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Compton's Neighbourhood Development Plan disregarded with Homes England's 160 dwelling proposal approved

Around 160 homes will be built in Compton, amid fears of radioactive and infectious diseases contamination.

Plans for the former Pirbright Animal Research Centre were approved last night (Wednesday), despite villagers wanting fewer homes and more employment prospects.

The district council’s Western Area Planning Committee meeting also heard that Thames Water had told people to not use their toilets for 120 hours until the sewage went down and that the system was ‘crumbling’ and unable to cope with the current number of houses, let alone another 160.

The former Pirbright Institute site in Compton Ref: 28-1821
The former Pirbright Institute site in Compton Ref: 28-1821

Instead, the majority of councillors voted with the Homes England proposal, despite hearing concerns about a lack of evacuation planning for the village if the site clearance encountered radioactive or infectious waste such as anthrax.

“We are all aware of the infectious disease experimentation at the site,” said councillor Alison Strong of Compton Parish Council.

“What about the safety of the village? We must learn from the pandemic and learn from this. The parish council request that the committee respects the voice of the NDP [Neighbourhood Development Plan]."

The Homes England plan for re-developing the Pirbright site
The Homes England plan for re-developing the Pirbright site

She said the site has been used to investigate infectious diseases in animals, which was highly classified, and demanded to know if Homes England or the council had asked local people about what went on there, as the majority of workers lived in the village.

She said: “We know locally that there were places in the villages we were encouraged not to play on as animals had been buried there.

“Elderly members of the village have been asked to identify those sites. It is hard to believe that Homes England have the information as not everything that is there is documented.”

Reports of the use of radioactive material from Bikini Atoll and the use of anthrax at the site were also mentioned.

“God forbid the forklift goes through something and the village gets shut down,” added Ms Strong.

“Someone dug up something in their garden five years ago, the place got shut down, so we need a named person and body to be responsible for the safety of the village.”

Homes England was represented at the meeting, and claimed to have been given a confidential handover document from the former occupant of the site. And that the site would be cleared over the course of around 18 months to Environment Agency standards.

Ms Strong also told the meeting that Thames Water had told a house of four adults to restrict their toilet use for 120 hours until the waste drained away.

“The infrastructure has been so underinvested that it is crumbling away,” she said. “We have had drains collapsed and constant pumping of flood water day in day out to move the water. So Thames Water must improve their infrastructure.”

In approving the proposal, councillors agreed to put a condition on the development that no one could move in until the Thames Water infrastructure issues had been addressed.

Homes England was further criticised for not including any one-bedroom homes in the outline development, despite heralding itself as the champion of affordable housing on behalf of the Government.

The move has prompted a furious response after the parish council tried in vain to weaponise its newly-adopted Neighbourhood Development Plan, which was approved only two weeks ago.

“The point of the NDP was to do something that builds and enhances the community,” said district councillor Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway).

“We want a good mix of housing at the right ratio and some employment. It not us saying don’t build, but build something that is right for this village and not just throw 160 houses on it.”

The plans will see an increase of 25 per cent in the number of homes in the village.

Homes England is the Government agency responsible for developing housing on brownfield sites.

The final make-up of the site will be determined by another planning application, once the land which has been made fit for development is sold on.

Homes England had originally laid out plans for 250 homes at the site, but that figure landed at 160, which council officers said was an acceptable amount ‘approximate’ to the 140 homes agreed in the Compton NDP.

After all the councillors on the Western Area Planning Committee applauded the parish on three years of work to produce the plan for its own future, the majority then disregarded it and voted to approve the bigger scheme.

“The NDP is a formal reference for the future of the village and it must carry weight in planning terms,” said ward councillor Ms Culver.

“People in Compton have worked on that plan for years.”

After the meeting she accused her fellow councillors of hypocrisy, saying it was disappointing that some members had not even read the NDP, and to not take it into account was hypocritical.

“I am disappointed in the decision and really concerned it will undermine people’s faith in what an NDP is there for,” she said.

“We want to see more one-bed housing in Compton, and we know there is a need for this. A policy in the NDP to keep the hostel on the site would have enabled this but there is now planning permission to demolish it.”

The proposal may still face another hurdle, as an unnamed third party has registered it for a potential call in from the secretary of state should the application get approved.

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