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Anti-Sandleford petitions approach 16,000 signatures

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The SayNOtoSandleford group has been collecting names to bolster their campaign ahead of a crunch meeting on July 6 in which a government planning inspector presents a report into West Berkshire Council’s plan to build thousands of homes across the district.
The petitions were handed to West Berkshire Council’s executive last Thursday as the battle between protesters and the council was hotting up.
One petition, of 1,382 signatures, demanded that West Berkshire Council remove Sandleford from the list of designated strategic housing sites as part of its core strategy – its plan to build 10,500 homes by 2026.
The other two were online petitions by campaigner Jean Norton (visit www.change.org) with 9,709 objections, and another, independent of the SayNOtoSandleford campaign, at www.thepetitionsite.com with 4,828 names.
They say that Sandleford’s inclusion is unjustifiable and it should be replaced with alternatives that are “more sustainable and have easier access to the town centre and public facilities.”
Campaign spokesman Peter Norman said: “West Berkshire Council has taken note of local objections where it fits their electoral ambitions, such in declining Pincents Hill [in Tilehurst] and Theale as development areas.
“However when it comes to south Newbury it would appear different rules come into play. We hope now, that with the evident strength of opposition to Sandleford, that the council will reconsider.”
Mr Norman also submitted questions concerning the council’s dealings with Sport England in connection with a £3.5m, 24-bed permanent care home built in Monks Lane, which has key links to the Sandleford site.
The council did not consult Sport England when it allowed the care home to be built on land set aside for playing fields and admitted that “human error” was responsible for the mistake.
Newbury Rugby Club sold land for £100,000 “with more to come” for a crucial new road through its ground, that would link Monks Lane to the intended 2,000-home site. The council said that the mistake would not have an impact on its plans for Sandleford park, however.
After the meeting, Mr Norman expressed frustration at receiving answers from planning portfolio holder Keith Chopping (Con, Sulhampstead) that he felt were politicising the debate, instead of treating his queries as that of a member of the public.
Mr Chopping said that he was disappointed to hear of Mr Norman’s reaction.
“I was perfectly aware that he was asking his questions as a member of the public and I felt that, in the circumstances, my responses to him were appropriate.
“If he so wishes, I am more than happy to have a meeting with him to clarify any concerns that he still has,” he said.
The battle for Sandleford hit national headlines last year following reports in the Newbury Weekly News last year that some of the earmarked land had served as the inspiration for scenes in Richard Adams’ classic novel Watership Down.
Mr Adams, who has joined the campaign, said that he still enjoyed monthly walks on Sandleford, where he used to play as a child.

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