No 'plan b' for proposed 2,500-homes at Thatcham
West Berkshire Council says Local Plan is not 'fait accompli' as it responds to questions on building at Newbury Showground and AONB
THERE is no Plan B if proposals for 2,500 homes in Thatcham are not signed off by the Government.
West Berkshire Council has earmarked 170 hectares of land in north east Thatcham in its new Local Plan for 2020 to 2037.
The council’s planning policy manager Bryan Lyttle, and executive member for planning Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley and Cold Ash) fielded questions in a recent Facebook live event.
When asked if there was a Plan B, Mr Lyttle said: “If north east Thatcham is unsustainable through the examination process either the examiner will have put in alternative sites to development in West Berkshire, or he will find the whole plan unsustainable and he will throw it out and the council will be left with a period of having to sort out where development is going to go – and that could quite well be development by appeal.”
The council is hoping the detailed plan, which reveals which sites can be built on, will be signed off by the Government by 2023.
Half the homes are expected to be built by 2037 and two primary schools, a secondary school, a local centre with shops and a new country park will also be required.
More than 2,500 people have signed a petition objecting to the proposals, saying it would not improve the town.
When asked how north east Thatcham could be stopped, Mr Lyttle said there were chances to object through consultation, examinations and planning applications – should the proposals be accepted.
He said the plan was “not a fait accompli”.
“It’s not a question of saying no, it’s saying no and here is the alternative,” he said.
Mrs Cole added: “Although I can understand people’s concern about that number of houses at north east Thatcham, if the scheme did go ahead then during this current plan period 1,250 houses would be built out and the remaining would be built out following 2037.
“It’s not as though people will be waking up one morning to see 2,500 houses sitting in north east Thatcham, it will be a gradual process.”
With 74 per cent of the district classed as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, development is limited except in exceptional circumstances.
Flood zones and the emergency zones around AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield also restrict development options.
Questions over the politics of planning were raised, including why no housing was proposed in Mrs Cole’s village of Chieveley and why major housing was proposed in Liberal Democrat-held wards in Newbury, Thatcham and Theale.
Mr Lyttle said: “Planning is all about policies, it’s all about independence and therefore it goes before full council, it goes before an independent inspector who looks at all the evidence put forward, so it can’t gerrymander.”
He mentioned that the Vale of White Horse had a change of political administration and didn’t like the Local Plan, with the Government saying they would step in and decide everything from Whitehall.
“There’s quite a big stick behind local authorities to get Local Plans done,” Mr Lyttle said.
He said that Newbury Showground had not been promoted for residential development and could not be considered in the current plan.
Mrs Cole said the council was “working hard” with the NHS estate, Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group and local GPs to “ensure everything is joined up funding-wise if the proposal progresses”.
The council, developers and Kennet School are also in discussions over education provision.