At the beginning of this week, Wokingham Borough Council published a large number of addendum documents that they had received from the Crest Nicholson led consortium relating to their current application for the two thousand houses in the northern part of the Arborfield Strategic Development Location. Residents who commented on the initial application should have received a notification from the council advising them of the revised documents, and giving them notification of the consultation period on the changes – very short compared to the original consultation period in that comments have to be received by 12th February. The schedule is necessarily tight as any delay in this application will have a domino effect, in particular on the release of the land from the MoD to Crest Nicholson and onto Wokingham Borough Council for the Secondary School application that is running concurrently. Whilst it is expected that the well produced detailed application for the school will pass on time, the process for releasing the MoD land to Crest Nicholson will not take place until the planning application on the land is approved, as clearly land without planning is worthless to a developer such as Crest Nicholson. That will clearly affect the ability of Wokingham Borough Council to deliver the school, however it should be noted that Cllr Keith Baker stated at the recent school meeting that there is a contingency plan in place should the main application need further revision before approval.
The new documents cover the broad swathe of the application with changes and additions in details of the overall design, how heritage assets are treated, landscape and trees, open space and leisure, ecology and the SPA mitigation, retail, housing and probably most importantly to most people transport and highways. Thanks to Matt we have been given a digital copy of the documents which can be found in both an unpacked form and zipped into a single archive on this share along with a zipped copy of the original application documents for comparison.
There is a lot to take in, however some key headlines over areas we know were of concern:
Even if you did not respond to the original application, you are able to submit a response to these revised documents. If you did submit a response originally, you can respond again to the updated documents, both commenting on whether or not these revised proposals addressed your initial concerns, and also making additional points on the new material. As before the planning application number for comments is O/2014/2280.
The latest update meeting on the school planned as part of the development took place last night at Henry Street Garden Centre. There was a mixed group of attendees – many parents, plus representatives of all of the local parish councils and also prospective parliamentary candidates. The main content of the meeting gave a good view of where the council is in their plans for the new school, and a particular highlight of the meeting for many attendees was the presentation by the architect highlighting many of the features of the design, and in particular where they have changed from the base Department for Education designs councils are forced to work with now.
The BBC had also been in Arborfield all day, filming around the site on the Garrison and also interviewing Gill about the contents of our recent news release. The BBC and their reporter Joe Campbell attended the meeting talking to a number of attendees. A full video of the whole meeting was made and can be viewed below.
Cllr Keith Baker chaired the meeting, and also opened with a statement clarifying the position of the council. In broad terms Wokingham Borough Council and Crest Nicholson are now saying much the same thing which is that the main SDL applications and the school application are separate, and that they will be decided separately, but also that the two are intrinsically linked. Certainly there was a subtle shift in the tone from the council at the meeting that whilst they are still confident that they are on schedule, there wasn’t the kind of cast iron guarantee that the school would open and that there needed to be a contingency. Certainly looking at the kind of objections that have been put forward on the main Crest Nicholson planning application, primarily on transport issues, but also on flooding there is a large gap that needs to be closed for the Crest Nicholson application to go through smoothly, which is what is required if the concerned parents who attended the meeting last night are going to be happy.
Whilst the comment from reporter Joe Campbell on the end of his report on the meeting last night was pretty blunt, it is also sadly pretty accurate. We are currently in a position where the council has been promising and guaranteeing a school will open in September 2016 since last spring, seemingly confident that Crest Nicholson would deliver a planning application with the transport issues addressed. Now Crest Nicholson have delivered their application with issues all around the development, and quite clear in their position that they won’t release the land unless that gets approved, the council, and in particular the planning committee are left in a very difficult position. If Crest Nicholson don’t come forward with revisions to make the application acceptable addressing the numerous concerns over traffic mitigation do they approve the SDL despite the significant flaws in the transport aspects, or do they vote it down knowing that, in the words of Joe Campbell, that leaves the school plan in it’s current form “dead in the water”?
Whether it is down to the council, the developer, the MoD or whoever, the current situation is really just a mess that is polarising residents into groups. We know of nobody who doesn’t agree that a school is desperately needed in Arborfield, and has been for decades. However having guaranteed a school for September 2016 the council have now set up a situation where you have a group of parents desperate for a school to open in 2016 at all costs, whilst many other residents have significant concerns if the current plans for traffic are put in place, and don’t want to see our community landed with chronic traffic problems in a desperate bid to get the school by September 2016.
You can watch Joe Campbell’s report below:
Following confirmation in Freedom of Information requests that Crest Nicholson had in fact included a planning caveat that they would only release the land for the school if the Garrison development was approved, and that even as they were denying it existed Wokingham Borough Council and key councillors had received a report that included the caveat three times we have today issued the following news release:
The consultation period on the two planning applications is now officially closed. However the applications will not be determined until the applications come before the planning committee in spring next year.
In the intervening time the officers at the council will go through the numerous comments on both applications they have received and will be negotiating with both developers to try and address the concerns raised by local residents.
If you have missed the deadline the council will still accept comments right up until the application is determined in the spring, however the later the comments are submitted the less likely it will be that they will be addressed. Gary Cowan local councillor for Arborfield has contacted Matt Melville the principal planning officer to confirm this and received the following reply from Matt:
The Council will take comments up until the date that the application is determined. However, it is important for residents to get their comments in as soon as possible as we are now starting discussions with the developers and we want to ensure we are taking account of local views. So we will, of course, take comments which are submitted next week (and beyond) but I would still encourage local residents to submit their comments asap.
Our thanks to Gary for asking the question, and Matt for the positive response.
A number of the received comments are now starting to appear on the council site. Browsing through the most common concerns raised are over traffic mitigation and flooding, two themes that have been paramount in resident concerns right from the start.
Details of how to find the two applications on the council website can be found in this earlier posting.
Time is running out to have your say on the two planning applications – public consultation closes this Friday, 5th December. If you are still considering what to write, here is a list of questions or queries that other members have raised that may help you with your thoughts.
Arborfield Garrison planning application O/2014/2280: Is there enough space to build 2000 houses given the flood areas?
Hogwood Farm planning application O/2014/2179: No detail is given in the planning application on where the flooding may occur. It is not possible to know if houses are to be built on the flood areas or whether there is sufficient remaining land to build 1500 houses.
Both applications talk about sustainable transport but neither application backs this up with details of how this will be achieved i.e. how are they going to encourage us all to walk, cycle or use the bus or train?
Public transport: The planning applications propose to increase the Number 3 bus to run every 20 minutes to Wokingham. Is this sufficient to cater for 3500 extra houses? What bus routes should be introduced? Should there be fast routes to Reading, Wokingham, Crowthorne or Twyford stations? What other routes should be introduced to help reduce traffic in peak times?
Arborfield Garrison Planning Application
Hogwood Farm Planning Application
You can tell there is an election coming. If you live in the Arborfield, Barkham, Swallowfield or Shinfield parts of the Wokingham Constituency the latest Liberal Democrat newsletter will recently have dropped through your door, with a number of items relating to the development, and the top story highlighting an issue we have been highlighting over the past few months, that Crest Nicholson are proposing to build houses beyond the developable area set down in the Arborfield Garrison Supplementary Planning Document. The most obvious place is on what are currently playing fields and public green space around the junction of Sheerlands Road and Baird Road, but they are also squeezing in strips of development adjacent to the protected moat over near the Garrison main gate, building right up to the A327 including in the triangle of land that sits in Swallowfield Parish Council area, and building closer to the various streams and the lake all across the development.
So why are the Liberal Democrats interested in a corner of the playing fields in Arborfield? There is no local election here for another three years, and the votes of a few residents of Arborfield are hardly likely to swing the seat for them at the General Election. They often tend to avoid too much discussion of Arborfield anyway as the local Conservatives invariably start throwing around all sorts of other figures as to how many houses the Liberal Democrats wanted to put at Arborfield in previous plans. The reason is that the issue here highlights a problem that could exist across all the strategic development locations in the borough.
Lets play a game of spot the difference.
This first image is taken from the Crest Nicholson Planning Application and is a copy of a plan originally produced by Wokingham Borough Council for the Supplementary Planning Document for the Strategic Development Location. This is a document they spent a lot of time consulting with local residents on, and which residents have been told would protect their interests and ensure we got the kind of development everybody wanted. Things to note in particular are the green area around the top of Sheerlands Road, the main avenue being a continuation of Princess Marina Drive, and the existing community centre marked as being retained.
This image is again taken from the Crest Nicholson Planning Application, and shows the same general area, but has area BB2 on what is green space on the Wokingham Borough Supplementary Planning Document plan, area K again on an area marked as green space, and the existing community centre, along with the facilities for the nursery and pre-school, all of which the council said should be retained disappear under housing area L.
Not surprisingly Crest Nicholson spend a lot of time justifying why they are diverging from the Supplementary Planning Document, essentially they are challenging the document through the planning process. Elsewhere in the application they also present a potted history of occasions when Wokingham Borough Council planning policy and plans have been challenged, and when they have lost.
Although there is a lot of text in the document, the fundamental point of contention is pretty simple, that it is not possible to build the number of houses that the core strategy and supplementary planning document requires, at the density that the core strategy and supplementary planning document requires, and in the designated development areas that the core strategy and supplementary planning document requires. Crest Nicholson are choosing to try to meet the density and housing number targets at the expense of the developable area, pushing out onto land that was supposed to be protected and into areas that are liable to flood according to their own flood survey.
Which brings us back to why the Liberal Democrats are interested. We’re not the only strategic development location laid down in the core strategy, and we’re not the only strategic development location where the concerns of existing residents are included in the supplementary planning document, and we’re not the only strategic development location where residents have been assured that our interests would be protected by those documents, there are three others across the borough – this is a borough and constituency wide issue.
Ensuring that there is enough developable area to contain the required number of houses at the required density is pretty fundamental, if there are similar fundamental errors in the core strategy and supplementary planning documents, such that developers are able to challenge and ignore them in the other strategic development locations this is a pretty worrying state of affairs given the assurances residents have been given over the protection the core strategy would give us. Having fundamental errors such that developers can successfully challenge yet more elements of Wokingham Borough planning policy leaves us as local residents exposed to whatever developers want to do. As we have discovered many times over the years the developers have deeper pockets and more money to spend on lawyers to get their plans pushed through than the council will ever be able to afford to stop them…
With the ongoing consultation on the planning applications in full flow, it is time for a quick update. Firstly the deadline for comments on the two planning applications has now been synchronised on 5th December, so you only have a couple of weeks left to have your say. If you want a chance to go through the plans, talk to local councillors and also ask questions of the developers Finchampstead Parish Council have organised another opportunity to do so on Saturday 22 November 2014 at Nine Mile Ride School from 3pm to 5pm. Our experience from previous exhibitions is that this is a good opportunity to put specific points to the developers and politicians who react a lot more proactively face to face with residents, certainly we are aware of changes that were made to submitted plans after residents with particular issues took them up face-to-face with Crest Nicholson.
Some of the first responses to the consultation are now starting to appear on the council web site. As always we can’t link directly to the applications because of the way the council website is designed, however following the instructions in this post you can find the applications and read what people are saying.
The themes are pretty much what you would expect, but a few points to bear in mind:
From feedback we’ve had so far the big issue once again is traffic and traffic mitigation. The liberal use of traffic calming in the current plans have gone down no better than the liberal use of traffic lights in the previous plan. There are also notable gaps demonstrating a lack of understanding of local roads, so for example in Finchampstead restricting Park Lane and slowing traffic through California Crossroads without doing anything to Church Lane and White Horse Lane is a recipe for people rat running along White Horse Lane, a common problem currently when there are holdups at California Crossroads after a closure of the A327.
As always the lack of a coherent solution to the A327 through Eversley, especially considering that all the remaining MoD personnel who currently walk to work on the Garrison will be heading towards Aldershot will also be going this way features in comments. We suspect the high level representation from Hampshire County Council will also be concerned about this.
Environmental concerns have come up, in particular what the effect of building on Hogwood Farm will have on the bottom end of Park Lane and New Mill Lane – somewhere that has flooded in the past few years – and further downstream on Swallowfield. Certainly people have concerns about the proposed handling of water on both developments.
The comment by Crest Nicholson representative Hugo Reeve at the last Community Forum that his planning application needed to be approved to release the land for the school, a statement that is also made in the planning documents themselves also continues to be of concern, especially to those parents looking for a school at the earliest opportunity. We have had informal discussions with several councillors who are insistent that this is not the case and that they can proceed with the school without having to have the main planning application approved, including one or two who have said that had they been at the forum they would have highlighted when Hugo made the statement that this was not the case. Unfortunately despite the leader of the council and former lead member for development being present at that forum he did not object, and every subsequent statement from the council has a lot of fluff about an ongoing process of negotiation, but no the kind of unequivocal statement on the school that people need.
There was a recent meeting to discuss the school plans in more detail where the plans were revealed. Sadly the need to meet the tight timescales has resulted in the council settling on one of the new, much criticised standardised designs that were put forward by the current government a few years ago, whilst the parent group are putting forward their ideas, ultimately the need to get the school built on time will almost certainly mean that rather than a design that fits into the vision for the new community we will have something very close to the standardised designs commissioned by former Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Whatever your particular concerns, it is important that you get them in by 5th December to ensure they are noted. Whilst in practice the council usually accepts comments after this date, they don’t have to so please try to get them in time.
Alongside the main planning applications, there is another consultation taking place which will be of particular interest to Arborfield residents, which is for the Arborfield and Newland Village Design Statement. Whilst this document can’t stop development coming to Arborfield, it can guide developers as to how local residents want those developments to be built, so is an important document. You can find a link to the proposals and details of how to comment on this page on the Wokingham Borough website.
Finally, one sad bit of news in that Trinity Mirror who own the Reading Post and Wokingham Times amongst other newspapers has decided to close all their Berkshire titles in favour of an online only model, making a number of redundancies. Reporters from the Wokingham Times have been to almost as many meetings and forums as some of the residents and have reported the twists and turns of the Garrison development for many years. We’d like to thank them for all their support over the years and offer our best wishes to those who are being made redundant in the run up to Christmas.
We expect our planing application to be given the nod because it is in everybody’s interest for the project to go ahead.
So says Scott Black, Crest Nicholson’s group director of new business in the front page story of the Wokingham News this week.
But is it in your interest? If you’re a highly paid director of a major house builder, getting the maximum number of houses for the minimum outlay on infrastructure it probably is in your best interest, if you’re a Ministry of Defence bureaucrat wanting the money to build the new facilities for REME in Wiltshire it is probably in your best interest, if you’re an officer at Wokingham Borough Council worried about delivering a school promised to desperate local parents in September 2016 it is probably in your best interest, but for the rest of us maybe it isn’t.
If you’re a resident of Badger’s Mount who believed Wokingham Borough Council when they assured them that the Supplementary Planning Document would protect their green spaces, keep the new development back from their home, and showed the main route from the north of the development into the centre diverted well away from their homes this isn’t in your best interest. Crest Nicholson have decided to ignore that part of the Supplementary Planning Document and are proposing to fell trees to build houses on the supposedly protected green, and will direct increased levels of traffic past their houses avoiding their new development. It’s not in their interest.
But then it is a lot cheaper to build houses on the undeveloped land on the greens than clear developed army land, and the new residents won’t like having a main access road past their houses. The existing residents need to make some sacrifices to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
If you’re a resident of Finchampstead or Eversley who lives around the Tally Ho, it’s not in your best interest as the robust planning application from Crest Nicholson offers little hope for you. Once these 3,500 houses are built on the site of one of the main local employers it won’t only be residents from the new houses coming past your homes on the way to work, you’ll get all the soldiers still housed here coming past on the way to their base in Aldershot – and yet Crest Nicholson aren’t looking at any sort of bypass for Eversley, and Wokingham Borough Council and Hampshire County Council aren’t willing to put up the money either.
But then it is a lot cheaper to not build the bypass. The existing residents need to make some sacrifices to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
If you’re a resident of Arborfield you’re in a bit better position, as the council has agreed to build a bypass – but don’t ask how it’s being paid for as it’s not Crest Nicholson paying up, they’re making a contribution but you can bet it will be as small as they can make it to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
If you live around California Crossroads you’re going to get the junction rebuilt with raised multicoloured bricks, but will following the yellow brick road solve the traffic chaos when thousands of extra residents come up and down the Nine Mile Ride every day?
But then it is a lot cheaper to provide some pretty coloured bricks. The existing residents need to make some sacrifices to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
If you’re a resident of Barkham you get the pretty bricks and paint too, but again what happened when thousands of extra residents try to get through there every day avoiding the inevitable queues at the bridge?
But then actually solving the traffic problems your high profile development will cause is expensive. The existing residents need to make some sacrifices to ensure Crest Nicholson can make enough profit and Scott Black can get a nice bonus.
What about the new residents, the people who will come to these new houses? The illustrative plan makes things look quite pleasant – but then has anybody counted the number of houses on the plan?
If they built the number of houses shown on their illustrative plan it probably would be quite pleasant, and would meet the density of a garden village which in the garden village developments that their marketing harks back to was an absolute maximum of 12 houses per acre. Instead they will build 2000 houses, because building any less would affect the profits Crest Nicholson can make, and Scott Black’s nice bonus.
Let us not forget, for all their comments about what a great place this development will be, neither Scott Black or any of his colleagues, nor the Wokingham Borough Council officers will have to live here while it is being built. A couple of the local councillors live close, and only one actually lives on the SDL, but as the councillors on the planning committee come to make the decision are they looking at the ways this application ignores their adopted planning document, or will gridlock local traffic, or are they looking at the promise so many of them backed to open a school in 2016 that is entirely dependent on this application being adopted on time? Which group of residents are they going to go with, will it be the parents desperate for a new school in September 2016 as Scott Black expects, or the numerous other residents whose interest is not served by the current plans?
We asked precisely that question on BBC Berkshire last week – neither Crest Nicholson or Wokingham Borough Council were willing to answer that question in person.
Let’s be clear, we agree with Scott Black, the borough needs new houses, and we need a new school, but at any cost? If he thinks this development is so fantastic, perhaps he can come join us and watch his utopia be built at close quarters from Park Lane.
Firstly, thanks to everybody who made the time to come along to the Community Forum on Thursday. Even if you didn’t manage to make it, everybody should now have received a letter from the council with details of the two planning applications and details of how to comment. Just to clarify, as from a couple of conversations we have had some people are still confused, these two applications together cover the whole of the Arborfield Garrison SDL giving in total 3,500 houses, two primary schools, one secondary school, two neighbourhood centres, one district centre plus shops and community facilities. They are not some sort of either/or proposition.
Quickly summarising the presentations, the Marino application is little changed from what was presented earlier in the summer, the most significant change probably being for residents of Park Lane in that the stretch from the entrance of the industrial estate down all the way to the A327 will have restricted access, and a new road will be built taking HGV traffic straight onto the Nine Mile Ride Extension. We then (once they’d sorted the IT) had a more slick presentation from Crest Nicholson highlighting the changes made since the previous withdrawn planning application last year. These include a lowering of the density of the development from between 14 and 15 houses per acre to about 13 houses per acre, unfortunately at the expense of green space. There was a good deal of garden village marketing fluff again, but as always it is worth remembering that the garden village and garden city movement of a century ago that they are harking back to built to an absolute maximum of 12 houses per acre, and often at lower densities. In the intervening time housing average densities have increased, and what they are proposing is not going to be noticeably less dense than estates anywhere else around the area. Fundamentally there is not enough room to fit in 3,500 houses at the density residents would like in the space available to the developers, but that headline figure is what the council core strategy has designated this area to provide.
Thanks to those members who have already offered some feedback on the plans. Traffic and transport issues are once again topping the concerns. Whilst this application is avoiding the liberal sprinkling of traffic lights across the locality that we were presented with last year, the solutions this time around were neatly summed up by one comment we heard “it’s amazing what they can do with paint these days” – basically we’re looking at traffic calming as a primary tool to deal with the increase in traffic. The usual problem areas of the Tally Ho corner, California Crossroads, Barkham Bridge and the others are again featuring in comments, with people not exactly convinced.
The forum started with a presentation from the council giving the headlines with regards to the new school. The council line is absolutely adamant that the school will be delivered on time in September 2016, however in response to a question from the floor it became clear that is not the case. The school will be delivered on time if, and only if the AGLC planning application is approved on time. If that planning application is not approved, even if it is for some reason totally unrelated to the school or the school site, the school planning application cannot be approved, and the school will not be delivered.
It is also worth remembering at this point that for an application of this size it is not the planning professionals who approve, it is our elected representatives, and they can and do disagree with the official advice, so they can refuse an application recommend for approval by their officers, or alternatively they can approve an application over a recommendation for refusal by the officers. Recently the committee has approved a new gateway development for Wokingham, despite it being recommended for refusal for not fitting it with the surroundings. Also lets not forget that Curtin & Co the consultants employed by Crest Nicholson proudly promote how they have persuaded councillors to approve a number of contentious developments over recommendations for refusal from officers, and that a number of councillors have staked their reputations on delivering a school.
As a result it is very important that we let our councillors, in particular the planning committee themselves what we as residents regard as most important. Whilst there is a group of parents who are understandably concerned over the provision of school places, is the provision of a school for 2016 so overwhelmingly important that we are willing to make significant compromises over the larger planning application. The council guarantee of the school puts Crest Nicholson and the Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium in a powerful position to push for a development that will make them more money at the expense of local residents because they know that to achieve the goal of a school in 2016 the council has to pass their application. What is important is that as we put in our comments we let our councillors know whether we are happy for them to refuse the application, even if it means we won’t get the school in 2016, in order to achieve a better overall development.
We are continuing to go through the extensive planning applications, and will post more comments as we do. Please also continue to share any comments and concerns or questions that you may have.
Both the outline planning applications for the two parts of the Arborfield Garrison Strategic Development Location are now in and published on the Wokingham Borough Council website. As previously we cannot link directly to the applications because of the way the council website is set up. To find the applications go to http://www.wokingham.gov.uk/planning/services/search/ and there put O/2014/2280 into the application number box for the Crest Nicholson/Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium application under Arborfield parish, or O/2014/2179 for the Marino Family development of Hogwood Farm under Finchampstead parish.
There is a significant volume of documentation for each of the proposals, so we will not be making any comment on the content until we have had a chance to go through the applications in detail ourselves. As previously, if you have any comments or feedback on the applications from your own reading, please share it. These are complex documents so the more pairs of eyes we have reading them the better view of the overall picture and any issues we will be able to get.
Also, don’t forget that the rescheduled Arborfield Community Forum takes place on this Thursday, 23rd October, from 7pm at Henry Street Garden Centre, and includes an update on the school, along with presentations on both planning applications. Both applications are only open for comment for a few weeks (although we understand the council may try to extend this) and this will probably be the main chance us as residents will have to quiz both councillors and council officials, and also the applicants. Once these applications are approved certain aspects of what is going to happen to Arborfield Garrison are locked in, so it is critical that the applications are got right at this stage.
As a little bit of other news, you may have seen the comment piece we published last week having spotted Tom Curtin, CEO of Curtin & Co the consultancy hired by Crest Nicholson to push through the application, taking a leading role in a group called Caversham Residents Against Inappropriate Development, something we thought was at the very least rather ironic, perhaps hypocritical considering that his company specialises in pushing through just the kind of contentious planning applications that local residents close to them consider inappropriate. Things over in Caversham have taken a rather interesting turn in that the names of Tom Curtin and his wife disappeared off the CRAID site at the weekend, at about the same time as an anonymous newsletter was pushed through doors all across Caversham causing much anger amongst residents. One of those residents investigated who produced the newsletter via the delivery company that delivered them and traced it back not to Tom Curtin, but to Curtin & Co themselves, and he has now passed this on to Reading Trading Standards who have opened an investigation as the newsletter committed a “criminal breach” in the areas of data protection, unsolicited mail and not providing right of reply on the document/providing details of the sender. Needless to say we have highlighted this behaviour to Wokingham Borough Council and expressed our concern at such unprofessional and possibly illegal behaviour from a company that is so closely involved with the Arborfield Garrison SDL. You can keep up to date with what is going on over in Caversham on the Heights Primary School Facebook page. There is a report about the ongoing events in Caversham including comments from Tom Curtin on the anonymous newsletter in the Reading Chronicle.
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