Thatcham bridge could be delivered if 2,500 homes split across sites
BUILDING 2,500 homes in Thatcham could be split between separate sites and still provide infrastructure, including a bridge over the railway line, a consultant has said.
The Colthrop Village Consortium wants to build 950 homes and a bridge, along with a two-form entry primary school, on land at Rainsford Farm and the former Colthrop Paper Mill site south of Thatcham Station.
The consortium had put forward its proposals as part of West Berkshire Council's Local Plan Review, which allocates new housing sites across the district, but it was not allocated.
The council has proposed that 2,500 homes, a new secondary school, two primary schools, a country park and shops, be built in north east Thatcham on land off Floral Way to Midgham parish.
Planning consultant for JSA Planning, representing the consortium, Mark Berry, said at a recent planning meeting: "I think West Berkshire Council have failed to identify the best option.
"When you look at north east Thatcham I think it has many flaws and they are emphatically putting it forward and [council planning policy manager] Bryan Lyttle saying there's no plan B and it's it's the only show in town."
Mr Berry said that the consortium's scheme provided urban extension on a mostly brownfield site and agricultural land.
"You set this against north east Thatcham, which is almost entirely on greenfield land and is not the most sustainable of locations, and imposes enormous infrastructure challenges and does not propose a bridge across the railway line," he said.
"We believe there is an alternative to Thatcham north east and you can segregate 2,500 homes into two or three smaller sites without losing the benefit of infrastructure investment."
The proposed bridge over the canal and railway would come off Pipers Way into the eastern end of development.
Another bridge over the River Kennet into the western end is proposed off Crookham Hill, just north of Thatcham Town FC's stadium.
The consortium has said that it would cost £11.8m to build the bridge over the railway, excluding land costs, utility diversion and protection costs, and had factored a cost of £20m into its appraisals.
Richard Foster (Lib Dem, Thatcham Colthrop and Crookham) asked where the money would come from if the costs of the bridges rose.
Mr Berry said that a bridge could be co-funded if the 2,500 homes at north east Thatcham were split across other sites.
He said: "If it was entirely down to Colthrop Village there would be a viability assessment, we would have to discount against other contributions."
Mr Foster replied: "So what you are saying is it would not come out of the developer's profits. It would come out of infrastructure that you would be providing.
"Thatcham is already short of infrastructure and to have something where even more might have to go towards the bridge is not a good start for our infrastructure."
Mr Berry said that a Community Infrastructure Levy of about £4m would be contributed to local facilities on site.
He said that the aspiration was to provide 40 per cent affordable housing "but the whole thing hangs on viability".
After the meeting Mr Berry said that negotiations would need to be held with the council if the costs of the bridges escalated.
He said: "Development has to be profitable, otherwise it wouldn't happen.
"It would be theoretically possible that if the bridge would escalate, there would have to be some negotiations between the council and the developer as to whether other costs should be offset.
"In terms of whether that can be shared, the council doesn't appear to have looked at that option.
"The council could say 900 or 700 houses at Colthrop Village and we will have another 1,500 at Thatcham north east, and another 1,000 or something at Newbury Showground.
"All of the these would have to contribute to mitigate their collected impact, which could justify the erection of the bridge."
Mr Berry said that a bridge at Colthrop had been ruled out over land ownership issues and not providing a reasonable route through the development.
Mr Foster said that not having a bridge at Colthrop would result in a huge amount of extra traffic being forced on to Crookham Hill.
Mr Berry said that the consortium had not been asked to provide any upgrades to Crookham Hill but traffic modelling had not shown a large amount of traffic going up it.
"Most of the traffic generated from the development would go over the bridge towards Thatcham and beyond," he said.
Mr Foster said that this would still put pressure on the A4, but Mr Berry said the same challenges applied to north east Thatcham, which was not offering a bridge.