You can tell there is an election coming. If you live in the Arborfield, Barkham, Swallowfield or Shinfield parts of the Wokingham Constituency the latest Liberal Democrat newsletter will recently have dropped through your door, with a number of items relating to the development, and the top story highlighting an issue we have been highlighting over the past few months, that Crest Nicholson are proposing to build houses beyond the developable area set down in the Arborfield Garrison Supplementary Planning Document. The most obvious place is on what are currently playing fields and public green space around the junction of Sheerlands Road and Baird Road, but they are also squeezing in strips of development adjacent to the protected moat over near the Garrison main gate, building right up to the A327 including in the triangle of land that sits in Swallowfield Parish Council area, and building closer to the various streams and the lake all across the development.
So why are the Liberal Democrats interested in a corner of the playing fields in Arborfield? There is no local election here for another three years, and the votes of a few residents of Arborfield are hardly likely to swing the seat for them at the General Election. They often tend to avoid too much discussion of Arborfield anyway as the local Conservatives invariably start throwing around all sorts of other figures as to how many houses the Liberal Democrats wanted to put at Arborfield in previous plans. The reason is that the issue here highlights a problem that could exist across all the strategic development locations in the borough.
Lets play a game of spot the difference.
This first image is taken from the Crest Nicholson Planning Application and is a copy of a plan originally produced by Wokingham Borough Council for the Supplementary Planning Document for the Strategic Development Location. This is a document they spent a lot of time consulting with local residents on, and which residents have been told would protect their interests and ensure we got the kind of development everybody wanted. Things to note in particular are the green area around the top of Sheerlands Road, the main avenue being a continuation of Princess Marina Drive, and the existing community centre marked as being retained.
This image is again taken from the Crest Nicholson Planning Application, and shows the same general area, but has area BB2 on what is green space on the Wokingham Borough Supplementary Planning Document plan, area K again on an area marked as green space, and the existing community centre, along with the facilities for the nursery and pre-school, all of which the council said should be retained disappear under housing area L.
Not surprisingly Crest Nicholson spend a lot of time justifying why they are diverging from the Supplementary Planning Document, essentially they are challenging the document through the planning process. Elsewhere in the application they also present a potted history of occasions when Wokingham Borough Council planning policy and plans have been challenged, and when they have lost.
Although there is a lot of text in the document, the fundamental point of contention is pretty simple, that it is not possible to build the number of houses that the core strategy and supplementary planning document requires, at the density that the core strategy and supplementary planning document requires, and in the designated development areas that the core strategy and supplementary planning document requires. Crest Nicholson are choosing to try to meet the density and housing number targets at the expense of the developable area, pushing out onto land that was supposed to be protected and into areas that are liable to flood according to their own flood survey.
Which brings us back to why the Liberal Democrats are interested. We’re not the only strategic development location laid down in the core strategy, and we’re not the only strategic development location where the concerns of existing residents are included in the supplementary planning document, and we’re not the only strategic development location where residents have been assured that our interests would be protected by those documents, there are three others across the borough – this is a borough and constituency wide issue.
Ensuring that there is enough developable area to contain the required number of houses at the required density is pretty fundamental, if there are similar fundamental errors in the core strategy and supplementary planning documents, such that developers are able to challenge and ignore them in the other strategic development locations this is a pretty worrying state of affairs given the assurances residents have been given over the protection the core strategy would give us. Having fundamental errors such that developers can successfully challenge yet more elements of Wokingham Borough planning policy leaves us as local residents exposed to whatever developers want to do. As we have discovered many times over the years the developers have deeper pockets and more money to spend on lawyers to get their plans pushed through than the council will ever be able to afford to stop them…
With the ongoing consultation on the planning applications in full flow, it is time for a quick update. Firstly the deadline for comments on the two planning applications has now been synchronised on 5th December, so you only have a couple of weeks left to have your say. If you want a chance to go through the plans, talk to local councillors and also ask questions of the developers Finchampstead Parish Council have organised another opportunity to do so on Saturday 22 November 2014 at Nine Mile Ride School from 3pm to 5pm. Our experience from previous exhibitions is that this is a good opportunity to put specific points to the developers and politicians who react a lot more proactively face to face with residents, certainly we are aware of changes that were made to submitted plans after residents with particular issues took them up face-to-face with Crest Nicholson.
Some of the first responses to the consultation are now starting to appear on the council web site. As always we can’t link directly to the applications because of the way the council website is designed, however following the instructions in this post you can find the applications and read what people are saying.
The themes are pretty much what you would expect, but a few points to bear in mind:
From feedback we’ve had so far the big issue once again is traffic and traffic mitigation. The liberal use of traffic calming in the current plans have gone down no better than the liberal use of traffic lights in the previous plan. There are also notable gaps demonstrating a lack of understanding of local roads, so for example in Finchampstead restricting Park Lane and slowing traffic through California Crossroads without doing anything to Church Lane and White Horse Lane is a recipe for people rat running along White Horse Lane, a common problem currently when there are holdups at California Crossroads after a closure of the A327.
As always the lack of a coherent solution to the A327 through Eversley, especially considering that all the remaining MoD personnel who currently walk to work on the Garrison will be heading towards Aldershot will also be going this way features in comments. We suspect the high level representation from Hampshire County Council will also be concerned about this.
Environmental concerns have come up, in particular what the effect of building on Hogwood Farm will have on the bottom end of Park Lane and New Mill Lane – somewhere that has flooded in the past few years – and further downstream on Swallowfield. Certainly people have concerns about the proposed handling of water on both developments.
The comment by Crest Nicholson representative Hugo Reeve at the last Community Forum that his planning application needed to be approved to release the land for the school, a statement that is also made in the planning documents themselves also continues to be of concern, especially to those parents looking for a school at the earliest opportunity. We have had informal discussions with several councillors who are insistent that this is not the case and that they can proceed with the school without having to have the main planning application approved, including one or two who have said that had they been at the forum they would have highlighted when Hugo made the statement that this was not the case. Unfortunately despite the leader of the council and former lead member for development being present at that forum he did not object, and every subsequent statement from the council has a lot of fluff about an ongoing process of negotiation, but no the kind of unequivocal statement on the school that people need.
There was a recent meeting to discuss the school plans in more detail where the plans were revealed. Sadly the need to meet the tight timescales has resulted in the council settling on one of the new, much criticised standardised designs that were put forward by the current government a few years ago, whilst the parent group are putting forward their ideas, ultimately the need to get the school built on time will almost certainly mean that rather than a design that fits into the vision for the new community we will have something very close to the standardised designs commissioned by former Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Whatever your particular concerns, it is important that you get them in by 5th December to ensure they are noted. Whilst in practice the council usually accepts comments after this date, they don’t have to so please try to get them in time.
Alongside the main planning applications, there is another consultation taking place which will be of particular interest to Arborfield residents, which is for the Arborfield and Newland Village Design Statement. Whilst this document can’t stop development coming to Arborfield, it can guide developers as to how local residents want those developments to be built, so is an important document. You can find a link to the proposals and details of how to comment on this page on the Wokingham Borough website.
Finally, one sad bit of news in that Trinity Mirror who own the Reading Post and Wokingham Times amongst other newspapers has decided to close all their Berkshire titles in favour of an online only model, making a number of redundancies. Reporters from the Wokingham Times have been to almost as many meetings and forums as some of the residents and have reported the twists and turns of the Garrison development for many years. We’d like to thank them for all their support over the years and offer our best wishes to those who are being made redundant in the run up to Christmas.
We expect our planing application to be given the nod because it is in everybody’s interest for the project to go ahead.
So says Scott Black, Crest Nicholson’s group director of new business in the front page story of the Wokingham News this week.
But is it in your interest? If you’re a highly paid director of a major house builder, getting the maximum number of houses for the minimum outlay on infrastructure it probably is in your best interest, if you’re a Ministry of Defence bureaucrat wanting the money to build the new facilities for REME in Wiltshire it is probably in your best interest, if you’re an officer at Wokingham Borough Council worried about delivering a school promised to desperate local parents in September 2016 it is probably in your best interest, but for the rest of us maybe it isn’t.
If you’re a resident of Badger’s Mount who believed Wokingham Borough Council when they assured them that the Supplementary Planning Document would protect their green spaces, keep the new development back from their home, and showed the main route from the north of the development into the centre diverted well away from their homes this isn’t in your best interest. Crest Nicholson have decided to ignore that part of the Supplementary Planning Document and are proposing to fell trees to build houses on the supposedly protected green, and will direct increased levels of traffic past their houses avoiding their new development. It’s not in their interest.
But then it is a lot cheaper to build houses on the undeveloped land on the greens than clear developed army land, and the new residents won’t like having a main access road past their houses. The existing residents need to make some sacrifices to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
If you’re a resident of Finchampstead or Eversley who lives around the Tally Ho, it’s not in your best interest as the robust planning application from Crest Nicholson offers little hope for you. Once these 3,500 houses are built on the site of one of the main local employers it won’t only be residents from the new houses coming past your homes on the way to work, you’ll get all the soldiers still housed here coming past on the way to their base in Aldershot – and yet Crest Nicholson aren’t looking at any sort of bypass for Eversley, and Wokingham Borough Council and Hampshire County Council aren’t willing to put up the money either.
But then it is a lot cheaper to not build the bypass. The existing residents need to make some sacrifices to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
If you’re a resident of Arborfield you’re in a bit better position, as the council has agreed to build a bypass – but don’t ask how it’s being paid for as it’s not Crest Nicholson paying up, they’re making a contribution but you can bet it will be as small as they can make it to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
If you live around California Crossroads you’re going to get the junction rebuilt with raised multicoloured bricks, but will following the yellow brick road solve the traffic chaos when thousands of extra residents come up and down the Nine Mile Ride every day?
But then it is a lot cheaper to provide some pretty coloured bricks. The existing residents need to make some sacrifices to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
If you’re a resident of Barkham you get the pretty bricks and paint too, but again what happened when thousands of extra residents try to get through there every day avoiding the inevitable queues at the bridge?
But then actually solving the traffic problems your high profile development will cause is expensive. The existing residents need to make some sacrifices to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
What about the new residents, the people who will come to these new houses? The illustrative plan makes things look quite pleasant – but then has anybody counted the number of houses on the plan?
If they built the number of houses shown on their illustrative plan it probably would be quite pleasant, and would meet the density of a garden village which in the garden village developments that their marketing harks back to was an absolute maximum of 12 houses per acre. Instead they will build 2000 houses, because building any less would affect the profits Crest Nicholson can make, and Scott Black’s nice bonus.
Let us not forget, for all their comments about what a great place this development will be, neither Scott Black or any of his colleagues, nor the Wokingham Borough Council officers will have to live here while it is being built. A couple of the local councillors live close, and only one actually lives on the SDL, but as the councillors on the planning committee come to make the decision are they looking at the ways this application ignores their adopted planning document, or will gridlock local traffic, or are they looking at the promise so many of them backed to open a school in 2016 that is entirely dependent on this application being adopted on time? Which group of residents are they going to go with, will it be the parents desperate for a new school in September 2016 as Scott Black expects, or the numerous other residents whose interest is not served by the current plans?
We asked precisely that question on BBC Berkshire last week – neither Crest Nicholson or Wokingham Borough Council were willing to answer that question in person.
Let’s be clear, we agree with Scott Black, the borough needs new houses, and we need a new school, but at any cost? If he thinks this development is so fantastic, perhaps he can come join us and watch his utopia be built at close quarters from Park Lane.
Firstly, thanks to everybody who made the time to come along to the Community Forum on Thursday. Even if you didn’t manage to make it, everybody should now have received a letter from the council with details of the two planning applications and details of how to comment. Just to clarify, as from a couple of conversations we have had some people are still confused, these two applications together cover the whole of the Arborfield Garrison SDL giving in total 3,500 houses, two primary schools, one secondary school, two neighbourhood centres, one district centre plus shops and community facilities. They are not some sort of either/or proposition.
Quickly summarising the presentations, the Marino application is little changed from what was presented earlier in the summer, the most significant change probably being for residents of Park Lane in that the stretch from the entrance of the industrial estate down all the way to the A327 will have restricted access, and a new road will be built taking HGV traffic straight onto the Nine Mile Ride Extension. We then (once they’d sorted the IT) had a more slick presentation from Crest Nicholson highlighting the changes made since the previous withdrawn planning application last year. These include a lowering of the density of the development from between 14 and 15 houses per acre to about 13 houses per acre, unfortunately at the expense of green space. There was a good deal of garden village marketing fluff again, but as always it is worth remembering that the garden village and garden city movement of a century ago that they are harking back to built to an absolute maximum of 12 houses per acre, and often at lower densities. In the intervening time housing average densities have increased, and what they are proposing is not going to be noticeably less dense than estates anywhere else around the area. Fundamentally there is not enough room to fit in 3,500 houses at the density residents would like in the space available to the developers, but that headline figure is what the council core strategy has designated this area to provide.
Thanks to those members who have already offered some feedback on the plans. Traffic and transport issues are once again topping the concerns. Whilst this application is avoiding the liberal sprinkling of traffic lights across the locality that we were presented with last year, the solutions this time around were neatly summed up by one comment we heard “it’s amazing what they can do with paint these days” – basically we’re looking at traffic calming as a primary tool to deal with the increase in traffic. The usual problem areas of the Tally Ho corner, California Crossroads, Barkham Bridge and the others are again featuring in comments, with people not exactly convinced.
The forum started with a presentation from the council giving the headlines with regards to the new school. The council line is absolutely adamant that the school will be delivered on time in September 2016, however in response to a question from the floor it became clear that is not the case. The school will be delivered on time if, and only if the AGLC planning application is approved on time. If that planning application is not approved, even if it is for some reason totally unrelated to the school or the school site, the school planning application cannot be approved, and the school will not be delivered.
It is also worth remembering at this point that for an application of this size it is not the planning professionals who approve, it is our elected representatives, and they can and do disagree with the official advice, so they can refuse an application recommend for approval by their officers, or alternatively they can approve an application over a recommendation for refusal by the officers. Recently the committee has approved a new gateway development for Wokingham, despite it being recommended for refusal for not fitting it with the surroundings. Also lets not forget that Curtin & Co the consultants employed by Crest Nicholson proudly promote how they have persuaded councillors to approve a number of contentious developments over recommendations for refusal from officers, and that a number of councillors have staked their reputations on delivering a school.
As a result it is very important that we let our councillors, in particular the planning committee themselves what we as residents regard as most important. Whilst there is a group of parents who are understandably concerned over the provision of school places, is the provision of a school for 2016 so overwhelmingly important that we are willing to make significant compromises over the larger planning application. The council guarantee of the school puts Crest Nicholson and the Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium in a powerful position to push for a development that will make them more money at the expense of local residents because they know that to achieve the goal of a school in 2016 the council has to pass their application. What is important is that as we put in our comments we let our councillors know whether we are happy for them to refuse the application, even if it means we won’t get the school in 2016, in order to achieve a better overall development.
We are continuing to go through the extensive planning applications, and will post more comments as we do. Please also continue to share any comments and concerns or questions that you may have.
Both the outline planning applications for the two parts of the Arborfield Garrison Strategic Development Location are now in and published on the Wokingham Borough Council website. As previously we cannot link directly to the applications because of the way the council website is set up. To find the applications go to http://www.wokingham.gov.uk/planning/services/search/ and there put O/2014/2280 into the application number box for the Crest Nicholson/Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium application under Arborfield parish, or O/2014/2179 for the Marino Family development of Hogwood Farm under Finchampstead parish.
There is a significant volume of documentation for each of the proposals, so we will not be making any comment on the content until we have had a chance to go through the applications in detail ourselves. As previously, if you have any comments or feedback on the applications from your own reading, please share it. These are complex documents so the more pairs of eyes we have reading them the better view of the overall picture and any issues we will be able to get.
Also, don’t forget that the rescheduled Arborfield Community Forum takes place on this Thursday, 23rd October, from 7pm at Henry Street Garden Centre, and includes an update on the school, along with presentations on both planning applications. Both applications are only open for comment for a few weeks (although we understand the council may try to extend this) and this will probably be the main chance us as residents will have to quiz both councillors and council officials, and also the applicants. Once these applications are approved certain aspects of what is going to happen to Arborfield Garrison are locked in, so it is critical that the applications are got right at this stage.
As a little bit of other news, you may have seen the comment piece we published last week having spotted Tom Curtin, CEO of Curtin & Co the consultancy hired by Crest Nicholson to push through the application, taking a leading role in a group called Caversham Residents Against Inappropriate Development, something we thought was at the very least rather ironic, perhaps hypocritical considering that his company specialises in pushing through just the kind of contentious planning applications that local residents close to them consider inappropriate. Things over in Caversham have taken a rather interesting turn in that the names of Tom Curtin and his wife disappeared off the CRAID site at the weekend, at about the same time as an anonymous newsletter was pushed through doors all across Caversham causing much anger amongst residents. One of those residents investigated who produced the newsletter via the delivery company that delivered them and traced it back not to Tom Curtin, but to Curtin & Co themselves, and he has now passed this on to Reading Trading Standards who have opened an investigation as the newsletter committed a “criminal breach” in the areas of data protection, unsolicited mail and not providing right of reply on the document/providing details of the sender. Needless to say we have highlighted this behaviour to Wokingham Borough Council and expressed our concern at such unprofessional and possibly illegal behaviour from a company that is so closely involved with the Arborfield Garrison SDL. You can keep up to date with what is going on over in Caversham on the Heights Primary School Facebook page. There is a report about the ongoing events in Caversham including comments from Tom Curtin on the anonymous newsletter in the Reading Chronicle.
You may remember just over a year ago, Crest Nicholson the developers appointed by the Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium to bring forward the northern part of the strategic development location appointed a consultancy called Curtin & Co to handle the consultation with local residents and interested parties. We were less than impressed as the reputation of Curtin & Co precedes them, and they are specialists in getting contentious developments through often over the objections of local residents, who like in Arborfield and Finchampstead consider the scale of what is proposed to be inappropriate, with poor mitigation for the obvious traffic problems that will be generated, and as we have discovered, existing community amenities being lost. The head of the consultancy Tom Curtin and one of his colleagues had even penned an essay discussing localism and rural “NIMBY’s”. You can read our thoughts at the time here.
Moving forward, over in Caversham, much like here in Wokingham there is a crisis over school places, and there is a long running battle over the location of a desperately needed new school, a school which for the moment has had to open over two miles away from it’s intended catchment area. The education authorities have considered other sites but eventually settled on a 1 acre residential site, that has been thrown up in the air again, but with big names like Sir John Madjeski defending other potential sites.
The campaign against the free school location is spearheaded by an organisation called Caversham Residents Against Inappropriate Development, whose aims are pretty similar to ours – basically residents are frustrated at the apparent lack of consultation, the selection of what they regard as an inappropriate site, and a clear failure to consider traffic impacts and numerous other issues related to the proposed site. However things get a bit more interesting when you take a look at the list of people behind the group. Second on the list is Tom Curtin who “runs a public relations consultancy in London”…
Watching Meridian News last night there was a report with campaigners outside the proposed school site, and about 38 seconds in a local resident is interviewed. Take a look and then look at the staff at Curtin & Co the specialists in getting contentious developments through, in particular Tom Curtin himself…
At the very least it’s quite ironic, that the man in charge of an organisation that is hired by housing developers across the country to push through contentious and inappropriate developments, and has clearly expressed his views on “NIMBY’s” in the past is now doing much the same thing he has criticised residents elsewhere for in the past.
On his profile on his own website he says he is most proud of this:
Consistently delivering some great successes for our clients often on very difficult and contentious projects.
The current problems have been building over years and years of inappropriate development, the kind of developments that his organisation helps push through. Caversham is just another area that has had loads of housing developments over the years but without a similar investment in required infrastructure. So is it ironic that he’s now fighting what he sees as inappropriate development in his own community – or is it just blatant hypocrisy?
It has been a little while since we have issued a news update, so we have a few important items to update everybody about.
Firstly, anybody who made specific comments about the building on the existing green space around the junction of Sheerlands Road and Baird Road, and the buffer between the existing houses on Badgers Mount and the new houses that will be built in the field adjacent, both of which were parts of the Wokingham Borough Council Supplementary Planning Document for the strategic development location should have received a letter from Crest Nicholson detailing proposed changes to their plans in light of the feedback. Alongside the comments from residents both Gary Cowan as our local councillor and the Parish Council made similar representation.
Their proposal is to remove areas BB1 and CC from the plans which are the parcels adjacent to Whitehall Drive. This of course means that half of the area will still be built on. The justification for this is that they need to build on this land in order to achieve the density requirement laid down by the council across the rest of the development, and also achieve the target of 2000 houses for the consortium part of the SDL again laid down by the council. If the council were willing to relax the density requirements slightly then perhaps parcels BB2 and K could also be preserved, but sadly it seems that the council is much more concerned to ensure the developers achieve the density requirements than preserve the amenity land used by the existing residents.
One other point that has come up, and was raised again by the Parish Council with the developers is that the land they are proposing to build on was thought to have been protected from development as it was designated as public open space to balance the previous developments on MoD land, most notably Penrose Park, however the developers are pleading ignorance of this commitment and have insisted that the land was passed to them with no restrictions on it at all. This highlights an important point, that we need to ensure that the commitment made by Crest Nicholson over BB1 and CC is properly recorded so that we’re not fighting another attempt to build on the land after 2026. Firstly the letter from Crest Nicholson has no legal basis, so it is important that the commitment is reflected in their planning application. Secondly the letter makes no commitment over the long term protection of those areas, so it is important that Crest Nicholson show a real commitment to preserving the green space for current and future residents by officially designating and registering the land as a village green which will give it legal protection from future development. This is especially important considering that they are not honouring the commitments made by the MoD over that land in the past.
The council has also shared with us the tree survey prepared by Crest Nicholson for their part of the SDL. If you remember residents have been repeatedly assured by the council that all the trees on the site had been protected, sadly it seems that they are not quite as protected as residents may have assumed. The tree survey is a complex document, but the headline is that Crest Nicholson is proposing to remove or replace almost half of the existing trees. In some places trees are going to be removed to make way for houses – the trees currently in development parcel K for example. After raising a query with the council over some of the proposed removals the council officers confirmed that they did not put tree protection orders on any trees that they thought it would be likely that a developer could challenge and win. Having shown the report to a specialist who writes similar reports he has highlighted a number of errors and mistakes in the tree report, but also added that the report is quite clearly designed to make things easier for Crest Nicholson to remove the trees they want to.
As yet, the council is not totally sure when the Crest Nicholson planning application will be submitted, however you will now find that the planning application for the Marino part of the SDL has been submitted and is available online under application number O/2014/2179. Residents should be getting an official letter from the council highlighting that the application has been submitted. As yet the documents relating to the application are not available online, but as with previous planning applications there is a lot of paperwork for the staff at the council to scan in and make available. The closing date for comments on the Marino application is currently set as 20th November 2014.
Finally, progress is being made by the council parental reference group over the new school, and members of the reference group are asking for ideas about the name – if you have any suggestions over a name, please let us know and we can pass them on to the parents on the group.
Curtin & Co the professional Community Politics organisation taken on by Crest Nicholson for the past year or so to help with community engagement to produce more acceptable plans this time around have the following statement on their website:
Communities and their representatives are at the heart of planning. By listening carefully to them and understanding their issues, acceptance of proposals is greatly improved.
We’d probably agree with them on that, but I wonder how you thought the recent exhibition showed they understood your issues?
Certainly from the feedback we have received so far, the answer seems to be that they didn’t seem to understand at all, and that the entire exhibition was a major disappointment.
Over the years this development has been discussed, there have been a couple of common points. Firstly the preservation of green space used by existing residents has been a major concern – right from the start AG-RAG has been in favour of a development “behind the wire” highlighting that public areas outside the boundary wire of the Garrison should remain public areas, and that the effect on existing residents should be minimised. Secondly the mitigation of the traffic effects of the new development needs to be taken seriously for all the surrounding villages.
If you take a look at the supplementary planning document adopted by Wokingham Borough Council the “behind the wire” principle is clear. Crest Nicholson helpfully include this plan on their “Story so far” panel, all of the formal playing fields along with the informal space around the top of Sheerlands Road is maintained, and there is a clearly marked buffer alongside the existing homes on Badger’s Mount. The withdrawn plans from 2013 which were modified from the original design as part of the community planning workshops in January 2013 largely maintained that, with only building on one side of Sheerlands Road on the Garrison Church Car Park. These new plans however discard the green buffer behind Badger’s Mount, and fill all of the informal space with houses, requiring the felling of a number of trees that are supposed to have tree protection orders on them to achieve this, and even putting houses on the access road to Gerring Road and the whole of the Badger’s Mount estate. Hardly listening carefully to the local community and understanding their issues. Not surprisingly we are aware of a number of local residents who visited the exhibition and expressed pretty forcefully their opinion of the latest plans.
Looking at the other hot button issue, that of traffic mitigation, whereas the consultation exhibition for the withdrawn plans recognised the importance of this and included proposed plans for many critical junctions, there was nothing like this at the recent exhibition. We can’t even comment on how good or bad their plans might be, because there was basically no detail at all, we are no clearer now as to what they are proposing as to where we were a month ago.
So what has gone wrong? Curtin & Co have been engaging with community representatives such as the parish councils and local borough councillors, but they have noticeably failed to engage with the community itself. We had a Community Planning Weekend where a number of local residents sat and worked with the master planners, producing a plan that whilst it had some issues was still something that had clearly evolved as a result of the community engagement. Nobody on the new team was involved with the previous community engagement, and rather than organise a new round of engaging with the community, this team appears to have developed the plans in isolation, the result being that the masterplan is considered by many to be worse than the withdrawn plan.
Ironically the new plan is still being sold on the basis of green space, but comparing the plans from 2013 with the new plans there is clearly less green space. The existing space around the junction of Sheerlands Road and Baird Road is entirely gone, green space around the brook is reduced, the village common is significantly reduced, houses are built closer to the balancing lake and the SANG is reduced in size. What that has been traded for is personal green space, so the density of housing is reduced by putting them on larger plots. Certainly good for making the houses to sell more attractive, but it is the existing residents who are losing their green space, and there is less public green space for the new community.
As expected the secondary school has moved back to the original location, but since Reading Football Club are holding firm on Hogwood Park, it has all the same problems with access from outside the SDL. Whilst in fifteen years once the majority of students using the school will be fed from the SDL most students will be able to walk, in the early years most students will be coming from Finchampstead and will have to come through the whole southern part of the SDL into the town centre to get to the school. The school desperately needs direct access from Park Lane, rather than requiring all of the students to come in at the same time as all of the residents are heading out to work, and sending them in via a fairly roundabout route around the industrial estate and the football club.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the exhibition, the boards are available on the Crest Nicholson Consultation Website. You’ll find that the previous Arborfield Vision site has been removed, however you can look back at the presentation and commitments that the previous masterplanners and the the Defence Infrastructure Organisation made on our site here, something that is probably a rather depressing experience when you realise quite how much of the previous community engagement has been squandered, and the good will that has been lost by Curtin & Co and Crest Nicholson. Please also feedback if you haven’t already using the Crest Nicholson Online Feedback Form.
As you may be aware, the catalyst for this group being formed was when Wokingham Borough Council published their SDL masterplan document for the Arborfield Garrison SDL. Whilst for everyone who lives in and around the Garrison the prospect of the Army moving out has always been on the cards, and replacement with housing the most likely possibility, pretty well everyone assumed that it would be a development of the land behind the wire, as had been shown on previous proposals. It was therefore rather a nasty surprise to find that Wokingham Borough Council had included parts of the playing fields that were, and still are well used by both the civilian and military families who live here – indeed before the inevitable Bank Holiday rain set in today there were families enjoying the open space near the tennis courts over the weekend, as there often is when it is sunny. This proposed development of “area B” served to bring home what was about to happen.
Over the intervening time we have had several assurances from various politicians over what will happen to “area B”, however the key thing that Wokingham Borough Council have not done, is to remove the contentious part of area B from their own document, as a result every time a new set of consultants come along and a new masterplan is issued, the same argument over “area B” comes up again.
Last week, members of the parental reference group working with the council on plans for the new school were shown a plan indicating the location. The plan was under a confidentiality agreement at that point, but following a request from the reference group the document has now been put in the public domain and can be found on a number of the Facebook pages discussing the school, or by clicking on the image here. Aside from interest over the school location, it is worth taking a look at what is happening elsewhere. Once again Crest Nicholson have kicked out John Thompson and Partners who ran the extensive community planning weekend in 2013, and brought in the Ian Darby Partnership (Northern) based in Newcastle to master plan the site once again. As always happens, if you look at the plan, “area B” is once again marked as residential developable area, although on this plan it’s areas BB1, BB2, CC and K. Granted this is labelled as the “Masterplan Diagram without Constraints”, but the area is clearly marked.
If you look at it from the point of view of the developers if you ignore all the marketing fluff around garden village principles into which an area like that fits really well, the area of parkland in those parts is pretty easy to develop, certainly compared to the building demolition they’ll need to undertake elsewhere on the site. If they take a chainsaw to the trees they’ve marked with blue dots – apparently only to mark the location of services – they can slap up a load of houses quickly and get them selling to finance the rest of the development, and stuff the existing residents. Since we’re already here, the garden village principles aren’t really for our benefit anyway, much better to build on the park used and enjoyed by the people who are already here in order to provide more SANG area and more open space in other parts of the development where they will be making their money.
Sadly that is the kind of short sighted view often taken by developers who are primarily interested in building and selling their houses for the maximum profit whatever the effect on the existing community, the kind of attitude that produced their previous planning application that suggested sprinkling a few traffic lights around the area would counteract the effect of thousands of extra new residents being dropped into a semi-rural area. What they miss is that the existing residents are the people who will form the basis of the new community their marketing department and the council keeps going on about. Surely if you are wanting these people to build this new community, repeatedly antagonising them by not addressing obvious traffic problems, and repeatedly proposing to build on parks used by the existing residents is exactly the opposite of what you want to be doing?
We’ll see in the coming week quite whether common sense has prevailed and the developers have been realistic about the traffic effects of their development, and about retaining amenities used by the existing residents, but given this plan, we won’t be surprised to find ourselves once again disappointed.
After a relatively quiet couple of weeks, over the past couple of days there have been two key announcements relating to the development.
Firstly, the Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium, headed up by Crest Nicholson, have announced the three dates for the exhibition of their revised proposals. These are as follows:
The first of these dates in Finchampstead is at the end of the last full week of the school holidays, whilst the other two dates in Arborfield are after the local schools have gone back. The consortium seems to have now abandoned their previous Arborfield Vision site and are instead setting up a new web site that will carry details of the proposals at www.arborfieldgarrison.co.uk which is due to go live on the day of the first exhibition.
We would urge everybody to try and attend the exhibition, and to ensure you give your feedback to the developers representatives who will be attending.
The other announcement, which came today from Wokingham Borough Council announcing that the potential site for the new school had been identified. To be fair the potential site they have identified is actually the same site that was proposed in some of the earliest layouts for the development, indeed you can go back to this posting from 2010 for an example, and which was actually revealed by the Marino Family Trust on the front cover of their Hogwood Garden Village brochure a few weeks back. The site still has all the same problems it did two years ago, when the previous group of AGLC consultants successfully argued to have it relocated to the edge of the development, the primary reason that it has moved back is that Wokingham Borough are now pushing for the school in 2016 and the site identified on the edge of the development just won’t be available in time.
The fundamental problems with the site remain, the biggest of which being that, as can be seen from the plan in the Marino document it will only be accessible via the new village centre. With the Reading Football Club training ground at Hogwood Park directly behind, and a large area of SANG and the existing industrial estate adjacent, the route for students from Finchampstead will be along the new Nine Mile Ride extension into the village centre. Students from Barkham will again be coming into the development right to the centre to get to the school. It would make significantly more sense from an accessibility point of view to turn the school around and access it from the Park Lane side, but unfortunately whilst Hogwood Park is there and occupied, this isn’t possible.
|Join the Aborfield Garrison Residents Action Group (AG-RAG) mailing list|
|Visit this group|