Plans to build 270-home Watermill Bridge development just south of Newbury between A34 and Andover Road successful at appeal
Controversial plans to build a large 270-home community just south of Newbury have been given the green light after a successful appeal.
The new residential development – which is called Watermill Bridge – will be located just south of the county border in Hampshire, on a patch of land between the A34 and Andover Road.
The Watermill Bridge plans were put forward by Baughurst-based housing developer Bewley Homes in November 2021 but were rejected by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council last April.
Bewley appealed the council’s decision and this was upheld by the Planning Inspectorate on Monday (January 29).
Bewley Homes managing director Andrew Brooks said: “As a local housebuilder, we are delighted to be able to deliver this scheme which will be a flagship for Bewley in terms of our eco credentials.
“The scheme not only provides much needed energy efficient housing and community facilities, but also supports the economy and provides jobs for so many local people.”
The inspector gave significant weight in his decision to the provision of both market and affordable housing in the face of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council failing to maintain a minimum five-year supply of new housing.
The successful appeal means that Bewley will commence with building the first 82 homes with detailed planning permission and will start consultation on details for the remaining 188 units in the coming months.
Reacting to the news of the appeal decision, a West Berkshire Council spokesperson said: “West Berkshire Council was involved in the public inquiry to reiterate to the inspector the council’s objections to the proposal, and to ensure that appropriate mitigation was secured for the impact of the development on West Berkshire should permission be granted.
“Consequently, the appeal decision secures a total £1.8m financial contribution to public transport provision in West Berkshire that will be used to extend bus services to the site.
“It also secures the provision of a new dedicated footway/cycleway along the Andover Road from the site to Warren Road.
“In addition, a financial contribution to the provision or improvement of healthcare facilities to serve the development is secured.”
Contained within the Watermill Bridge plans are locations for a convenience store, community building and a healthcare facility, as well as biodiversity encouragement and public open space in the form of a riverside park, ponds, allotment gardens, and children’s play areas.
However, the inspector recognised that it could not be guaranteed that these amenities would come into fruition if suitable operators and businesses were not found.
The decision announcement has already garnered a strong negative response from both sides of the county border.
Opponents are critical of the pressure the influx of new residents will have on services in Newbury, the potential flooding risks to nearby homes and that the 270-home community only has one vehicular entrance and exit.
This is located on the west side of Andover Road, just north of the Penwood Road turn-off.
Basingstoke and Deane councillor Graham Falconer (Con, Evingar) said: “It is extremely disappointing. I’d personally use the word catastrophic.
“One senses the hand of politics here. Instead of looking at it from the residents’ point of view in West Berkshire and North Hampshire, it is the Government wanting to build more houses and not giving a stuff where they do it.
“The other utter dishonesty is that our new administration will see this as a triumph because it is a 270 tick in the box for Basingstoke and Deane’s housing target.
“I feel really aggrieved for the people of Newbury and in particular Enborne because an authority with which they have nothing to do with or control over is going to fundamentally transform their way of life, and they have no recourse.”
Mr Falconer, a former governor of The Clere School, also stated that it could not be assumed that all children living in Watermill Bridge would be going to school in West Berkshire due to capacity issues.
Therefore, several would be travelling right out onto Andover Road, which would make the road “extremely chaotic” at peak times.
West Berkshire councillor and portfolio holder for planning Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Hungerford and Kintbury) said: “West Berkshire Council has consistently resisted this development, working with colleagues in Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council.
“However the outcome is not unexpected, as that authority has not been able to demonstrate to the inspector that it has sufficient land for homes in its Local Plan.
“We will expect to receive a considerable share of any contributions towards infrastructure needed, because in effect this will be an extension to Newbury, adding pressure on Andover Road and schools here in particular.”
The Enborne River Valley Preservation Society (ERVPS) is a residents group opposed to the plans that believes the new homes will create significant flood risks to current properties in Wash Water, a claim that Bewley has rejected.
An ERVPS spokesman said: “This decision, in our view, starkly highlights a troubling disregard for the wellbeing of our local environment and community.
“The proposal put forth by Bewley Homes, which we firmly believe is both unsustainable and unnecessary, poses a significant and unacceptable threat to the unique character of our local area as well as increasing the flood risk of an already vulnerable site.
“The planning appeal’s success is not a testament to the merits of the proposal but rather a consequence of the local council's inability to demonstrate a sufficient five-year land supply.”
Enborne Parish Council and ERVPS chairman Chris Garrett said: “We are speechless. I do not know what to say. It is totally irresponsible.”
East Woodhay Parish Council shared the concerns of its Berkshire neighbours.
Parish council chairman Paul Hurst said: “East Woodhay Parish Council is deeply disappointed by this decision.
“All the effort that we and the team at ERVPS put into making a very valid case against the development has been completely ignored. It feels like lip service only has been paid to it.
“This is not a democratic system and it is deeply worrying.
“To make matters even worse for the local community, is that almost a year to the day, we had a large majority vote for the neighbourhood plan – which seems to have been completely ignored.
“This decision seems to drive a stake through our neighbourhood plan and the wishes of our communities.
“It ignores the referendum and local democracy where there was a 90 per cent vote in favour of the neighbourhood plan and this development does not fit with the guidelines therein.
“What a waste of time and money it seems to have been.”