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Planning inquiry that could see 720 homes built in Thatcham underway

Developers say that council is "in denial" over housing target

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A PLANNING inquiry, which could drastically alter the shape of Thatcham and Cold Ash and the education of the town’s children, is being thrashed out.

Developers A2Dominion and Croudace Strategic are contesting West Berkshire Council refusing their schemes for a combined 720 homes to the north and east of Thatcham.

A2Dominion had applied to build up to 495 homes at Siege Cross Farm, north of the A4 and east of Floral Way, along with a new primary school.

Croudace wants to build 225 homes at Henwick Park, west of Cold Ash Hill and north of Heath Lane, with provision for a GP surgery and flood alleviation.

Hanging in the balance is the council’s claim that it can demonstrate a five-year supply of housing, which, if found wanting, could open up further sites for housing.  

The council’s core strategy, approved in 2012, maintains that 525 houses must be built in the district each year and that 10,500 must be built by 2026.

However, an updated assessment in 2015 identified that 665 homes would be needed.

But the developers are disputing the 2012 figure and argue that the numbers are based on out-of-date figures and assessments.

The opening salvos were fired at a public inquiry held at the council’s offices in Market Street on Tuesday. Addressing planning inspector John Chase, Mary Cook, representing A2Dominion, said that the council appeared “determined not to face up to reality” and “seemed to be in denial”.

Miss Cook said that the question was what range the actual figure should fall into, with one assessment placing the number of homes between 820 and 950 a year.

On the new primary school, Miss Cook said that this would increase the choice of education supply in the town and that there was demand across Newbury and Thatcham for increased secondary school spaces.

She said the issue was how the school should be funded, with the local authority wanting the developer to pay for the new primary, while also wanting the firm to pay a contribution toward education through a developer’s agreement.

“If this is not double dipping we don’t know what is,” she said.

Hitting back, the council’s representative, Emmaline Lambert, said: “This substantial proposal is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“There will not be enough school places and the secondary education impact cannot be accommodated through enhancement of existing provision.”

Christopher Boyle, appointed to represent Croudace, said that his client’s scheme had been refused on five grounds, four of which had either been revoked or could be met by a planning condition.

He said that the issue of having the 225 homes built at Henwick Park now rested on the council’s housing figures and that the scheme was on “the wrong side of a black line” dating back from a now out-of-date policy. 

West Berkshire Council and Thatcham councillors maintain that the town has witnessed considerable growth and now needs a period of consolidation to allow infrastructure to catch up.

The council says that Thatcham has a 900-home limit within its current policy, which is close to being met.

However, Mr Boyle said that the town’s figure was also based on out-of-date information. 

He said: “The authority can’t demonstrate a five-year housing land supply based on the evidence. If the harm is to process, we ask what process?”

Concluding the opening statements, Miss Lambert said: “While it is accepted that just because a council has a five-year housing land supply that does not mean that other development should be refused… it is not accepted that planning permission should be granted for the sake of housing supply.”

The inquiry continues until December 8 and the final decision will be taken by the Secretary of State.

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