Laura Farris meets with Michael Gove to discuss Local Plan which will impact 2,500 home plan in north east Thatcham
Newbury's MP and the Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities met on Tuesday to discuss the concerns over the emerging Local Plan and the controversial north east Thatcham 2,500-homes development.
West Berkshire Council's Local Plan, which will be voted on by the local authority next summer, will determine where thousands of homes will be built in the district over the next 15 to 30 years.
What was a 15-year plan consideration, will now have to be one of 30 years following a change in Government planning laws earlier this year.
The pair discussed the number of homes allocated and the pressures it puts on the public.
MP Laura Farris expressed hope, following her conversation with Michael Gove on Tuesday evening, that residents’ concerns will be addressed in some form.
She said: "The numbers we are expected to fulfil this year are excessive".
She said that it was "fundamentally" disrupting the "character and quality of the places that people like me represent".
“I am trying to find a way through this and I thought Michael Gove gave me helpful guidance.”
She noted that Mr Gove was positive, encouraging and helpful, but said he was unable to “commit too much”, being new to the post.
Mrs Farris said she wanted to speak to West Berkshire councillors about what he said and about the “mechanisms he described”.
“We have a lower housing obligation than other parts of the Thames Valley, which means that it’s hard for us to challenge because they have already said to us in the past that you are quite lucky," she said.
“I still think that there’s a failure to take into consideration, at national level… which is what I raised with him”.
Despite not having special powers to influence local planning decisions, Mrs Farris said she is “trying to represent” local residents.
In a recent letter to the leader of West Berkshire Council, Lynne Doherty, the Newbury MP raised residents' concerns with the emerging draft Local Plan, as well as the north east Thatcham development, following a public meeting she held with constituents at the Bucklebury Memorial Hall on August 31.
She wrote that residents were "virtually unanimous" in the view that they do not wish to see any housing on the allocated site for the north east Thatcham development.
Additionally, it was said that the council should "reconsider" whether the housing target set out in the emerging draft Local Plan is "excessively high" – a view that Mrs Farris said she shared.
Her letter also detailed concerns that the constituents have with the allocations, suggesting that brownfield land use be maximised, and that alternative sites are selected in the final draft of the Local Plan.
The concerns raised largely surround the issue of avoiding any serious impact on the rural character of that part of the constituency.
The public meeting also found that there is a need for a detailed traffic assessment of the wider rural road network as the “evidence base was flawed”.
Mrs Farris’ letter said that the residents did not believe that “the bulk of new traffic would use the A4 accessed via Floral Way” and that the “back routes” through Cold Ash, to the A34 and Bucklebury, and to the M4, were already “well-established and frequently used alternatives” in busier traffic times.
The proposed number of houses could therefore, in their view, place an unsustainable burden on said roads, which are not “designed for such traffic volumes”.
There was also said to be a perception that the council did not undertake an “adequate consultation” with concerned residents.
Mrs Farris has since said: “I can liaise with central government as much as I can and try make a point to the serious decision makers and also take their guidance back to the council in a way that I hope will be very helpful.
“The direct concerns that are relevant to north east Thatcham have been raised and [Michael Gove] has made encouraging noises and there will be perhaps an opportunity for me to raise this with West Berkshire Council.
“He was receptive and positive, he wasn’t surprised by what I asked. He had been looking hard at the South East.”