infrastructure had not kept pace.
Noting that planning officers had said the town needed a period of consolidation, Mr Dillon said that 85 homes at Lower Way was contrary to this view and the view of 2,400 people who signed a petition to save the field.
He said: “We need to look at all the sites across our town so that when we do build houses we build them with the right infrastructure and that also we get the real planning gains.
“Not a site like Lower Way where we will have increased traffic, we will be building next to an SSSI site, we will lose public footpaths and lose public amenity without any planning on the wider impact on the town.
“The town council planning committee is against this site going into the DPD, the residents of the town are against it and so am I, and I will not vote for a DPD that contains it.”
The Thatcham jeers returned with crys of “shame” and “you won’t get back in next time” when four of the town’s eight councillors voted to support the DPD.
Nick Goodes (Con, Thatcham West) voted against the Newbury and Thatcham sites but voted for the full DPD. Marigold Jaques (Con, Thatcham Central) abstained from the Newbury and Thatcham vote but voted for the full DPD. Sheila Ellison (Con, Thatcham North) was not present.
Speaking after the meeting Thatcham resident and member of the Lower Way working party, Alison Stevens, described the meeting and majority of the voting as a stitch up.
She said: “I accept the need for the DPD, what I still believe is that the selection of one site in Thatcham was flawed.”
Mrs Stevens, a former town mayor, said that other identified sites had been rejected for reasons such as size, traffic and flooding, yet Lower Way had these issues and had remained in the document.
“That’s what most people are objecting to and will continue to object to because of the proximity to the Nature Discovery Centre and the Site of Special Scientific Interest,” she said.
Town councillor and working party member Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) said: “I would have expected more district councillors to stand up for Thatcham.
“The residents are determined to fight on but they expected better.
“People of Thatcham are very angry about this.
“The politics of it is houses will be built and in four years time it will be a testament of what the Tories did to Thatcham and people will remember that.”