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Battle to save Lower Way field from housing goes on

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Residents take fight to West Berkshire Council

CAMPAIGNERS are preparing to battle West Berkshire Council and the planning inspectorate in an effort to save the Lower Way field from housing.

The district council identified the field as a preferred site for housing in its controversial Development Plan Document (DPD) in 2014. And councillors were jeered when they voted through the document, which outlines the site for 85 homes, in November 2015.

The field was the only site identified in Thatcham but residents and walkers say that the field is not suitable for housing.

Access to the field was restricted in February last year, when the landowner, the Wallis Trust, put up gates and signs to ward people off.

Campaigners argued that the field had been used by walkers for more than 20 years to prove that public rights of way existed on the site.

Members of the Lower Way Field Action Group submitted their case to West Berkshire Council’s definitive map officer but the council has only recognised two of the 13 public rights of way.

Residents have until May 5 to appeal the decision to the Planning Inspectorate, as does the trust. The order for the two paths may be deferred until after the appeal date.

Chairman of the action group, Brian Ruddock, said: “We do feel that the award is actually significantly less than what should be considered as pathways in the field. The application for the pathways will continue and we will appeal. Any reasonable person would know that these pathways have been used for 20 years or more.”

Council spokesman Martin Dunscombe said: “When applications are made for paths to be designated as public rights of way we always consider the request carefully. We’ll investigate all the evidence available to us to see whether it meets the legal threshold for a public right of way as well as considering any relevant case law.

“The criteria set out are very specific and don’t allow for personal opinions on the desirability, necessity or suitability of the route becoming a public footpath.”

The fight will rage on two fronts as campaigners are preparing to fight the council over the field’s inclusion in the DPD. They say that the site is not suitable because of its close proximity to the Nature Discovery Centre, flooding, and the traffic impact on Lower Way.

“We will be saying that this is not a preferred site and should not have been listed in comparison to other sites. They have picked the wrong site,” Mr Ruddock said.

“Even if we get Lower Way out of the preferred list the developer can still ask for planning.

“We will appeal it in July and we will have our moment in the public eye.”

The Thatcham and Cold Ash sites will be heard at Shaw House in July.

Persimmon Homes is looking to build on the site, but is yet to submit an application.

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