Cllr Dr Tony Vickers gives an update on the situation with Sandleford.
As the 2019 local elections approached, I wrote explaining why I believe this 2000-home development hadn’t seen a brick laid 7 years after the Tory-led Local Planning Authority (LPA - West Berkshire Council) designated it a ‘strategic’ housing site in its Local Plan adopted in 2012. There is still no progress and late last year (on my birthday as it happens!) that same Authority refused a planning application – the fifth refusal I think – for 1000 of those homes. Not long after, Bloor Homes (the Applicant) lodged an appeal and in late January we were given the date of the Local Inquiry when that Appeal will begin to be heard – in public, but only online. It will begin 5th May and last at least 12 days.
Then just a week ago we were told that the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – the infamous Robert Jenrick MP - is going to ‘call in’ the Inquiry Inspector’s report, so not even an independent professional will make the final decision. It becomes part of the highly politicised “Build [almost anything anywhere] Back Better” priority of the Tory Government. Most likely Bloor Homes used a ‘side door’ to Downing Street, which is well trodden by large national home builders, to make sure this would happen months ago. The owner of Bloor’s is a major donor of the Conservative Party.
Meanwhile the LPA has consulted on a new Local Plan and again included Sandleford Park in it (policy SP16). Again, the Lib Dem led Newbury Town Council (NTC), supported by the Greens on it and by Greenham Parish Council (GPC), opposes this – as does the Lib Dem Opposition on WBC. But the two local councils are on the same side as the LPA in defending their decision to reject the Bloor proposal.
NTC and GPC formed a Joint Working Group (JWG) in July 2018 to try and align their views on the future of Sandleford. The JWG has met three times already this year to discuss how best to present our case at the Inquiry and make recommendations to the two councils. We have succeeded in securing a place at the (virtual) table when the Inquiry commences and are busy preparing a joint “Statement of Case” which must be submitted to the Inspector by 22nd March. I have been asked to take up one of the two seats we’ve been allocated: Cllr Roger Hunneman, who lives on Monks Lane and chairs the JWG, will take the other.
The LPA’s Statement of Case is already published. We will not be repeating their arguments but will focus on issues that most concern local people, whose views we have been constantly seeking through social media and ‘surgeries’ held when lockdown eased last year. These include the narrowness of ‘buffers’ around several ancient woodlands to protect their biodiversity, the poor connectivity and unsafe design of proposed pedestrian and cycle routes into and through the site and the failure to address the Climate Emergency which both the District and Town councils have acknowledged.
The biggest issue is the fact that Bloor Homes’s application is being dealt with on its own, when the LPA’s policy is to have the whole site planned as a coherent whole. Bloor have signally failed to achieve agreement with the other developer – local man Mark Norgate’s Donnington New Homes (DNH) – which owns most the remaining land on which another 500 homes are proposed to go. DNH rely on access to their site via Warren Road, which is deemed not wide enough by the LPA to take all vehicular traffic, yet the traffic modelling shows will be needed to spread the peak time congestion between A339 (where a new access has already been built with public money - £2m) and A343 Andover Road.
Wash Common residents are rightly up in arms over any Sandleford traffic using Warren Road and the local councils are working closely with the Say No to Sandleford campaign, which also has a seat at the Inquiry table, to oppose an all-vehicle access there. But we believe the lack of any coherent plan involving DNH is the most powerful argument for rejecting Bloor’s appeal.
The Bloor Homes refused planning application is only in outline and dealing just with access matters, not the detailed layout of homes and open spaces. But we know from bitter experience that once a development has outline planning consent – and especially when this is granted on Appeal by a remote and unaccountable Planning Inspector – it becomes far harder to make changes to eveything else that was supposed to be only ‘indicative’ at outline stage.
Cllr Dr Tony Vickers
(Lib Dem: Newbury Wash Common) West Berkshire Council