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Lawrences Lane: The reasons for West Berkshire Councils refusal of the Thatcham development

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An application to build a travellers pitch on land at the end of Lawrences Lane in Thatcham has been refused by West Berkshire Council.

The decision on Wednesday took into consideration concerns surrounding highway safety, landscape character, ecology impact, drainage facilities and narrow access to the site, among others.

Unauthorised development work began on the site in August this year, sparking wide interest from the local public.

Lawrence Lane Development Thatcham (50263133)
Lawrence Lane Development Thatcham (50263133)

The main issues raised in the 287 objections were highway safety, traffic and the unsuitability of development in the area.

The retrospective planning application requested the construction of seven traveller pitches comprising seven static caravans, seven day rooms, seven touring caravans and associated works.

The development, which started on August 13 without planning permission, faced a stop order from West Berkshire Council when it was initially spotted.

Lawrence Lane, Thatcham .Ref: 43-2421. (52683781)
Lawrence Lane, Thatcham .Ref: 43-2421. (52683781)

West Berkshire Council went to the High Court in September to get an injunction to stop the development, where the hearing was adjourned to December 8.

Councillor and chairman of Thatcham Town Council's planning and highways committee Simon Pike (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) highlighted three main concerns on behalf of the town council surrounding the location of the site, deficiencies in the planning application and community cohesion.

He said: “It is outside the settlement boundary, in open countryside that separates Thatcham and Cold Ash.

“A permission in principle application has been made for land on the opposite side of Lawrences Lane which may have been prompted by this unauthorised development.”

Mr Pike mentioned that the development would be “hazardous” for walkers and cyclists who use the lane.

He added: “It would destroy the rural character of the lane.

“Thatcham Town Council declared a climate emergency and we therefore expect that all proposed developments are to a high environmental standard.

"There is absolutely no information in the planning app on which to assess this.”

Cold Ash Parish councillor Bernard Clark told the meeting: “Lawrences Lane is a connection of Thatcham to the most beautiful countryside, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“Cold Ash’s principle is how positive this [area] could be, but this would be destroyed by this development.

“This should be made a pedestrian, or non-road area. It would suit the community and 300 objectors.”

Ward councillor Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) raised concerns around community cohesion between the existing residents and the applicants.

He said: “A quiet rural lane was deliberately targeted over a bank holiday weekend to build the site up.

"It is the view of many that this was done when agencies would have less ability to respond over that bank holiday weekend.

“Local residents were confused, fearful and angry that a country lane could become gridlocked with heavy machine work that carried out late into the night with no consideration given to local residents, those residents who applicants now wish to have as future neighbours.”

Alan Law (Con, Basildon) questioned: “How would we react if this was not a gypsy site?”

Alan Macro (Lib Dem, Theale) said: “If this had been an application for a normal caravan site, which we do have in the district, I think the comments would have been very similar.

“This is a completely unsuitable site, towing vehicles up and down that lane, and the effect on pedestrians, cyclists and ramblers using it for recreational purposes.”

The application can still be viewed by searching 21/02112/FUL in the West Berkshire Council online planning portal.

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