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500-home plan for Thatcham's Siege Cross Farm refused

West Berkshire Council turns down application because of impact on education provision

500-home plan for Thatcham's Siege Cross Farm refused

A 500-HOME plan for Thatcham has been thrown out because of the detrimental impact it would have had on education provision in the town.

A2Dominion had sought to build up to 495 homes on land at Siege Cross Farm.

The site would have been accessed via a roundabout on Floral Way between Archangel Way and Simmons Field.

West Berkshire Council did not refuse the application on highways grounds, however, saying it was satisfied that one route into the site for vehicles was adequate.

Instead, the primary reason that the council threw out the application was on the “clear and demonstrable harm” to education provision in Thatcham.

A2Dominion had offered to build a new primary school on the site.

Its proposal was to move part of Francis Baily Primary School into the new school, which would allow Kennet School to expand into Francis Baily.  

The council said this proposal was not acceptable and anticipated that the move would lead to significant resistance from parents.

It added that any decision on splitting a school rested with the Department for Education. And a consultation, if the council thought the scheme viable, could not be completed within the Siege Cross application timescale.

“The development would fail to mitigate its own impacts and would demonstrably exacerbate an existing problem in Thatcham.

“As a consequence the development would have a negative effect on education provision for the existing population,” the council said.

The developer had also challenged the council’s housing figures. But the council said that it could demonstrate a five-year housing supply and that Siege Cross was unnecessary and contradicted its development plan.

The council also said that Siege Cross would erode the identity of Thatcham and the surrounding rural settlements, while producing clear and demonstrable harm to the landscape.

Residents submitted 52 letters of objection, citing that increased traffic would clog up local roads, a new secondary school would be needed to cope with the influx of children, an increased flood risk, and that the boundary between Thatcham, Bucklebury and Midgham would shrink.  

Councillor Sheila Ellison (Con, Thatcham North) said she was relieved that the council had refused the plans.

“We are all worried about education, particularly the secondary, and the impact on the roads,” she said.

“We need time to sit back on our heels and absorb all the new development. I would not be surprised if they appeal it. They may just wait and come back. We will see.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Lee Dillon (Thatcham North) said that the council had been right to refuse the plans.

He said: “The access for the site was never practical and I’m sure the residents living in the vicinity of the site will be relieved that the council has listened to their concerns and decided not to pass it.

“During the election it was a big issue. They [residents] will be delighted.”

Mr Dillon said that proposals to build hundreds of homes across West Berkshire needed to be considered at a strategic level and that a developer “trying to get ahead of the game” wasn’t helpful.

“I hope the developer takes on board the reasons for objection and doesn’t decide to appeal it and allows the local democratic planning process to take place,” Mr Dillon said.

A2Dominion’s regeneration director, David Price, said: “We were disappointed that West Berkshire Council refused our application for much-needed homes, a new primary school, new parks and a community building at Siege Cross in Thatcham.

“We are currently looking at the details of the council’s reason for refusal before deciding how best to proceed.”

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