The fallout from the tumultuous council meeting where Gary Cowan resigned rolls on. This week in the Wokingham Paper Wokingham Borough Council were unrepentant over the secret resurrection of plans to build significant numbers of houses at Grazeley.
As Gary said in his resignation statement, whether or not the plans for Grazeley go ahead, Arborfield is still significantly in the frame thanks in particular to the large university owned Hall Farm site between Arborfield and the river. The battle lines are already being drawn with a long letter on housing targets from the Great Langborough Residents Association who represent residents in the centre of Wokingham, and are looking at focusing development outside Wokingham to meet the borough housing targets, trying to protect the small market town feel of Wokingham. Sadly even if they succeed in having the housing placed elsewhere, in places like Grazeley or Arborfield, significantly more residents in the area surrounding Wokingham will still adversely affect the character of the town.
The letters page also includes a letter from ourselves in support of Gary following his resignation. The text of the letter is as follows:
I am writing as a representative of the Arborfield Garrison Residents Action group over the “shock” resignation of Cllr Gary Cowan last week. Put simply having worked, and often argued with councillors such as Gary over the years, it wasn’t a shock, indeed it wasn’t really much of a surprise.
We as a country are supposed to be electing people to be councillors, MPs or whatever, not parties. However, in most cases those people need the backing of a party organisation to get elected. If they are the kind of person who is in the job to serve the public, that sometimes brings them into conflict when what their electors want is different from what the party wants. We have seen this first hand with a number of councillors, not just Gary over the years as housing plans have moved forward.
For many years the Wokingham Conservatives portrayed themselves as the party who would keep housing under control, most notably when they stopped the original plans to build houses at Grazeley. Now they are the party who secretly restarted the Grazeley plans, and secretly bumped up the amount of housing we as a borough will take over the coming years.
As the Liberal Democrats highlighted on the night Gary resigned, he has always been “Mr Arborfield”, putting the concerns of the people in our village above the party line – most notably voting against the rest of the executive on which he sat over adopting the Arborfield SDL when safeguards for the existing residents were not, in his opinion, up to scratch. Take a look back at how often the Executive doesn’t vote unanimously on critical issues and you realise what a brave position he took on that night. He paid for that disloyalty to the party shortly after when he lost his executive seat.
Now Gary, and one other as yet unnamed councillor have voted against retrospectively supporting Grazeley. The party, we now know reacted by deselecting him. If you dig through all the bluster and comments in the press and social media from Cllr Baker, and Cllr Jorgensen, ultimately that is what it comes down to, if you vote against the party line in Wokingham Conservatives you get punished, if you continue to do it you’re out. Gary voted against Grazeley, and has expressed concern over the third of Arborfield Parish that is under threat of development, something that greatly concerns Arborfield residents, and the party has deselected him, we assume in favour of a new Conservative puppet who will dutifully do what they are told.
This is perhaps a question for other Wokingham residents, when it comes down to it, will your local councillor stand up for you as residents, or will they do what the leaders of their party tell them. In Arborfield we now have an independent who is answerable only to us the electorate, what about where you live?
Arborfield Garrison Residents Action Group
One question that often comes up with the closure of the Garrison is what happens to the Army buildings that the wider community makes use of, buildings like the Community Centre, and the Garrison Church.
The Community Centre continues to operate, albeit with differences in how it is managed, however the MoD decided they had no further need of the Garrison Church as a new REME chapel was being built on their new base in Wiltshire. The MoD took the REME stained glass, many of the plaques and memorials along with the war memorial that stood outside the church, but that left a congregation of retired military personnel who weren’t going to move to Wiltshire, personnel who are still housed in the remaining military houses around Arborfield, along with civilians who had joined the congregation at the Garrison Church over the years all of whom wanted to continue to hold services here. The congregation petitioned the local Church of England Bishop, Andrew Proud, the Bishop of Reading who agreed to take responsibility for the congregation and the building.
The Bishop of Reading visited in the summer for a special service to mark formally the church moving from being the Garrison Church of St Eligius, to a new role as St Eligius Arborfield Green, which you may have seen reported in the Wokingham Paper. The Parish of Finchampstead and California are providing help with running the services, but St Eligius retains a separate identity in the new role serving both the former Garrison community and the new residents starting to move into the houses in the Arborfield Green development.
As we approach Christmas the church has a series of special services for the festive season, and are introducing new services aimed at families starting in 2017. The church is extending a warm welcome to everybody in the former Garrison area to join them over the festive season and beyond.
On Sunday 4th December at 11am they have a special service to mark St Eligius day, so come along to hear about St Eligius who is not only the patron saint of REME, but is also the patron saint of horses and the people who work with them.
The next week on Sunday 11th December at 11am the church is holding a Family Christingle Service. Many churches hold a Christingle service at this time of year supporting the work of the Children’s Society, telling the Christmas Story, and each child gets a Christingle to take home with them.
On Thursday 15th December at 6:30pm the church is holding their traditional Carols by Candlelight, which many locals will have attended previously. This is a great opportunity to come along and sing your favourite Christmas Carols and also hear music from the Arborfield Military Wives Choir.
Christmas Day itself is celebrated both at 11:30pm on Saturday 24th December, with a traditional Midnight Mass, and there is also a special service for on 25th December at 11am on Sunday 25th December.
On the 8th January, the church launches a new monthly service at 9:30am aimed at families that will subsequently run on the first Sunday of every month. The church also holds services every Sunday at 11am, and 12:15pm on Tuesdays.
The church continues to honour its military heritage, and for many will always be remembered as the Garrison Church, enquiries about baptisms, weddings and other special services can be directed to the Parish of Finchampstead and California office on 0118 973 0133.
The tumultuous council meeting which culminated in Arborfield Councillor Gary Cowan resigning from the Conservatives and was swiftly followed by the resignation of the entire independent renumeration committee is covered extensively in the latest issue of the Wokingham Paper out today. Certainly go pick up a copy not only to get the full story, but also to support a valuable local independent voice in the Wokingham community.
Gary himself has released a further more detailed statement alongside his interview with the paper highlighting more details about what led him to resign, in particular that following his refusal to retrospectively support the Grazeley development the local Conservative Party was taking disciplinary action against him and had deselected him as candidate for Arborfield. It seems obvious from their behaviour that the local Conservatives want their councillor for Arborfield to be a puppet who toes the party line rather than represents the interests of the people of Arborfield. With almost a third of Arborfield on the list as possible housing development sites, more than ever we need to continue to have a councillor who puts the interests of the village first and foremost.
Gary’s full statement is below – we print it here in full because it highlights a number of areas of concern – for those who are not in Arborfield, it is perhaps worth asking your councillors where their priorities are. If they are a Conservative councillor we know that all bar Gary and one other voted to retrospectively back Grazeley, have not spoken out over the increase in yearly housing allocation, and many voted in favour of the controversial renumeration package at the meeting last week (the full list is in the Wokingham Paper).
Last Thursday (17TH November 2016) I resigned the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council.
I informed the Council that with immediate effect I was resigning the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council after 20 years of loyal service.
The main reason for this is that I deeply opposed the ‘Grazeley Expression of interest’ secretly submitted to Government by this Council for more than 15,000 houses without the public or even elected councillors being informed.
Cllr. Keith Baker, the Leader of the Council subsequently got every conservative councillor present at a secret conservative group meeting to retrospectively agree to the application with the exception of two councillors who voted against it – of which I was one.
The council only admitted to this when a leaked document came into the public arena. Cllr Baker claimed it had been kept a secret as he did not want to alarm local residents. I now understand that officers with some senior Councillors had been working on this for about 18 months.
In addition to this, Wokingham Borough Council has from the 1st of April 2013 secretly been using a new report called the ‘Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA)’ which recommends a housing number of 856 houses per year which was based on a dubious technical survey.
They also added 10 years to the existing local plan life based on these new housing numbers – again without any public consultation or public inquiry.
The existing local plan was valid to 2026 and it had a housing number of 661 per year which was agreed by public consultation, debate in the council chamber and a formal public Inquiry. The Council now see the 856 houses a year as the starting figure for the new evolving local plan to be introduced in 2019 yet no one was told or consulted.
With Arborfield now threatened by 29% of its green space being developed and the whole borough at risk to being concreted over I cannot support a Conservative administration that seems to want to pile on such damage to the Borough.
Also at risk to massive development is Hurst, Barkham and the Northern parishes all because of a misguided belief that if you build 15000 houses in Grazeley all the other developers will up stumps and go away. It is naivety in the extreme and something I cannot be part of.
On Grazeley, Mark Ashwell the Executive member for planning, said for the Western Berkshire area (comprising Bracknell, Reading, West Berkshire and Wokingham) there was a need for 65,665 new homes and the four authorities are working together to explore how to achieve this.
Cllr Keith Baker calls the SHMA a technical survey etc. but he omits to say without any public or council consultation and in addition Officers are also saying this is just the starting figure for the new evolving local plan so expect that to rise.
If you add 15,000 houses destined for Grazeley to the new housing figures the council are using and the Governments National Planning Policy Framework where there is a legal responsibility to help out your neighbouring councils housing needs the combination of all of these decisions is the likelihood of very large tracts of Wokingham’s Greenfields green fields will be concreted over. All this supported retrospectively by Wokingham’s Conservative Administration. It’s a tsunami of housing waiting to engulf us all!
In addition, the independent remuneration panel that advised Wokingham Borough Councillors on expenses have resigned.
In their resignation letter, they warn the decision made by councillors sets a “dangerous precedent” that is not in the interest of Wokingham’s council tax payers after Cllr Keith Baker asked councillors to ignore their recommendation by the Independent Remuneration Panel to curb ‘Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs)’ – which is given to councillors who sit on additional committees. This is the same conservative administration that seems to want to concrete over all our green fields and make sure they are properly rewarded for it.
The outcome (to my practically one man fight against these outrageous suggestions) was that I was called into the Wokingham Conservative Offices – for what was meant to be a re selection process – only to be de selected by four Wokingham Councillors and one Councillors Wife. They refused to give a reason for this and I have no right to appeal their decision.
When I said I would stand at the next election in 18 months time as an Independent Conservative – as they had not nominated a replacement – they upped the stakes and suspended me from the Party with a view to expel me permanently.
From their actions, it appears that Wokingham has an autocratic council – if you don’t ‘toe the party line’ you are sacked!
I put my integrity and my responsibility to residents above all such threats.
Cllr Gary Cowan
Borough Councillor for Arborfield at Wokingham Borough Council.
1 Barker Close
tel 0118 976 0281
email [email protected]
At the end of the regular Wokingham Borough Council meeting last night, Cllr Gary Cowan, long standing borough councillor for Arborfield made the following statement:
It is with regret I must inform Council that with immediate effect I am resigning the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council after 20 years of loyal service.
It is on a matter of conscience as I oppose the Grazeley Expression of interest secretly submitted to Government by this Council for more than 15000 houses submitted to the government without the public or even members of this council being informed and which the leader of the council subsequently got conservative group agreement retrospectively with the exception of two councillors voting against it of which I was one.
In addition the councils adoption of the new housing number of 856 per year which was based on as I see it a dubious technical Survey but which is not in use by the Council. It is extended up to 2036 introduced again by this administration without any public consultation or public inquiry so overruling the formal agreed existing local plan number of 661 agreed by public consultation, debate in this chamber and a formal public Inquiry. The Council also see the 856 houses a year as the starting figure for the new evolving local plan.
With Arborfield now threatened by 29% of its green space being built on and the whole borough at risk to being concreted over I cannot support a Conservative administration that seems to want to pile such damage to our Borough at large.
I am quite happy to continue in my role as Chairman of Lodden Home Limited as it’s an honourable vehicle designed to deliver affordable housing to our residents. As the Homes and Community Agency require registered providers which Lodden Homes are to have boards that function as independent bodies as an independent councillor I am quite capable of continuing to fulfil that role.
Cllr Gary Cowan [email protected] 0118 976 0281
As with his decision to vote against the adoption of the Arborfield SDL when concerns raised by residents were not properly addressed, despite obvious pressure from other executive members to deliver a unanimous decision, Gary has again put his conscience above following the party line. As his statement makes clear the Conservative Group were asked to retrospectively approve the already well advanced plans for Grazeley, and it seems rather a coincidence that the front page of the Wokingham Paper recently included Arborfield, almost a third of which is on the potential site list for new development, was then indicated as a possible location if Grazeley does not go ahead.
We would like to offer our support to Gary as he becomes an independent councillor, and are sure that this new independence will allow him to better and more publicly support and represent the people of Arborfield without the conflict of having to follow the Conservative party line.
On Monday we had the latest Arborfield Community Forum, with presentations from council officers on the overall development and the current situation with the Arborfield Relief Road/Bypass, an update from Hugo Reeve from Crest Nicholson on the latest progress on their part of the development, and finally from Bohunt Educational Trust on the current progress on the new school.
Of the presentations the most professional was from the school, who had evidently sat down and considered all the questions parents may have about the school, and made sure they answered them in the presentation. In general it seems Bohunt is on schedule to have the school open and running and are now recruiting staff, and looking forward to working with their first cohort of students in the run up to their first day at the school in September.
At the other end of the scale were the council officers who turned up incredibly poorly prepared, lacking the information residents were wanting and reaped the result in some pretty heated questioning, especially when it came to the newly appointed project manager for the relief road who evidently hadn’t even properly understood how we got to the adopted route in the first place and why the others were rejected.
Going over the main points that were covered, there were several questions over the changes in phasing both to the council and to Crest Nicholson. The basic reason given for the change in phasing around the Nine Mile Ride extension is as a result of Wokingham asking Crest to build the school end of the Nine Mile Ride extension first. The initial plan had Crest starting from the A327 end and building into the site, now they have been asked to start the road at the school, and will then be building towards the A327. This is also reflected in how the services are being brought in – coming from Sheerlands Road rather than the A327. Whichever phasing is used the ultimate result is the same, it’s just that on the original phasing existing residents had a while longer without houses on the fields.
Much of the remaining discussion revolved around roads.
If you look back to last year one of the significant changes around the bypass was in how it was going to be funded. The council managed to secure central government funding which was sold to the residents as an advantage in that having got the funding it meant that the road didn’t need to wait until the development reached a housing trigger point before the road could be built. However from the schedule given on Monday we’re potentially heading for the negative side which is that disconnected from the development, if the road is delayed or funding is lost then the development can continue whether or not the road is built. To many it seems that the schedule for the road had slipped, and whilst that seems to have been done to allow an extensive round of consultation about the design of the road, the main concern for many is now how long we’ll have to wait for the road to ultimately open, during which time the increased traffic generated by the development along with the building traffic will continue to travel through the conservation area at the heart of Arborfield village.
The other area of significant concern around the roads is in particular with relation to the school. The parental reference group realised early on that this was going to be an issue and spent a considerable amount of time looking at all the potential access routes and coming up with a list of measures they regarded as essential for the opening of the school to allow as many students as possible to walk rather than drive to the school. The council, as they often do in situations like this discussed the measures, made positive noises, but prepared a fallback position which is to bus children to the school if the measures aren’t ready. On Monday they announced that they would be using the fallback option.
Sadly as we’ve found over and over again, verbal agreement, or promises from Wokingham mean relatively little. Indeed even with a more formal agreement timings for things slide – let’s not forget how long we’ve actually waited for the school itself, despite repeated promises that a school for the south was on the horizon. What is frustrating is that there doesn’t really seem to be any coherent reasons given for why the council is not delivering the required changes to the roads, especially considering that the council will end up having to spend money bussing children because the required changes haven’t been made. Could it be that some council bean counter has worked out that the cost of bussing a relatively small number of children to the school is less than the cost of the road modifications? Who knows.
Moving on to wider issues, as you may know, originally the MoD planned to vacate the Garrison and sell all the housing they owned around the base, and to that end they were gradually selling off some of the housing around the Garrison long before the decision to close was actually made. That all changed when the Government decided to bring back our forces stationed in Germany. The MoD having been selling off housing in Aldershot found that they didn’t have enough housing there for all the families that now needed accommodation so the programme selling off housing at Arborfield was stopped, and personnel attached to Aldershot are now housed here. One side effect of that is that we currently have several roads on the Garrison that are within the MoD owned areas, but where the residents are civilians. This has effects in all sorts of areas where residents elsewhere would just turn to the council, in the MoD owned roads the residents are left dealing with the MoD. Over the time since civilian residents moved in there have been particular issues over maintaining the streets, basic stuff like fixing streetlights for example. Also issues with the MoD owned playground where on several occasions the parish council has had to chase up the DIO to fix problems.
Most recently we’ve been contacted by a local resident over their extortionate water bill. Unlike residents in other parts of the Garrison who have mains water from Thames Water, the MoD owned houses get their water through the same arrangement as the houses retained by the MoD. This means they end up getting a fixed bill from Severn Trent Water who handle the water across the whole estate. With the original programme this was only going to be a temporary problem with the roads ultimately being handed over to the council once all the MoD personnel had moved out, however with it now looking like the MoD are going to retain ownership of a large number of houses on the Garrison for a number of years getting large fixed water bills with no opportunity to switch to a water meter is becoming an increasingly frustrating problem for some residents.
There is a famous comedy sketch featuring Morecambe and Wise, and an increasingly frustrated André Previn as Eric says he is going to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto. As the sketch progresses Previn accuses Eric of playing all the wrong notes, and Eric comes back saying that he is playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. The planning phasing for the Garrison development is getting a bit like that.
Several weeks ago we were contacted by a resident of Badgers Mount about the work that was going on in the fields between Sheerlands Road and the A327. Whilst the plans have always shown the Nine Mile Ride extension being built early in the plan with some housing development either side of the new road, the phasing plan had shown that the areas closest to the existing houses would be developed much later on, leaving the most controversial and contentious parts of the development that would most affect existing residents until last. The resident was concerned because the work was going on in the field right up to the boundary close to the existing houses.
Contacting Crest Nicholson, both ourselves and Gary Cowan our local councillor were told that it was merely archeological work, something all developers have to do before undertaking a significant development, and it made sense to do the whole field in one go rather than just do the part to be developed now and come back and do another round of investigation later on. The resident has continued to keep in contact with Gary, and has contacted us again following a worrying email they have received.
I am writing to make you aware of the change in phasing for the Arborfield development. The houses due to be built in the adjacent fields in 2020 are now being proposed for development in a few months’ time. Planning permission will be sought by Crest Nicholson soon and they will be highlighting the changes in the meeting at Henry Street on Mon 22nd Feb (7.00pm). The Nine Mile Ride Extension will be cut through to the A327 first and falls just the other side of the hedge of the nearest field. They then propose to build houses north of that road and closest to us. I have asked if they could first build the southern side of the road retaining our semi-rural aspect for as long as possible, a benefit that I’m sure you appreciate and new households will too. I asked the reasons to why the phasing was brought forward via Gary Cowan and this is the reply he received. I fully understand the houses will come however the district centre hasn’t moved, the NMRE road was always going to be built first so there is no reason to alter from the phasing they consulted us on. They have changed their plans using the school inappropriately as their excuse. If you are in agreement then please raise your concerns so we have a stronger voice and can retain the 2020 phasing we were promised and consulted on.PS They do say the will honour the 30m buffer between our gardens and the new development.
This highlights an ongoing concern we’ve heard from local residents. Back when the outline planning application went into the council, Crest Nicholson included a phasing plan, but that phasing plan seemed to go out of the window with the very first bit of development which was in an area over by the lake on Biggs Lane. There are some broad directions that are being followed, driven by the need to have better access to the school for example, but as this resident has highlighted they are proposing to build all the houses alongside the Nine Mile Ride extension rather than the two phased approach that was originally proposed. As they only have outline planning permission, Crest Nicholson have to go through a reserved matters planning application to fill in the detail, which they will do shortly, and at that point residents are able to make their concerns about the changes known. However even between answering the question on the archeological work and today things appear to have changed.
As the local resident highlights, Crest Nicholson will be presenting the changes to their plan at the Arborfield Community Forum on Monday night, so this will be a good opportunity to ask them why they are changing around from their original phasing plan. If you wish to attend the meeting is being held at the Henry Street Garden Centre, and will commence at 7pm. Representatives of Crest Nicholson will be presenting at the meeting along with council officers and representatives from the Bohunt Educational Trust talking about progress on the school.
A while back, I had a conversation with a local resident who had been speaking to a friend of theirs who was an Army Padre elsewhere in the country about the various issues that have been coming up locally and the difficulties of dealing with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. His friend apparently laughed and said in his experience dealing with the DIO was like speaking to a box with a speaker on it, you never felt like you were dealing with real people.
That comment rings true with people all over Arborfield, again and again we’ve come across situations where the DIO have done things that seem inexplicable when you look at the effect it has locally.
Firstly we have the closure of the shop and Post Office, without any consultation with local people. The presence of the shop and Post Office had been used as a justification for not providing any sort of convenience store for the development of Penrose Park, and subsequently the Garrison Post Office had taken on the role of main Post Office for the whole of Arborfield when the Post Office had closed the facilities in the village. However this counted for nothing when the Garrison Post Office was closed at 24 hours notice. The Post Office have now all but given up trying to get the DIO to actually follow the proper closure procedure despite maintaining that the closure was only temporary for a long while after the closure.
Moving on, the DIO for a while has been acting as if the Garrison is completely closing, and all military personnel are leaving, despite this not being the case – we continue to have personnel from Aldershot resident. It really does seem as if the DIO think all the personnel here are going to drive down to Aldershot to use the facilities there.
So far they have tried to close the Community Centre, again at short notice, which was saved by a concerted local response. They tried to close the Garrison Church which was only saved by an appeal from the local congregation to the Bishop of Reading to take responsibility for the church as part of the civilian church organisation.
There is also the whole fiasco over the dog walking field, much of which is being retained as public open space, and which Crest Nicholson are happy for residents to keep using. However the DIO has had a wire fence put all along the edge of the field blocking access. Crest Nicholson have said that the fence will more than likely be removed, and have argued with the DIO that it is pointless to erect a fence just to have it removed.
It’s not just the regular personnel whose needs have been ignored, recently there has been discussion locally about the fate of the Arborfield Army Cadets following a planning application to convert the closed Post Office and shop. The cadets had had facilities within the Garrison, but as part of the closure they were kicked out and have been meeting in the Pavilion. At no point during the departure plans was it even considered that the cadets, who draw members from the local community, would need somewhere to meet. The DIO solution is to convert the old shop, that whilst it is a DIO owned building that isn’t due to be demolished, is not exactly ideal. It’s a relatively small building in a residential area that already has parking issues, and yet the building has no parking. Whilst the inside can be converted there is no outside space with the building at all.
Sadly this inadequate building seems to have been presented to the cadets as the only option aside from closing the Arborfield Cadets altogether. The Arborfield Cadets have been a valuable presence in the community for a number of years, parading at events such as Remembrance and providing activities for young people in the village that would not be available anywhere else, and nobody wants to see them close. However they really deserve better facilities than a converted shop – at the very least they need somewhere with both inside and outside drill space, somewhere where their needs have been properly considered, rather than palmed off with a “spare” building. Or are the DIO expecting them to parade in the children’s playground next door? That is quite apart from the need for a shop and Post Office which has been regularly raised by residents ever since it was closed and has been rebuffed a number of times by the DIO since then. Whilst eventually there will be new shops opening as part of the development according to the plans, the experience in Jennets Park in Bracknell is that even if it is a required part of the planning approval it can be a real fight to get a shop provided. It’s almost as if somebody in the DIO box has decided that putting the cadets in the shop would solve two problems in one, a new home for the cadets, and no place to reopen the shop the residents keep asking for.
Fundamentally, the focus for the DIO seems to be to maximise the amount of money they can generate from the closure of the Garrison. With the decision of the Navy and Air Force to pull out of the joint training base at the former RAF Lyneham this is even more of the issue as they have a much larger base than needed there, and are not going to be getting money from the closure of Navy and Air Force training facilities elsewhere. Things like the fence are merely procedure that must be followed, but the rest is trying to save as much money as possible, whatever the effect on personnel and civilians living locally.
The local community has stepped up to save the community centre and church, and we will continue to support the personnel families as long as they are in the village as we always have done before. We need to do the same for the Cadets – with detailed plans not finalised for many parts of the former Garrison it is perfectly possible to provide facilities for the Army Cadets that are exactly what they require, and will meet all their needs – the obvious place would be as part of the school development underway a short distance away. Do we really want our cadets squeezed in a converted shop and parading on a children’s playground – or should they get the facilities they deserve as part of the wider development?
As you might have seen, there has been some discussion locally about setting up No Cold Calling Zones in Arborfield, triggered by a push by the local Trading Standards to increase the number of zones across the area.
If you are a resident of the Garrison area, you may well be aware that we are already in a No Cold Calling Zone, as one was set up under the auspices of the MoD Project Home Front way back in 2007 – you can read some details of the setting up of the zone in this Project Home Front posting – however the most recent circular from the people at West Berkshire Trading Standards who are now responsible for trading standards in the Wokingham area did not include any of the roads in the Garrison on their list, nor mention the Garrison area.
As a result both ourselves and the Parish Council have chased this up with both the trading standards and Thames Valley Police contacts, and somewhere along the line details of the zone here were not passed on, perhaps when Wokingham Trading Standards closed and West Berkshire Trading Standards took over. However it happened it is now further complicated by the significant changes going on at the Garrison, so any sort of Project Home Front contact is now not available either.
The good news however is that West Berkshire Trading Standards are willing to adopt our No Cold Calling Zone, and will supply new signage and door stickers as part of a refresh of the scheme, the less good news is that because they structure the scheme on a road by road basis they do not want to adopt the Garrison as a complete area as was done before, especially as the existing zone crosses the parish boundary into Barkham.
Thanks to Alison in the Parish Office we have a list of streets that we believe were part of the original No Cold Calling Zone, so we need somebody from each street to confirm whether they were part of the original No Cold Calling Zone – if that can’t be confirmed the street can join, but the residents of the street will have to be canvassed again as part of the process to create a new zone. The list of streets we believe were covered by the original zone within Arborfield are as follows:
If you live on any of these roads and can confirm that the road was part of the No Cold Calling Zone please let us know – even better if you have an original sign or one of the window stickers – getting in touch will enable us to add your road to the confirmed list for West Berkshire Trading Standards and get updated signage and stickers despatched.
We thought we would update everybody with a couple of recent planning applications which you might like to respond to. Both these applications can be viewed online using the Wokingham Borough Planning Portal at http://www.wokingham.gov.uk/planning-and-building-control/planning-application/search-planning-applications/ – enter the application number into the search box and the application and all relevant documents will be shown.
Firstly we have application 153358, which is a full planning application for a change of use of the old Spar and Post Office on Venning Road from a shop to become the new home for the local Army Cadet Force whose existing facilities are being closed along with the rest of the operational parts of the Garrison. If you recall the Spar and Post Office was closed at 24 hours notice back in the summer of 2013 leaving the village with no Post Office at all. Whilst on the one hand it is good that there are plans to reuse the building, which has become a bit of an eyesore since the sudden closure, reopening the shop and Post Office would be of much more benefit to the local community.
The application is factually inaccurate in a number of places, for example incorrectly describing the shop as being a branch of Londis rather than Spar, and suggesting that the shop was closed as part of the staggered closure of the Garrison as being commercially unviable which suggests a lot more forward planning than the no notice overnight closure that actually occurred when all operations were moved to a new site within the secure area of the Garrison, a site which again has now been closed. Comments on the application are open until February 1st.
The other application is 153486, and is an application for a scoping opinion for a development of 200 houses from Reading Football Club for the Hogwood Park site. Whilst this is not any sort of application to build as yet, it clearly shows what the football club are wanting to do once they move to their new site on Mole Road.
As you may know, Hogwood Park is outside the SDL boundary, and whilst the football club tried to have the SDL boundary moved to include their land this was rejected by a planning inspector. However they’re trying again. This time proposing to swap part of the land in Hogwood Park with the land designated to be the playing fields of the new school which lies within the SDL boundary. Of course this isn’t some generous offer to allow Crest Nicholson to reduce the density of the existing housing plans, this is a cynical attempt to increase the proposed housing in the development by 10% and try to squeeze value out of the land Reading Football Club has been clearly told is not within the strategic development location. The site was proposed as one location for the new school, and for students from Finchampstead is much more accessible than the adjacent site selected, but Reading Football Club refused to play ball, now we know why. This area is already taking the largest of the four SDL’s, and with concerns already about increased traffic what will be the effect of increasing the number of houses on the Garrison development by 10% just to satisfy the greed of Reading Football Club and their owners?
As mentioned above, this is a scoping opinion, so the council does not normally take comments on such an application, however writing to the council about the proposal at this early stage will certainly give the council an indication of local feeling as and when Reading Football Club attempt a full application.
We have a new consultation company, with a new website asking for our opinions – the vast majority of local residents should have received a card through the door from Meeting Place Communications, who Crest Nicholson have given the ongoing hot potato of the name of the development.
Of course Crest Nicholson has consulted on this once already, and hit the problems caused by the location falling across three different parish council areas, so they got the Barkham “anything but Arborfield” arguments, along with finding that the residents of the almost a thousand homes already within the Strategic Development Location boundary being quite clear that they live in Arborfield and being less than enthusiastic about a change of name. The other point is that they are only consulting on a name for half the development – you will note that the wording on the card talks about 2,000 homes, not the 3,500 that will make up the complete SDL, this of course is because the Marino Family Trust are putting forward their plans quite separately and up to now have been referring to their development as Hogwood Garden Village.
We’ve seen one or two suggestions, many are some variation of Arborfield, so Arborfield Green has been suggested which would give a new identity to the development that would be something the existing residents who live in Arborfield could adopt without too much of an issue. Another resident responded that they should “just drop the ridiculous Garden Village” and call it Arborfield. The suggestion from another resident that they should name it Mordor raised some laughs as well.
The consultation is running until 4th December. Whatever name is picked will primarily be used for the Crest Nicholson marketing of the new development, certainly the discussions we have had indicate that any process to formally change parish boundaries or create a new official identity around the development is a very long way off, so ultimately if they want to include the residents in the almost a thousand existing homes in their new community Crest Nicholson really need to choose an identity that includes them.
That brings us on to an interesting meeting that Crest Nicholson organised with residents from within the SDL a few weeks back many of whom had contacted Crest over various issues over the past few months. Hugo Reeve highlighted at that meeting that the development at Arborfield is relatively unusual for several reasons, firstly that it is split between three parishes, but also that there are a significant number of existing residents, both the continuing army presence in the retained Garrison housing now being used by Aldershot based personnel, and also the large numbers of civilian homes, many built as a result of previous MoD land sales, but many more who have lived here for decades. Crest are very aware of the risks this situation brings, primarily that it is very easy for a classic us and them situation to develop. As such they were very keen to try and understand how residents use the site now, and what problems and issues there are.
What was interesting from the discussions was that even for the non-military personnel a lot of life revolved around the army presence. So residents valued the open access we have been given to army owned facilities, whether that is simply walking the dog around the army playing fields, events in the Garrison Community Centre, attending services at the Garrison Church or using the Garrison Post Office and shop before the MoD closed it and moved it behind the wire. Residents also valued the community events the Army hosted during the year, at the time of the meeting coming up to Bonfire Night the Garrison Fireworks that the wider community could also attend were mentioned. Whilst residents here participated in village events such as the village fete and would walk up to the village shop, the clear separation between the housing around the Garrison and Arborfield village – the sign for Arborfield is on the road between the Langley Common Road roundabout and Arborfield Cross for example – means that for residents here whilst they feel part of Arborfield there is also a distinct community down here around the Garrison.
What was highlighted was that even though army personnel were remaining, much of what we used was being removed. The Post Office and shop were both closed to civilian residents a while ago, but the MoD had closed the replacement Post Office for military personnel behind the wire and the shop as part of the base closure. There had been much local publicity about the attempt to close the community centre, the centre being saved in part by local support. The MoD has withdrawn support for the church, Crest Nicholson highlighted that this was in the process of being transferred to be run locally with clergy coming from Finchampstead to take the services, again despite the church continuing to be the local point of focus for military families. Subsequent to that we have found out that the large playground that the MoD currently looks after next to the old Post Office location is to be closed, again because the MoD are not willing to look after it. The MoD, over objections from local residents and even Crest Nicholson themselves have fenced off the field used by dog walkers.
The group also discussed wider issues such as any potential changes to the road layout in the Garrison area such as whether or not the blockades on Baird Road or Bramshill Close should be removed or retained, and also the ongoing problems with getting broadband, in particular to residents in Penrose Park where BT seem to have all but given up trying to provide – we have heard that one resident was actually advised by BT to move if he wanted faster broadband!
We are starting to see visible changes around the Garrison now, whilst buildings have been being demolished for a while, work commencing adjacent to Biggs Lane has brought it home to many more. The first new residents of Arborfield Garden Village, Arborfield Green, Mordor or whatever they choose to call it will be moving in within the next year, the real question is whether existing residents will start their own community separate from the existing residents as described on the Meeting Place Communications card, or join the existing community of almost a thousand homes, both civilian and military. Please put your opinions down on paper and respond to the consultation – if you have lost the original card a copy can be downloaded here.
Also, we have been asked by a student at Reading University whose dissertation is looking at perceptions of the flood risk in the River Loddon Catchment area if we could publicise a survey she is conducting – as many of us are affected when the Loddon floods we are happy to share this link to her survey, which should only take a couple of minutes to complete.
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