On Monday we had the latest Arborfield Community Forum, with presentations from council officers on the overall development and the current situation with the Arborfield Relief Road/Bypass, an update from Hugo Reeve from Crest Nicholson on the latest progress on their part of the development, and finally from Bohunt Educational Trust on the current progress on the new school.
Of the presentations the most professional was from the school, who had evidently sat down and considered all the questions parents may have about the school, and made sure they answered them in the presentation. In general it seems Bohunt is on schedule to have the school open and running and are now recruiting staff, and looking forward to working with their first cohort of students in the run up to their first day at the school in September.
At the other end of the scale were the council officers who turned up incredibly poorly prepared, lacking the information residents were wanting and reaped the result in some pretty heated questioning, especially when it came to the newly appointed project manager for the relief road who evidently hadn’t even properly understood how we got to the adopted route in the first place and why the others were rejected.
Going over the main points that were covered, there were several questions over the changes in phasing both to the council and to Crest Nicholson. The basic reason given for the change in phasing around the Nine Mile Ride extension is as a result of Wokingham asking Crest to build the school end of the Nine Mile Ride extension first. The initial plan had Crest starting from the A327 end and building into the site, now they have been asked to start the road at the school, and will then be building towards the A327. This is also reflected in how the services are being brought in – coming from Sheerlands Road rather than the A327. Whichever phasing is used the ultimate result is the same, it’s just that on the original phasing existing residents had a while longer without houses on the fields.
Much of the remaining discussion revolved around roads.
If you look back to last year one of the significant changes around the bypass was in how it was going to be funded. The council managed to secure central government funding which was sold to the residents as an advantage in that having got the funding it meant that the road didn’t need to wait until the development reached a housing trigger point before the road could be built. However from the schedule given on Monday we’re potentially heading for the negative side which is that disconnected from the development, if the road is delayed or funding is lost then the development can continue whether or not the road is built. To many it seems that the schedule for the road had slipped, and whilst that seems to have been done to allow an extensive round of consultation about the design of the road, the main concern for many is now how long we’ll have to wait for the road to ultimately open, during which time the increased traffic generated by the development along with the building traffic will continue to travel through the conservation area at the heart of Arborfield village.
The other area of significant concern around the roads is in particular with relation to the school. The parental reference group realised early on that this was going to be an issue and spent a considerable amount of time looking at all the potential access routes and coming up with a list of measures they regarded as essential for the opening of the school to allow as many students as possible to walk rather than drive to the school. The council, as they often do in situations like this discussed the measures, made positive noises, but prepared a fallback position which is to bus children to the school if the measures aren’t ready. On Monday they announced that they would be using the fallback option.
Sadly as we’ve found over and over again, verbal agreement, or promises from Wokingham mean relatively little. Indeed even with a more formal agreement timings for things slide – let’s not forget how long we’ve actually waited for the school itself, despite repeated promises that a school for the south was on the horizon. What is frustrating is that there doesn’t really seem to be any coherent reasons given for why the council is not delivering the required changes to the roads, especially considering that the council will end up having to spend money bussing children because the required changes haven’t been made. Could it be that some council bean counter has worked out that the cost of bussing a relatively small number of children to the school is less than the cost of the road modifications? Who knows.
Moving on to wider issues, as you may know, originally the MoD planned to vacate the Garrison and sell all the housing they owned around the base, and to that end they were gradually selling off some of the housing around the Garrison long before the decision to close was actually made. That all changed when the Government decided to bring back our forces stationed in Germany. The MoD having been selling off housing in Aldershot found that they didn’t have enough housing there for all the families that now needed accommodation so the programme selling off housing at Arborfield was stopped, and personnel attached to Aldershot are now housed here. One side effect of that is that we currently have several roads on the Garrison that are within the MoD owned areas, but where the residents are civilians. This has effects in all sorts of areas where residents elsewhere would just turn to the council, in the MoD owned roads the residents are left dealing with the MoD. Over the time since civilian residents moved in there have been particular issues over maintaining the streets, basic stuff like fixing streetlights for example. Also issues with the MoD owned playground where on several occasions the parish council has had to chase up the DIO to fix problems.
Most recently we’ve been contacted by a local resident over their extortionate water bill. Unlike residents in other parts of the Garrison who have mains water from Thames Water, the MoD owned houses get their water through the same arrangement as the houses retained by the MoD. This means they end up getting a fixed bill from Severn Trent Water who handle the water across the whole estate. With the original programme this was only going to be a temporary problem with the roads ultimately being handed over to the council once all the MoD personnel had moved out, however with it now looking like the MoD are going to retain ownership of a large number of houses on the Garrison for a number of years getting large fixed water bills with no opportunity to switch to a water meter is becoming an increasingly frustrating problem for some residents.
Also published on Medium.