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‘We will not accept 2,500 homes in Thatcham’ – Local Plan back to the drawing board

West Berkshire's Local Plan – which sets out how much housing can be developed until 2039 – has been kicked out.

A new plan will cost around £1.6m.

West Berkshire Council
West Berkshire Council

The Lib Dem administration says it will not accept up to 2,500 homes being built in Thatcham.

Nor will it accept 100 homes in Theale.

The Local Plan withdrawal is likely to lead to speculative planning applications and subsequent appeals resulting in significant additional expenditure.

A major appeal is estimated to cost the council approximately £250-300k to defend, with the possibility of any award of costs against the authority, although it is unclear the number of major appeals that will be submitted.

The Local Plan was put in play by the former Conservative administration, which lost power to the Lib Dems in the May elections.

The main issue between the two parties is the number of new homes that were to go on a single site north of the A4 in Thatcham, entirely on green fields and taking development close to the boundary of the protected area now known as a National Landscape: the North Wessex Downs at Bucklebury Common.

“We will not accept 1,500 (or up to 2,500 in the longer term beyond 2039) all on one site and without sufficient infrastructure to support such a development,” said deputy leader Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham).

"Furthermore we do not support a further 100 homes to be built in Theale."

Additional posts across the council's planning service – which is already struggling to recruit and has a 30 per cent vacancy rate –may also be needed to resource the existing work programme, a new Local Plan and an anticipated increase in major planning applications and planning appeals.

Executive member for planning and community engagement Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Hungerford and Kintbury) said: “It is not a decision we have taken lightly. We have spent the past six months looking at whether we can put more of the houses we need on other sites in Newbury and Thatcham area.

"We didn’t think we would need to withdraw the submitted plan and start again but we share the concerns of the community. We live here too.

"We deserve better and we have the talented planners and newly elected councillors to deliver better outcomes for the whole district.”

The council’s current requirement for housing is 513 homes per year. If a new plan is developed, there would be an increase of the amount of housing that would need to be planned for in the plan period of 15 years, as the timescale of the plan would be extended due to the time taken to produce a new plan.

Delays are likely to undermine the council’s ability to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply and will lead to further speculative planning applications and appeals.

The North East Thatcham Consortium has already indicated that a planning application for will be submitted in mid 2024. Two other sites in Thatcham, which are not allocated in the current Local Plan, are also expressing interest in progressing with their proposals.

And the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities (DLUHC) may intervene in the decision to withdraw the plan –taking the decision away from the council.

Lee Dillon, West Berkshire Council leader, during last May’s local elections
Lee Dillon, West Berkshire Council leader, during last May’s local elections

Council leader Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) said: “This decision is not without its risks. However we have already found so much incompetence on the part of our Tory predecessors that we believe we can absorb any increased costs in a refreshed new plan.

"We told the Conservative administration at the time that they were rushing the process but they were determined to force the plan through rather than waiting for the local election results.

"Those results showed that we have overwhelming support for this.”

A special full council meeting on Tuesday, December 19 will be held with the purpose of voting on the recommendation.

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