AG-RAG supports a suitably sized development that maintains Arborfield’s rural nature, as long as that development is restricted to brownfield behind the existing garrison wire and doesn’t start until the MoD have actually left the site.

Refreshing the No Cold Calling Zone

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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:

  • Arbery Way
  • Attwood Drive
  • Barker Close
  • Bentley Drive
  • Bushell Way
  • Gerring Road
  • Howell Close
  • Mabett Close
  • Milam Close
  • Rayner Drive
  • Tyler Drive
  • Faraday Close
  • Fleming Close
  • Kelvin Close
  • Sheerlands Road
  • Whitehall Mews
  • Bramshill Close

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.

Planning Matters

This building was once the Garrison Shop and Post Office, closed virtually overnight by the MoD a couple of years ago.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 20.41.48The 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.

What’s in a Name?

The Garrison Mess Building that faces onto the cricket green, scheduled for demolition.

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!

Demolition of the Garrison.

The clearance of the site of the first new houses.

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.

Hogwood Garden Village Approved

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This week has again been busy in and around the Strategic Development Location. Alongside the official departure of REME this week also saw the approval of the second outline planning application covering the Finchampstead part of the development location – Hogwood Garden Village on what is currently Hogwood Farm. The approval was not unexpected, but as before was voted through unanimously against the overwhelming view of those who responded to the planning application being to object. You can watch the planning committee discuss and approve the application, along with the contributions from members of the public and the parish and borough councillors on the Wokingham Borough Council YouTube channel.

Alongside the approval there were various mentions in local and regional media. The Wokingham Paper mentioned the approval on the front page this week and had a good article reporting the approval and talking to members of the public who spoke at the planning meeting. BBC Radio Berkshire were also on site at the Garrison early in the week and talked about the departure and approval on the Andrew Peach programme on Wednesday.

Unfortunately the BBC Berkshire item was confused at best, and whilst they sorted themselves out somewhat later in the morning the clear message they were giving out early on was that the Army were leaving Arborfield completely and the Garrison was going to be replaced by 1,500 houses that were going to be approved that night.

Just to be clear:

The Army is leaving Arborfield – WRONG

We cannot say this often enough, the Army is NOT leaving Arborfield. Most of the Garrison will be closed by January and REME who have been part of the village for many years will have moved to Lyneham. However some units currently on site will remain for a bit longer, and the housing here has been retained for at least the medium term and is now part of the Aldershot Super-Garrison. It is currently being used to house families stationed there who will now commute along the A327 like many of the rest of the residents. Being associated with Aldershot has already produced some issues, the most obvious of which was the situation recently with the community centre. This also means that the MoD has moved their boundary fences to keep their remaining holdings secure leading to issues such as the dog walking field being fenced off.

There will be 1,500 homes for the Garrison site – WRONG

Wokingham Borough Council has already approved 2,000 homes for the Garrison site as part of the Crest Nicholson planning approval earlier in the year. Work has already got underway following that approval with work on the school site moving forward, and demolition work on the site of the first houses to be built over on Biggs Lane near the lake having started this week. The total number of homes for the whole strategic development location has long been set at 3,500.

WBC is approving the plans to replace the Garrison tonight – WRONG

As mentioned above the plans for the Garrison had long since been approved by the council. The approval this week was a separate application from the Marino Family who own Hogwood Farm for an additional 1,500 homes on land to the south of the Garrison, bringing the total number of homes to the 3,500 set by Wokingham Borough Council in their core strategy.

A reporter from BBC South Today was also in the area during the week and filmed a number of interviews. Whilst the BBC ran a bare bones story about the approval in a lunch time bulletin, as yet they haven’t run the full story. As yet we haven’t heard why this is, but often for these items they would need to get comment from Wokingham Borough Council to ensure they are seen to be presented a balanced viewpoint.

Having got approval, the Hogwood development will proceed in a similar way to how Crest Nicholson are working in the northern part of the SDL with a series of reserved matters applications as each parcel of land is brought forward. An early part of their plans will be the Nine Mile Ride extension which is a critical part of the plans to allow children from Finchampstead to access the new school when it opens next year.

Whilst it is obviously disappointing that the council approved the development over local objections, we need to remember that with both the Crest Nicholson and the Marino applications these are only in outline. The actual detail of what is built will come forward over many years to come, and as we have found with the recent changes to the first application from Crest Nicholson the developers are keen to hear local opinions on what they are going to build.

Community Centre and Hogwood Planning Approval

PL06A Land Use with MFL

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.

Community Forum and Community Relations

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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.

WBC Takes The Fall Back Option

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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.

Community Forum Update

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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.

Contamination Press Release

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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.

AG RAG – NR – Kept in the Dark

Contamination

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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.

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