Again it has been a bit of a busy week with regard to the Arborfield Strategic Development Location.
Firstly, some good news, following a superb response from local residents, and pressure from both the parish and borough council to the impending closure of the community centre, ESS who were managing the centre for the Ministry of Defence reversed their previous decision including the associated staff redundancies and the centre will now remain open. If the company name seems familiar, alongside the community centre ESS are also the company that ran the shops and post offices on the base, and are also the company who closed the shop and post office outside the wire at twenty-four hours notice a couple of years ago leaving Arborfield as a whole without a post office, a situation that still hasn’t been rectified. Alongside the now reversed community centre closure they have also closed the camp post office and shop that were behind the wire.
As we have known for a while, whilst the garrison has officially closed all the housing was transferred to Aldershot, and is now being used to house overspill from the garrison there. The community centre will now be retained under Ministry of Defence management for the moment but will ultimately be passed to Crest Nicholson. We also understand that whilst the majority of the garrison has closed the helicopter units will remain for another couple of years as well.
The remaining Ministry of Defence housing areas brings us to another subject that was briefly mentioned at the Community Forum by a questioner, the status of the gate across Baird Road. As longer term residents of Arborfield will know when Penrose Park was built the Ministry of Defence put a fence and locked gates across Baird Road between the new development and the existing housing, that gate has remained ever since. Several residents have raised concerns on what might happen should the Ministry of Defence stop using the housing and pass the estate over to civilian use. Enquiries have found that although the council is aware of the gate it has never been officially approved because the fence is on Ministry of Defence property, so once the Ministry of Defence release the land the fence should be removed and the road opened. Retaining the gates or some other form of block will obviously require official approval from the borough council. Councillor Cowan has raised the issue with the council, but an official approval to retain the barrier will require consultation with local residents. If you wish the barrier to remain, or if you would rather see the road reopened, please contact Gary to let him know your opinions.
This week was also supposed to have seen the plans for the remaining 1,500 houses in the strategic development location, Hogwood Garden Village, go before a special meeting of the Wokingham Borough Planning Committee. However in a major goof by the council they failed to issue the notification letter to all those who commented on the application inviting them to speak at the planning meeting. Those letters have now been issued, and the application is scheduled to go before the planning committee on October 14th at 7pm. As with the Crest Nicholson application it is a hybrid application covering the whole development, and includes the Nine Mile Ride extension that will be a key part of how students for the new school from Finchampstead will get to the site by road. Much as with the Crest Nicholson application council officers have worked hard on resolving problem areas so the application is recommended for approval, however it will be the councillors on the planning committee on the night that will vote to approve or reject the application. Members of the public are entitled to attend and address the planning committee on the night to raise matters of concern.
With the Community Forum, announcements about the school, and the impending closure of the Garrison there is much to report this week.
Firstly there was the Community Forum, held as previously at Henry Street Garden Centre. Much of the evening was devoted to discussions around the school. Firstly the decision by the council to utilise their fallback position rather than build the school in two phases and try to complete the build with the first intake of students already occupying the first phase was reviewed. There was widespread agreement that given the quality of the existing buildings it was an obvious decision, making the school build easier for the construction company, and also giving the new students and their parents some certainty over the school buildings as they consider whether to choose the school in the coming weeks. Both the council and residents expressed a wish that all the legacy buildings can be retained for the longer term – under the Crest Nicholson plans only the gym is going to be retained – the other buildings the school will utilise are scheduled for demolition later on in the build schedule. There was no comment either way about whether Crest Nicholson would accommodate this request.
Whilst those members who have children about to go to secondary school are delighted at the news on the school, other AG-RAG members and residents have contacted us expressing concern as to how much extra the change in plan will cost, especially as this week the council is once again looking to make cutbacks to balance their strained budgets. As has been previously highlighted the school is being built ahead of when it was originally scheduled, and the school place predictions the council has presented on several occasions over the years show that there will still be free places in the council education system as a whole even if the new school in Arborfield weren’t to open in September 2016. The question was asked at the Community Forum this week and the council confirmed that they are expecting free places within the system this year even with the new school opening, but as they are predominantly in the north of the borough at Bulmershe school, and given that all the council schools operate a simple distance based tie breaker for oversubscription, not opening the school in the south would result in students here being unable to get into their catchment schools and the expense of students being bussed long distances to Bulmershe school daily, as has been highlighted many times previously. The council also highlighted that they are confident that the provision of a school at Arborfield will also attract back parents who would otherwise have sent their children to out of borough schools, in particular Yateley. In terms of costs the fall back position has always been in the budget, so no extra funding is needing to be found, however the decision to move the new school build to a single phase and not require the developer to work around the school on the same site would reduce construction costs. In addition the council is intending to make the buildings available for community use outside school hours, and even more once the school building itself opens in 2017 giving further value to council tax payers. How long they will be available is of course subject to whether Crest Nicholson can be persuaded not to demolish them!
Other resident concerns related to traffic – despite all the efforts to encourage walking and cycling to the school many see that the reality is that many children will be dropped off by car – where the council highlighted that the design included a large drop off area for students, and that a planning application will be going in shortly for the revised access arrangements needed for the fall back buildings. They are confident that school drop off can be accommodated within the new development and should not impact existing roads. We have also received a couple of questions relating to whether the council is intending to redirect children from other years to the school in order to fill it once completed, to which the answer is a definite no. The school will not be completely full until the September 2016 cohort finish at the school, so for those children in the early years of the school they will have much more space than other children at the established schools. This however is a much more efficient, and less disruptive way to build a new school rather than expand every year for the gradually increasing numbers.
Following the presentation on the school buildings, representatives of the Bohunt Educational Trust took questions on the school itself. The Educational Trust gave a generally assured performance discussing how they are going to build the community of the new school. The points where they had more of a bumpy ride was firstly when the question of school name came up – it is safe to say that Bohunt Wokingham is not a popular name, however when considering any of the other options a discussion similar to what happens when the name of the overall development comes up – Bohunt say that a final decision will be taken after consulting with the potential parents at the school open evening in a couple of weeks time. Bohunt also hit choppy waters when they were questioned about special needs provision. You may recall that back in January before the Education Provider was announced the council was questioned about special needs provision and said at that point that the school policy would be inclusive particularly for pupils on the autism spectrum or with challenging behaviour, but there was no plan at that point for a special unit for pupils with greater levels of need. When presented with the same question this week the Bohunt Educational Trust gave a rather different answer. Their basic line is that as with any other school they will consider what special needs provision to make once they see which children apply, this was greeted with some surprise by residents who on the basis that the Arborfield School has always been pushed as a community school, with some obvious feeder primary schools locally, it would seem that the trust could easily gather approximate numbers of special needs by looking at the students attending the local schools. Certainly the impression given to those concerned about special needs provision is that as the council will be providing specialist provision elsewhere Bohunt will do as much as they are required to for special needs students who are allocated to the school, but it didn’t seem to be a priority.
After the education trust had presented there was a traffic presentation in particular focusing on how students were going to get to the school. At this it was pleasing to see that with a lot of the areas of concern around the site by potential parents the council has taken on board and are trying to move forward, for example reductions in speed limits in particular on Nine Mile Ride which will be the main access route for students from Finchampstead. The council also made a commitment that if the access routes for students on foot and on bicycles were not complete when the school opened from Finchampstead they would provide a bus service for students. Similarly they will be providing a bus service for students coming from the Farley Hill direction as they have concluded that improvements to foot and cycle access from this direction are not possible.
The final presentation of the night was from Crest Nicholson, initially covering the latest progress on the various reserved matters planning applications, changes to the designs of the houses on the first phase following community feedback, and probably most emotive of all, the name of the development.
As feared the name discussion quickly degenerated with Barkham Parish Councillors especially pushing for the new development to be referred to as Barkham, even suggesting that the developer should attempt to get the Royal Mail to change the post code of the development from Arborfield to Barkham – Royal Mail has previously refused point blank when Arborfield tried to change from a Reading to a Wokingham postcode. The attitude of Barkham is perhaps most surprising since for many years they have fought development that might connect Barkham village with the Garrison, in particular the Barkham Square development. It seems counter productive to very publicly insist that the Garrison is not part of Barkham and campaign for a clear separation between the communities, and then change now to saying that it is part of Barkham after all, as saying that they are one community will only increase development pressure to connect the housing areas of Barkham together. Currently the new development when complete will have barely discernible gaps with Finchampstead and much of it has always been regarded as part of Arborfield, whilst there is a significant gap with Barkham. Developers are already looking at speculative developments towards the Garrison end of Nine Mile Ride on this basis, making a very public link with Barkham could very easily backfire causing a variation of the Barkham Square development to reappear as part of the next round of major housing development plans and ultimately resulting in one of the last significant gaps separating the housing here from the ever expanding boundaries of great Wokingham falling to the developers. The argument of the name, particularly for the school being in Barkham is on shaky ground anyway as Finchampstead has an equally strong claim as the part of the Garrison on which the school is to be built was historically part of Finchampstead, and has only comparatively recently been transferred to Barkham Parish to ensure that the whole of Rowcroft Barracks was in one parish – the historic boundary runs straight across Sheerlands Road across the Garrison to Park Lane unlike the current boundary that has a sharp turn south when it meets the edge of the Garrison and follows the fence around.
Anyway, Crest Nicholson are proposing the name of Allsebrook Village, their argument being that many of the names proposed were already similar to other towns and villages. Allsebrook would be distinctive whilst still having a local connection – unfortunately for the loud objections from Barkham that local connection is that the Allsebrook family were the last owners of Arborfield Hall. There seems to be a vain hope from Crest Nicholson that the councils will be able to work out something between them, but on the basis of the arguments at the Community Forum what may well happen is that Crest Nicholson will use the Allsebrook Village name for their marketing, the Marino Family will use Hogwood Garden Village for their marketing, and all the existing residents will continue to regard themselves as living in Arborfield or Finchampstead depending where they are located. In reality this may not end up as too much of a problem, there are numerous examples – Lower Earley and Woodley, Crowthorne and Wokingham Without being within a few miles – where the actual boundaries are now lost in wider communities without it causing too much of an issue.
Moving on, with the impending closure of the Garrison, a number of issues relating to the MoD decommissioning are coming up.
Previously we have mentioned the fence that appeared this week blocking access to the dog walking field. Long time residents will remember that something similar occurred when what became Penrose Park was sold off by the MoD a decade ago. Effectively the MoD put a new boundary fence around their remaining areas for security reasons, so in the same way they are fencing around the houses they are retaining, despite the fact that this cuts off access to the dog walking field for both their own personnel and the wider community.
A similar disregard for their personnel and the wider community is apparent with what is happening with the well used Garrison Community Centre. Whilst separately leased parts of the building such as the Poperinghe Pre-School are continuing the MoD has decided that the army services offered to the local military families are unnecessary following closure, this despite them retaining all of the military housing. As such they have decided to withdraw their support of the centre immediately the Garrison closes, initially by terminating the insurance the centre needs to continue letting the hall. Whilst businesses using the centre will be able to continue at least for the short term, those too may run into problems before the end of the year. The development plans have always been clear that the community centre would be passed over, so subject to alternative management and insurances being set up the centre can continue to serve the surrounding community. What will be more difficult to replace is the specialist support the centre gives to the military families.
The community in Arborfield has always valued and supported the service personnel and families living within our village, and we’re sure we will continue to do so, however it is sad that the higher reaches of the MoD are so concerned with extracting maximum revenue from building houses here that they are willing to abandon the personnel families that will be housed here in the medium to long term expecting them to travel many miles to Aldershot to gain access to the specialist support that has previously been available within walking distance on the base here.
There is currently a petition running calling on the MoD to change their minds, and we would encourage as many of you as possible to sign to ask the MoD to continue to support the personnel and their families that will continue to be stationed in Arborfield for many years to come.
Today we had an important press release issued by Wokingham Borough Council with regards to the school. The release was massively full of spin, but the bottom line is that as a result of the delays caused to the school construction schedule by the additional contamination on the site found earlier in the summer, the council has chosen to open the school in September 2016 using the fall back option of adapting some of the existing army facilities on the site rather than opening the school in the first phase of the new school building. They have further said that the school will now be built in a single phase so the students will only move into the new school once it is complete rather than trying to build the second phase of the school when the first phase is already occupied.
We warmly welcome the council decision. The previous statements that a decision on the fall back would be made in January, whilst they left maximum opportunity for the council to save face and achieve their previously stated aim to get the school open in a brand new building in September 2016, left parents of potential students with a difficult decision. By choosing to opt for the fall back position now, that gives parents currently choosing a secondary school for their children a clear indication of where their children will be taught and allows them to decide with their eyes open. It also gives the council several months of additional time to adapt the army buildings and ensure they are properly prepared for their new role as a school.
Hopefully it also marks a change of attitude from the council. Given the schedule for the MoD handing over sections of the Garrison, attempting to clear and decontaminate the land and build a new school building in such a narrow window as to open for September 2016 was always going to be a challenge. Information we received about developments on other former MoD sites indicated that they were always problematic, and there were often unexpected discoveries. As the council and Crest Nicholson statements have both highlighted subsequent to the discovery of additional contamination there are always these kind of known unknowns when dealing with a site like this that has been in MoD hands for over a century. Sadly this knowledge was not reflected in the initial plans by the council. Given what we had been told we highlighted our concerns early and often in the face of unbridled optimism from the councillors. We were therefore pleased when under pressure the council finally put a fall back plan in place, despite surrounding the announcement in further comments about how unnecessary it was and expressing continuing confidence that the new school building would open as planned in September 2016. As this announcement has proved, when dealing with a site like the Garrison, the council should always have a back up plan.
Whilst we’re sure there will be disappointment that children will not be moving into a brand new building in September 2016 as previously promised by Wokingham Borough, the early council decision gives clarity for potential parents, and minimises disruption to their children’s education by putting them in established buildings needing comparatively small changes rather than rushing the build to achieve a grand opening, and trying to educate children whilst the rest of the school is built around them. The decision also makes the build significantly easier as by moving to a single construction phase the construction company will not have to plan around having young people in close proximity for large amounts of the build, and can properly secure the entire building site rather than trying to build one part without disrupting the other. It is a far better option and in the long term will hopefully ensure our community gets a much better built school rather than the rush job we could have had if the council had carried on with the initial plan.
Those people on the council mailing list should have received a revised agenda for the Arborfield Community Forum on Wednesday today. The agenda has expanded a little with confirmation that the Bohunt Educational Trust will be attending to talk about their plans for the school alongside the more practical update being given by councillor Ian Pittock who is chair of the Secondary School Delivery Board at Wokingham Borough Council. With the education provider, Crest Nicholson and the council in attendance, one of the few occasions all three will be in the same room at the same time, this will be an ideal opportunity to raise concerns about a number of issues. Safe routes to the school from the surrounding area is an area that many prospective parents are concerned about, and one that needs cooperation between all three. The name of the school has also raised some concerns, and again this will be a good opportunity to address this with the Education Provider who are solely responsible for choosing the name.
Whilst on the subject of names, the Crest Nicholson update on the development as a whole has been expanded to include the contentious subject of the name of the development. As we have mentioned previously, there is strong pressure coming from Barkham Parish Council to name the development anything but Arborfield. Our opinion has always been that whatever name is picked, with the numbers of people already here, if the existing residents within the SDL don’t use it, the name won’t stick, and whilst Barkham Parish Council may not like it, the vast majority of residents who are already living within the SDL live in Arborfield, and in the case of residents in the older houses along Bramshill Close and Sheerlands Road they have been living in Arborfield for many decades.
Alongside those items Matt Davey from Wokingham Borough Council will also be giving an update on the progress with local roads. There is clear progress on the new Shinfield bypass, and obviously many questions amongst residents over the Arborfield bypass which Councillor Kaiser has previously confirmed is no longer tied to a housing delivery level on the Arborfield SDL thanks to the council obtaining separate funding for the road.
We have had a couple of queries on other subjects. Firstly a couple of people have raised an issue with what is known locally as the dog walking field, which is the field over behind the Army Housing near the stables, and which Crest Nicholson have started to fence off. The field is outside the area the MoD is going to retain, however whilst on the plans much of it will be retained as open space around the restored stables, there is no detail as yet as to what the land will be used for in the interim. We’re raising the issue of the field with Crest Nicholson ourseleves, but obviously Wednesday would be a good opportunity for those concerned about the field to raise it directly as Hugo Reeve from Crest Nicholson will be in attendance.
The other query which we have had is as a result of news relating to the base at Lyneham where the personnel from Arborfield are moving to. As you may remember the reason why REME is being relocated was as part of a grand plan to unify training for the Army, Navy and RAF into a single technical college. Originally this was to be in South Wales, but after the coalition was elected this plan was abandoned, and instead the recently closed RAF Lyneham was chosen as none of the existing training bases were large enough to take all the personnel from the three services. Recently the Defence Secretary confirmed what had been rumoured for a while, and that is that the Navy and RAF have pulled out of the project, and will not be moving to Lyneham, so REME will end up on a much bigger base designed for significantly more personnel than will actually be there. There are of course a whole load of wider questions about the waste of public money in a time of austerity building brand new facilities in Wiltshire much of which will now not be used, along with the now unnecessary costs of decommissioning the base here to move everything to Wiltshire. As a group we have always been concerned about the possible effects of MoD changing plans, and have always insisted that work should not commence on the SDL until the MoD had fully vacated the site because by commencing building in one area with the possibility that the MoD might change their plans runs the risk of an incomplete development with incomplete infrastructure. Obviously the council allowed development to commence ahead of this in order to build the school. Whilst we have heard nothing one way or the other so far, and we’re quite sure Wokingham Borough Council and Crest Nicholson will confidently say nothing has changed, as always we’re at the mercy of the Ministry of Defence, who legally have only transferred a small part of the Garrison to Crest Nicholson. Until the MoD have actually left the site, they can still change their plans, and the news from Lyneham once again puts a question mark over what will happen.
The community forum takes place this Wednesday, 23rd September from 7pm at Henry Street Garden Centre, in Swallowfield Road, Arborfield.
Following the statement yesterday from Wokingham Borough Council on the delay to the school being caused by site contamination being more extensive than was first declared by the Ministry of Defence, we have today issued the following press release to the media. As yet there has been no further official comment from Wokingham Borough Council, although we understand an official press release from them is due imminently.
In our last update we mentioned that there had been no official word as to whether the school was running late, and if it was running late why this was. Today after sending a number of emails to the council over recent weeks, asking questions at meetings and raising a freedom of information request we have finally received an official response from the council confirming the rumours in an e-mail from Mary Severin the borough solicitor:
The delay has been caused by the discovery that the level of contamination on the school site was more extensive than that declared by the MOD. It has, therefore, taken longer than anticipated for Crest Nicholsen to complete the de-contamination works ready for handover to us. We now expect to gain control of the site on Monday 7th September. Fortunately there was some contingency time built into the build plan and we can also apply to another part of WBC to increase the hours of work. The weather over the winter will also either allow us to progress at a good speed or slow us down, we shall have to wait and see re this. The project plan includes an action at the end of January 2016 for a decision to be made on the contingency site. This site was heartily approved of by all the potential Education Providers, including Bohunt the successful provider, also by the members of Parent Reference Group.
She subsequently sent a second e-mail later in the day correcting the date to today as the site had been handed over ahead of the date expected when the statement was written.
With regards to the school the statement highlights that we need to hope for good weather over the winter to allow the project to catch up, and also confirms that a decision on the contingency site will be made in January so parents should know before they have to accept a place whether the school will open in the new building or the contingency.
What is more of a concern is the reason for the delay – site contamination that was more extensive than that declared by the MoD in the planning documents. This is a concern we had raised previously based on experience from other residents groups based around other former MoD sites where unexpected contamination had often cropped up as the sites were developed. Whenever we did we were assured by the council and developers that plans were sound, the contamination survey was reliable and that we shouldn’t be concerned.
We have obviously put in further freedom of information requests as to what the additional contamination that has been discovered consisted of, especially given that the school will open before all the rest of the Garrison will have been cleared, and more pressingly because all the contaminated material is currently being moved off site close to houses and the pre-school on the Garrison, and through the middle of Arborfield Village. The planning committee and officials approved the development on the basis of a flawed assessment of the contamination level on the site, given that they are not saying what has now been discovered on just a small part of the Garrison it is important that those plans and surveys are reassessed to assure residents and parents who will be sending their children to the school next year that the environment around the school and the environment for residents is safe.
As the summer draws to a close and the schools return from the long holiday, attention is turning towards this time next year when after decades of waiting there will be a secondary school opening for children who live in the south of the Wokingham borough, and to which many of our current year six students will be directed.
Although it was expected, there has still been general disappointment expressed by many at the choice of name for the school, with the Bohunt Educational Trust choosing to follow the model they used for their new school in Worthing, calling their new school here the Bohunt School – either Bohunt Arborfield or Bohunt Wokingham depending on which leaflet you’ve seen. Many had hoped that the name of the school might be used to retain a link with the past, maybe picking up on the long standing army connection with the site, and certainly if the council or local parents had picked the name we would have got something relevant. However disappointingly the Bohunt Educational Trust is choosing to heavily promote their brand taking the logo and name, that whilst they might have significance for residents around their original school in Liphook, built on land from Bohunt Manor, mean little to the people to the south of Wokingham. Of course the other thing to remember about a strongly branded school like this is that should the Education Provider change at some point in the future, as they can do, exactly as if a petrol station or supermarket changes hands, so will the name and branding.
Naming aside, the original Bohunt School in Liphook has once again got very impressive exam results this year, and the trust continues to be regarded as one of the strongest amongst the new education providers, even despite the rather bumpy ride their appearance on TV over the summer has received in the press. The Bohunt Educational Trust are hosting two open evenings on Tuesday 6th October and Wednesday 7th October between 6:30pm and 8:30pm at Henry Street Garden Centre, with two identical talks on each night at 6:45pm and 7:30pm. Obviously as the school itself hasn’t been built, this will be hosted by staff and students from the original Bohunt School. The trust is also offering the opportunity to visit the original school in Liphook and see how it operates on their open mornings between 12th and 14th October. In addition to the original Bohunt School the trust is also launching their new build academy in Worthing this year, and took over the running of the Priory School in Southsea from the local authority as part of the established government process for academising failing schools, there are no details as to whether Wokingham parents would be welcome at the open evenings at the other two schools run by the trust.
With regards to our school, concerns have been expressed to us that the developers appear to still be clearing the school site, and have not started building anything as yet when at previous meetings about the school it had been suggested that due to the tight timescales if the building wasn’t started by July it would not be finished in time. Whilst there are various rumours as to why the site clearance is taking longer than expected there is no official word for us to report. The council has previously confirmed that there are contingency plans in place should the first phase of the school building not be finished in time for an opening next September. Members of the team from Wokingham Borough Council and the Parental Reference Group will be at the open evenings and will obviously be able to answer practical questions about the buildings alongside the details on curriculum and teaching methods that the educational trust will share.
Moving on to wider issues, over the summer there have been various issues around the clearance work, initially caused by trucks being routed through the Garrison. Crest Nicholson responded to complaints and put much improved signage to direct trucks around on the A327 and up Sheerlands Road, which aside from one or two drivers seems to have worked. More recently there was an issue with a pair of trucks who turned up on site after it had closed, and being on the limit for their driving hours decided to camp up in the Garrison Church Car Park. Again we talked to Crest Nicholson and they have now agreed that arrangements should be made to provide proper facilities for drivers should the situation occur again.
As yet there is no official contact point for site issues. Whilst Phiala Mehring of the Loddon Valley Residents Association backed by Gary Cowan the Arborfield Borough Councillor proposed a residents liaison group when the SDL application was approved, as this idea had worked well on other developments in the borough, and this idea appeared to have been accepted by the Borough Council, the idea has been hijacked by the local borough and parish councillors. Unfortunately in an entirely democratic vote amongst borough and parish councillors the borough and parish councillors decided to exclude any resident who wasn’t a borough or parish councillor from the residents liaison group. Needless to say despite the importance of this group as a contact point for residents, the parish and borough councillors who democratically voted themselves into their roles haven’t actually met yet, and certainly haven’t started to consider providing a contact point for residents, despite work on site being well underway and a number of issues having already come up.
As always we’re happy to use our contacts with the developers and borough council to raise any issues or concerns, we can be contacted via our contact page, email address or alternatively through our Facebook page or Twitter account. Thanks to those residents who have been providing pictures of any lost truck drivers over the summer, please continue to do this as it was residents concerns about the camping truck drivers that highlighted the issue initially and have lead to Crest Nicholson providing better facilities for them in future. Especially as the schools go back and children will be walking to local schools, pre-schools and bus stops we need to remain vigilant to ensure the trucks keep to the safe routes to and from the site.
In wider issues it was great that the closure of the A327 completed a day earlier than expected, and given the monsoon like conditions we’ve been getting over the past couple of weeks the new flood relief could well get an early test. As before there will be off peak traffic lights in place on the A327 to allow for various other parts of the project, but since the developers are acutely aware of the traffic levels the road carries those lights are removed for the morning and evening peak.
Wokingham Borough Council have announced the next date for the regular Community Forum – Wednesday September 23rd, from 7pm to 8:45pm, as usual held at the Henry Street Garden Centre. There is not a full agenda as yet, once we get more details we will issue an update.
Quite a lot has gone on in the past few days so it is time for a more general update.
Firstly the issue of the trucks going to and from the site through the residential area past the pre-school continues to roll on. Crest Nicholson had a site meeting in the middle of last week and let us know that they were going to change the routing of the trucks within forty-eight hours. That period has passed and we are now told that the routing will change “imminently”.
What is more interesting is that they informed us that the trucks were being routed according to a plan in the section 106 agreement between themselves and Wokingham Borough Council, and sent us a copy of the plan that had been supplied to them, which does indeed show that the route through the middle of the Garrison alongside the route around the A327 and along the southern part of Sheerlands Road. We will be taking up how WBC allowed a plan to be included in the section 106 agreement, as this stretch of road is not only one that currently parents and children going to the pre-school have to cross, residents going to the letter box have to cross, but more importantly once the secondary school opens, this is a key part of the plans for a safe route to school. How many potential parents are going to be happy to have their children walking to the school when that route crosses one of the agreed access routes for building traffic to other parts of the development?
Another point to consider is that whilst Crest Nicholson are pointing the finger at Wokingham Borough Council over the route, the plan they were given has both routes. Crest Nicholson has been keen to highlight their credentials in a number of meetings with local residents, and talked about being considerate contractors with regards to the existing residents. But in this situation when given the choice of a route which exposed children walking to the pre-school to danger, goes past a well used bus stop, post box and playing fields through a residential area, as opposed to an alternative route that went down the A327 and approached the site well away from residential areas but was a bit longer, they chose the short route that even an elementary risk assessment would indicate was more dangerous to local residents and had a greater possibility of an accident.
We hope that Hugo Reeve and his team at Crest Nicholson have learned lessons from this week and will put the safety of local residents, especially our children front and centre in all their subsequent routing plans, and wherever possible route their trucks and deliveries away from residential areas.
Moving on, anybody who submitted comments to the Marino Family planning application for the southern part of the Strategic Development Location will have received either an e-mail, a letter, or possibly both, notifying them of a revision to the application. As with the revisions to the Crest Nicholson application previously you can comment on the revised application whether or not you commented on the original application. The revised application documents can be found on the council system under the application number O/2014/2179 with the revised documents presented below the original documents. As a number of members have pointed out both to us and the council the revised documents are not conducive to easily seeing what has changed as they are presented as new documents with no change tracking.
In wider news there continues to be consultation on the name for the development, in particular the most recent Barkham village newsletter has been campaigning for an “anything but Arborfield” name on the basis that most of the Crest Nicholson development is in Barkham parish. This of course ignores the fact that the Marino development is entirely in Finchampstead, and that all the previously developed Garrison land – Penrose Park and Poperinghe Way – are in Arborfield along with much of the existing housing within the SDL. The simple point to bear in mind is that the powers that be can pick any name they like, but the name that will stick will be the one people use, and the vast majority of existing residents of the SDL regard themselves as living in Arborfield.
Another name that is up for discussion is the name of the new school, which has produced much debate on the Parental Reference Group page on Facebook. Like it or not the name will include the name of the education provider – Bohunt Education Trust. For those wondering where the name comes from, the Bohunt School was the original school which became and academy to found the chain, and that is named after Bohunt Manor which provided land for the original school in Liphook.
Finally, don’t forget that next week, from August 3rd until August 23rd the A327 towards Reading will be totally closed near the Magpie and Parrot for the flood relief work that is required as part of the building of the Shinfield Eastern Relief Road. Hopefully the decision to close the road during summer holidays will minimise the traffic disruption, but with such a significant closure there will inevitably be some problems.
As you may know, developers have been on site at the Garrison for a while, however things have taken a step up a gear with the access for vehicles opened up onto Sheerlands Road to allow the building of the school to get going.
One concern residents close to the development site have always had is to ensure the safety of residents, especially around the open areas at the top of Sheerlands Road around the junction with Baird Road. This is where the number 3 Leopard Buses turn round, and there are often residents, both adults and children heading to the bus stop, children coming to and from the pre-school in the Community Centre, and adults and children making use of the open space.
As part of this the council was asked to ensure that the many large lorries that will be going to and from the site avoided these areas and came in and out of the site from Sheerlands Road directly onto the A327 which they agreed to, rather than driving in from Langley Common Road, onto Biggs Lane, then onto Princess Marina Drive, onto Baird Road and then onto Sheerlands Road.
Therefore it was a bit of a surprise to find notices directing contractor vehicles to the site turn up at the Sheerlands Road junction with Baird Road. The sign is pretty small, therefore it was not surprising today to find an articulated lorry missed the sign and ended up driving into the Army Housing area. We’ve also had reports of lorries turing into the car park of the community centre where the pre-school is based.
Other development sites have large signs clearly stating that contractor vehicles should not use certain roads – the Arborfield Garrison School development have none of these. Sat-nav on vehicles coming from Reading will obviously take them in from Langley Common road, so we need signs on the Langley Common Road roundabout with the A327 immediately to ensure the contractor vehicles are using the correct access routes before a child is run over or an accident caused by a contractor vehicle driving through a residential area.
If you are a resident of the Garrison area there should be no contractor delivery vehicles moving through the residential area. Any that do are not following the agreed plan, so please get in contact and pass on details of the vehicle and we can pass on details to the council to ensure that the contractors are reminded about the correct route to use. This needs to be done quickly to ensure incorrect routes are not established, and especially to prove to residents that the council is serious about addressing and responding to residents concerns, ensuring the safety of those adults and children who will have to live close to this development for many years to come. A situation where lorries are getting lost in housing estates and driving into car parks of pre-schools cannot be allowed to continue.
We’ve been fairly quiet during the election period. With the decisions over the future of the Garrison already made, and all the major parties committing to significant house building and agreeing the importance of providing suitable infrastructure alongside the houses there was a lot less to discuss. Certainly whilst the results have caused much discussion in the media we’re expecting business as usual without the controversies over housing numbers not being cut, and the significant uncertainty that the cancellation of the REME move to South Wales brought that followed the election in 2010. With the fully Conservative administration we’re very much in the housing model of the previous coalition government where there are no formal regional housing targets as favoured by Labour, but councils are strongly encouraged to build through the land supply rules and being offered a bonus for building new homes. Locally all the key players retained their seats or were not up for election this year, so the election period was merely a pause!
Things get going again very swiftly on Tuesday 19th May with the next Arborfield Community Forum held as usual at Henry Street Garden Centre in Arborfield from 7pm to 8:45pm. The main part of the meeting will be a presentation from Crest Nicholson on the first reserved matters planning application, and we expect this to be very similar to the presentation on the same subject that they gave to the Arborfield Parish Meeting a few weeks ago.
As those of you who were at the meeting will be aware the first development location is slightly unexpected in that they are choosing to develop over on the north eastern side of the Garrison adjacent to the lake, so in an area that is going to require demolition of some buildings before they can commence building houses. They are proposing to build their part of the Nine Mile Ride extension from close to the school site across to the A327, but they are not proposing to develop any of the areas alongside the road or around the proposed district centre until the new road is in place. This does of course mean that with the opening date of the school a fixed date in September next year that there will need to be some careful planning of development around the Nine Mile Ride extension and the district centre as if building in those areas doesn’t commence until the Nine Mile Ride extension is complete it will almost certainly be taking place once students are attending the school. The parental reference group set up by the council are of course well aware of this and we understand that their main focus is on ensuring that the developer and the council provide safe routes for the children to the school through the building site and the surrounding development areas as a first priority.
Responses at the Arborfield Parish Meeting to the proposals was generally positive, and certainly at this stage Crest Nicholson seem keen to keep a dialogue open with local residents. Perhaps the biggest reaction came to the answer to a question about whether there would be public fishing allowed in the lake when Crest Nicholson said they had been told that the MoD were going to remove all the fish from the lake as they were MoD property! Other points that came up at the Arborfield Parish Meeting which may well come up again this week were that even with the significant numbers of houses being built in Wokingham, Reading and surrounding boroughs we still do not have enough new houses to go over the threshold for a new hospital or even any sort of extension to the Royal Berkshire Hospital. There was also some discussion of the various road schemes, and it was highlighted that because the Arborfield Bypass is being funded by money obtained by the council rather than the developer we will not have to wait for the previous threshold of houses built before the road is provided. The council intends to keep moving forward and open the road as soon as possible. Whilst this won’t remove the trucks and vehicles associated with the development from travelling through Arborfield village altogether, they certainly will stop a lot sooner than if we had to wait for the developer to achieve a fixed threshold.
In other news, we have received a couple of enquiries about a large protected tree that was cut down and hedgerow removed between the MoD owned land and the service road for the houses along Sheerlands Road. The hedgerow and tree were replaced with a significant fence that now runs for part of the length of the hedgerow leaving a gap at the end. Whilst there have been cases previously where the developers have cut down trees, and parts of that hedgerow have previously appeared on plans as for removal, the most recent plans retained that hedgerow and all the trees following feedback from residents on that part of Sheerlands Road that wanted the significant green barrier between themselves and Sheerlands Road to remain. All the trees in and around the Garrison have had Tree Protection Orders applied to them as well, something which the developer is well aware of. At the time when concerns were raised with us we made enquiries via the council and were assured by the developer that they were not responsible. Speaking with Gary Cowan our borough councillor he has confirmed that it was not the developers and that the matter had been passed to planning enforcement. However Gary did add that there were two gates in the removed hedgerow that were removed and not replaced, and which were used by pedestrians walking up and down Sheerlands Road, if you have used these gates at any time for getting to or from Sheerlands Road, can you get in contact with Gary, or contact us and we can pass on details, as although the gates weren’t an official right of way they have been in existence long enough to be regarded as permissive routes, however the council needs comments from residents who have used the gates to confirm that they have used them.
|Join the Aborfield Garrison Residents Action Group (AG-RAG) mailing list|
|Visit this group|