Thatcham councillors call for communication from West Berkshire Council ahead of local plan consultations
West Berkshire Council has awarded planning consultancy Iceni Projects with a £100,000 contract to undertake “visioning” work for its Local Plan Review.
The Local Plan, which may bring 2,500 homes to north east Thatcham, was put on hold following changes in Government planning laws.
This change mandated that significant extensions to towns are subject to a 30-year vision, rather than the previous 15 years.
On March 4, a specialist planning publication, Planning Resource, reported the £100,000 deal, quoting West Berkshire Council planning and transport manager Bryan Lyttle.
It also named the north east Thatcham development as the proposed strategic urban extension for the town, despite other developments still on the table.
The article, shared with Thatcham Town Council by a local resident, has sparked "disappointment” among town councillors who claim they were kept out of the loop.
A extraordinary planning and highways meeting was then held at the town council offices on March 21, where councillors discussed the prospect of approaching Iceni themselves, following a lack of correspondence from the district council.
In this meeting, councillors revisited a previous meeting between the town council and West Berkshire Council, held on January 31, whereby Mr Lyttle told the chamber, via Zoom, that it would be "consulting extensively" in February and March.
However, the town council claims it has not heard anything since and was not made aware of Iceni's deal.
“We are coming to the end of March and have heard nothing,” meeting chairman councillor Simon Pike (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) told the chamber.
"The purpose of this meeting is to open engagement with the company whose name we now know to get involved in that work."
Owen Jeffery (Lib Dem, Thatcham Central) said: “The word disappointed is probably is a fairly considerable understatement of how I feel.
"There seems to be an attitude, that would appear to be coming from West Berkshire Council, that they can do what they like as they like.
“When they say something it means whatever they want it to mean.”
He went on: “If Bryan Lyttle was being serious that we were going to be consulted in February or March, to have got to the 21st of March and not to have heard a dicky bird, it’s going to be pretty damn difficult to do any consultation on the public’s behalf.”
Mr Jeffery said that a letter or email should have been sent to the clerk to notify the council of any potential delays to the process.
He stated that the issue wasn’t a matter of being offended that West Berkshire Council hadn’t communicated on a smaller issue, giving the example of adding an extra lamppost to Thatcham, but this was “a town the size of Hungerford, that is being added”.
Council leader David Lister (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) reiterated Mr Jeffery's disappointment, noting the work that was put into the Thatcham Vision previously will now be essentially redundant.
He said: “Prior to this meeting, it made me revisit the Thatcham Vision work that was completed in 2016.
“There’s something like three or four years of work that went into that through 100 volunteers.”
He went on: “Several consultations captured 2,000 different opinions addressing different aspects of the town.
"It took many years and multiple consultations across the community to deliver.
"All of our work is now dated because we are talking about an entire new town, 2,500 houses the size of Hungerford, surely that should require an equivalent if not greater consultation and consideration."
Mr Lister continued: “To find out that this work is active, maybe even finished, or coming to a close and there has been no consultation yet with either us or the rest of the community is really disappointing.
The council has said it will “reach out positively” to the consultants with the intention of supporting them in reaching out to the community.
In response, West Berkshire Council has told the Newbury Weekly News that it is "welcoming" the town council to help with the approaching consultation but has not yet given an indication of when that may be.
A spokesperson for the district authority's planning team said: “Back in January 2022, a meeting was held between West Berkshire Council and Thatcham Town Council which was then reported in NWN on 11 February about the process of finding consultants to carry out some impartial visioning work for the Local Plan.
“Iceni have been awarded the contract and will begin to work with all interested parties to help shape the vision of the plan for residents and businesses.
"This is where we welcome working with Thatcham Town Council to help us in the consultation stage to give us their views.
"This visioning work is for Newbury and Thatcham."
It went on to say: “Regarding the Regulation 18 feedback, this is still being completed and will go out to everyone once ready at the same time.
"Development sites across Thatcham were considered prior to the Regulation 18 Stage.
"The sites consulted on as part of the Regulation 18 draft Local Plan continue to be assessed."