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Close vote over housing on Thatcham's Lower Way field

Town councillors object to 97-home plan

TOWN councillors have objected to controversial plans to build 97 homes on the Lower Way field – but it was a close call.

Persimmon Homes has applied to build on the field, which West Berkshire Council first listed as a ‘preferred’ site for approximately 85 homes in its Development Plan Document (DPD) in 2014.

The plans came before members of Thatcham Town Council’s planning and environment committee last week.

Of the six councillors present, four cast their vote – three against and one for.

Kicking off the debate, town council leader Jason Collis (Con, Thatcham North) said: “As part of the local area plan, Thatcham had its allocation reduced because it had gone through quite a large period of growth; we have more than met that allocation.

“I am against this development at this time because I think as a town we need to consider bigger issues, such as the infrastructure of the town and how we meet our obligation going forward.

“Putting it bluntly, Persimmon are trying to take advantage that this was included in the DPD as a possible site.”

It was at this point that Mike Cole (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) declared an interest as he owns shares in Persimmon.

“I had forgotten it was Persimmon Homes,” he said.

“Not an ethical trust then,” said Rob Denton-Powell (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham).

“I struggle with this one,” Mr Denton-Powell continued. “Voting at the DPD, I was very aware of local opposition.

“I understand where you [Mr Collis] are coming from, however, my view tends to differ.

“There’s an absolute demand for more housing in Thatcham, it’s a very popular place to live.

“The reason I don’t object is because it’s in the boundary of Thatcham.

“There are other sites that I am less keen to see developed around the periphery of Thatcham and I’m sure you know where I’m talking about.

“I have no major objections, but I am concerned about infrastructure.

“I’m not decided but I would most likely vote in favour of this with no objection.”

Mr Collis said: “I’m not saying we don’t need housing. I think we need to engineer a sensible conversation in the town about where these houses should go and what the infrastructure requirement is.

“I suspect we will need more houses going forward to meet our objections in the local plan.

“We have had presentations on virtually every field north and south of Thatcham. If you added them all up it would number thousands.”

Recently-elected councillor David Lister (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) said that the main comments he received while campaigning in the by-election were about the town’s infrastructure.

“It seems we have grown so quickly without the infrastructure to catch up,” he said.

The homes will neighbour the Nature Discovery Centre and the Thatcham reedbeds, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

“Is it really the right place for further houses anyway?” Mr Lister asked.

His Lib Dem colleague Mr Cole added: “If I could vote I would actually vote against it – despite me having a financial incentive to vote for it, which would probably amount to tuppence.

“I have spoken to both doctors surgeries. They have no space or capacity.

“Thatcham Medical Practice has no doctors, no space or capacity.

“Kennet School now has over 1,800 pupils and potential likely to grow larger and certainly is affected by this development.

“We know about the traffic at this particular site. What concerns me is it’s right up the field from a SSSI, which is an astonishing place to put a development.”

Deputy mayor Richard Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) said he would abstain from voting as the application was likely to be determined at the eastern area planning committee, which he sits on.

However, he said: “It’s in the DPD, so there’s a presumption in favour of a successful application.

“I don’t see how we can object to the development in principle.

“I recall it was 87 and now 97, so we could object on that.

“I would like to see more green space rather than tuck more in, it’s far too compact.

“I share concerns about flooding and being next to a SSSI and I would like to see more public footpaths on the site.

“I have concerns about traffic as well.”

Mr Collis proposed that the town council should object to the plans.

Of the six councillors present, four voted, committee chairman Dan Carter, Mr Collis and Mr Lister objecting, and Mr Denton-Powell voting in favour.

Mr Cole and Mr Crumly abstained.

No members of the public were present at the meeting.

West Berkshire Council is expected to make a decision on the application by Friday, September 21.

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