Mon, 21 Dec 2020
PROPOSALS for Thatcham to grow by 25 per cent are being put forward in what would be the single largest development in West Berkshire in living memory.
West Berkshire Council has recommended north east Thatcham to take up to 2,500 homes in its Local Plan Review 2020-2037, which assesses future housing needs.
Around 170 hectares of land stretching from the top of Floral Way to Colthrop and into Midgham parish has been identified for the development.
The land, split into four separate parcels, is being put forward by a consortium of land owners and developers, including Donnington New Homes, The Wasing Estate, A2Dominion and Ptarmigan Land.
Half of the homes are expected to be built by 2037, and the council expects any planning applications to provide two new primary schools, a new secondary school, sports pitches, community centres and shops, and improved active travel routes.
Thatcham residents are being urged to respond to the consultation on the proposals, which runs until February 2.
The level of proposed infrastructure has caused a rift – the council saying that 2,500 homes will provide Thatcham with the infrastructure it desperately needs, while opponents argue that a development of this scale will set the town further back.
The council’s executive member for housing, Hilary Cole (Con, Cold Ash and Chieveley), said: “We are very keen to work with the local community because it’s such a big proposal and development for Thatcham.
“We have taken a conscious decision to do this around Thatcham so it will deliver the infrastructure we need.
“We feel that Thatcham is best placed to take a development of this size.”
Thatcham’s allocation follows a study by planning consultant David Lock Associates assessing the town’s potential.
The report found that Thatcham had experienced rapid population growth since the 1950s and that, in recent decades, social infrastructure provision had not kept pace with housing growth.
The study said that Thatcham compared poorly to similar towns in terms of public and commercial services, and its self-image was of a large village, rather than as a thriving market town.
In its current strategy, the council said that Thatcham needed a period of consolidation to catch up on infrastructure following the 800-home development at Kennet Heath.
Now, with the council needing to supply housing, and facing restrictions elsewhere, it said it had made the conscious decision to expand Thatcham as it was “the logical choice” for the town to grow.
When asked how she would respond to comments of Thatcham being chosen as a dumping site for more housing, Mrs Cole said: “I can understand how people in Thatcham would feel, but I think that the proposal we have come forward with would improve the infrastructure, and, therefore, the lives of people in Thatcham.”
But the leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition Lee Dillon (Thatcham North East) said Mrs Coles’ comments were “disingenuous”.
The council’s planning policy officer Bryan Lyttle said: “There will be a significant new development at Thatcham because of the strategic location of that site.
“It’s probably the single largest development site we have ever had in West Berkshire.
“We would get significant infrastructure.
“It’s really well located to the employment in Colthrop and there will be enhanced links down to the railway station.”
Around 1,000 of the homes (40 per cent) would be affordable and around 75 (three per cent) are expected to be delivered via serviced custom/self-build plots.
On site renewable energy and the creation of a country park is also expected to be delivered with the development, which also includes expanding the Colthrop Industrial Estate to the east.
Mr Dillon said: “I’m surprised that the administration are supporting a piece of development that will drastically change the scale and scope of our town.
“It will create urban spill beyond the parish boundary on its eastern edge.
“It’s too much, a 25 per cent increase in one development and doesn’t deliver real infrastructure benefits throughout the town.
“Does having a development of this size in Thatcham make it better to live and travel around the town and wider district?
“I think the answer, on balance, is no and because of that I will be fighting this development.
“The town was given time to consolidate after West Berkshire Council admitted it had fallen behind in terms of infrastructure.
“I see no evidence that they have used that time to catch up on infrastructure.
“If we are to have a development of this size, it would put us further behind.
“What piece of infrastructure will be delivered as a result of this that will make the lives of people better?”
Mr Dillon said that the current proposals could make better use of land for a better secondary school or campus site and that the council should not be proposing homes that would put further strain on the town’s roads.
He added that the proposed country park would not be a gain as people in Thatcham already had easy access to the countryside and the Nature Discovery Centre.
He added that cycleways could be installed without the need for 2,500 homes.
Mrs Cole said: “Thatcham has had piecemeal development and has lagged behind in terms of infrastructure.
“It won’t be for the benefit of the new development, it would be better quality facilities for all.
“I would urge all Thatcham residents to have a look at the plan and make their views known because we need all our residents and key stakeholders to respond to our plan.”