Sun, 10 May 2020
Concerns have been aired that West Berkshire's most important planning application in recent memory – the building of more than 1,000 homes at Sandleford Park – could be decided without public engagement.
Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Wash Common) said that local democracy would be put into disrepute if the public could not speak or ask questions during virtual planning meetings discussing major applications.
West Berkshire Council refused plans for the site in 2017, saying that developers Donnington New Homes and Bloor Homes, who control separate parcels of land at Sandleford, "had not delivered on assurances” to work on a cohesive plan, upon which the council has insisted.
The developers have since signed a memorandum of understanding and have submitted plans for 1,500 homes – 500 and 1,000 respectively – on land under their control off Monks Lane and Andover Road.
Speaking during last Wednesday's meeting, Mr Vickers said: "We are among the best and I really do not want to lose that reputation.
"The people of West Berkshire have grown used, over 25 years now, to having full participation in particularly planning meetings and I'm very proud of that fact.
"We have a very important application pending, probably the most important application for quarter of a century, which has been sitting there for two years and I would not want that application to finally come to a decision unless we have the full gold standard public planning meeting that we have become used to.
"I think that would put our democracy in this district into disrepute and would leave a great sense of grievance whatever the result."
Donnington New Homes has also submitted plans to widen Warren Road – next to Park House School – with footways and landscaping, intended to provide improved access to New Warren Farm, as well as being suitable for a possible Sandleford Park development.
Access to Sandleford has been a contentious issue.
The council previously said that Sandleford could be served by two roads on to Monks Lane.
But it now says that an additional two roads, one from the A339 and another via the A343 at Warren Road, is vital.
Mr Vickers said: "We are only two weeks away from the deadline to what's been called a Trojan Horse application for [Sandleford].”
Mr Vickers called for assurances that nothing relating to Warren Road or Sandleford would be dealt with while emergency measures for council meetings were in place.
"We waited two years for that because the council and the two applicants cannot agree on how the costs will be shared and I really don't think it would be right for perhaps only a period of six months to see that one go through the system," he said.