Category Archives: Comment

A Lot Can Happen in a Week

In the course of the last week a lot has changed with regards to the Arborfield Strategic Development Location. Firstly the extraordinary planning committee meeting on Wednesday unanimously approved the Crest Nicholson planning application, warts and all. Having done that it then unanimously approved the Arborfield School planning application. Finally on Thursday the Borough Council Executive approved the Arborfield and Newland Village Design Statement, and took a big step forward by approving route B for the Arborfield Bypass/Relief Road. If you were unable to attend the meetings they were all recorded on video, so you can watch part one of the Planning Committee meeting, part two of the Planning Committee meeting or the Executive Meeting on the Wokingham Borough Council YouTube channel.

Needless to say the council press office has kicked in to action presenting this as a great weeks work for the council, and glossing over the small print of what has actually been agreed.

Before looking at the small print, it is worth looking back over what has been achieved by the local community.

Firstly, barring any major disasters the communities of Finchampstead, Barkham and Arborfield will in September 2016 finally get the secondary school that has been being promised to residents by Wokingham Borough Council and their predecessors for over thirty years, bringing an end to the long established ritual for local children of taking the bus to a distant school every day.

Secondly, in a great example of people power, and whilst the council spin machine may suggest this wasn’t the case, after presenting route A as the chosen route to a packed meeting in 2013, and after one of the biggest consultation exercises in their history, Wokingham Borough Council are moving forward on route B for the Arborfield Bypass, the route preferred by the vast majority of local residents, and one that won’t permanently blight Arborfield village and destroy Lockey Farm.

Thirdly, whilst there are a number of issues with the adopted plan, we’re a long way from the high density development of 5,000 homes that Entec and Defence Estates proposed when the closure of the Garrison was first put forward.

So what are the problems? Fundamentally the council has not delivered on a number of promises that have been made over the years, essentially letting Crest Nicholson come away with a better deal than perhaps they were expecting after the first planning application for the site was withdrawn in October 2013. Although the press coverage is quoting big sounding figures for the amount the developer is putting forward for local infrastructure, if you get a calculator out and work out the amount per house, whilst it is still well in advance of the pretty pitiful amount Wokingham Borough has achieved previously, it is not at the level that had been promised by various politicians over the years in public meetings. Related to that whilst residents have been promised that the developer would have to prove nil detriment before the development was approved, they have been let off proving that as well. The reason for that is pretty simple, a number of the key traffic proposals have not been provided by the developer in their application, the most significant of which is the plans for California Crossroads.

Wokingham Borough Council and various local members will have you believe that this is the council “taking control” of the plans for California Crossroads, and certainly for local residents having the council responsible means that we will have a lot more accessible group as the plans progress, however settling for a contribution from the developers for such a critical junction is a definite council climb down from the previous promises that plans for all road improvements would be established before the development was approved. This is especially surprising given that the traffic figures accompanying the development show one of the largest percentage increases of any road in traffic along Nine Mile Ride – essentially because alongside the extra traffic to and from the development it will create a much more attractive route across to the A327 than the B3348 through Finchampstead village and down Fleet Hill.

The inevitable question then is what happened, why did we go from the withdrawal of the planning application in 2013 to a year later an application being presented that even months before determination a director of Crest Nicholson was confident enough to tell the local press that the application would go through on the nod?

To work that out it is worth going back to look at how our planning system works. At the heart of it is an ongoing negotiation going on between the developer and the council. On the one hand you have the developer whose primary goal is to generate the maximum profit on the development that they can. This could be by building large number of relatively cheap high density units, or fewer more attractive units on which they can charge premium prices, but a key part whatever their chosen route is that they want to minimise the amount of infrastructure, be that schools, roads, parks, flood control measures they provide as all of those cost money, generate no revenue, and take away from their bottom line. On the other side of the negotiation you have the council who is looking for almost the exact opposite, for the developer to provide as much infrastructure as possible, as anything they don’t provide the money for when the development is approved ends up being paid for by the council – and as we are regularly told, Wokingham Borough Council is the most poorly funded council in the country.

As with any other negotiation the positions can ebb and flow. Back in 2013 Wokingham Borough Council were in a pretty strong position. With the other three SDL’s moving forward, their land availability was looking good, so they could afford to ensure the contentious development at Arborfield was got right. The pressure was on Defence Estates who really needed to realise the value tied up in the land at Arborfield as quickly as possible to fund the significant new facilities being built in Wiltshire. As a result we had the initial application withdrawn and the developer commit to coming back with a better application. However things changed following the high profile announcement about the Arborfield school in spring 2014, or more specifically when it was decided within Wokingham Borough Council to pressure the developer into providing the land for the school in time for a September 2016 opening.

The school had always been part of the development at Arborfield, but the developer had always been clear that although it would be delivered towards the beginning of the phasing plan, realistically it would be 2018 or 2019 before the site would be ready. No wonder Scott Black and the team at Crest Nicholson were so confident come their presentation, as our freedom of information requests have established they’d told councillors and officers three times just in the August feasibility report for the school alone that in order to deliver the school to the schedule demanded by the council, their whole application would have to be approved this spring. From being in a relatively weak negotiating position the council had handed them a major bargaining chip in the negotiations, and it is quite clear from what was approved on Wednesday that they have used it to maximise the amount of money they will make off the development.

The passing off of responsibility for California Crossroads has been mentioned already, but similarly the thorny issue of the A327 through Eversley which at one point looked like it would derail the whole development has been disposed of with a similar allocation of a pot of money for unspecified improvements to the road. If you look at the affordable housing numbers, whilst the headline figure is still 35%, when you look in more detail only 20% of the affordable housing will be on the development, the remaining 15% is being “provided” in the form of a payment to Wokingham Borough Council. They’ve also managed to get the council to roll back the long argued over proposals for area B – they are one of several areas of the development where Crest Nicholson is being allowed to build outside the developable areas agreed by the council in the supplementary planning document. It is worth noting that even the original high density proposals from Entec didn’t propose building on the green space by the tennis courts and the Garrison Church car park, but the agreed plans do.

Local flooding experts expressed concern about the flood plan for the development at the planning meeting, but the plans were adopted none the less. To some extent the flooding issues from this development are a wider problem – the land here currently holds back a lot of water, if the water management proposals for the site are inadequate it will be the areas of the borough that already flood that will feel the effects as a greater volume of water will head downstream. After the floods last year Wokingham Borough Council have secured funding for flood alleviation works – hopefully they will cope with the increased water coming down from Arborfield once the development is built out.

Fundamentally there is nothing either we as residents or the council can do now, the council handed the developer an absolute gift when they decided to push for the school to be delivered early on Defence Estates land, and as experienced large scale housing developers Crest Nicholson took full opportunity to improve the profitability of their development, disposing of the whole thorny Nine Mile Ride/California Crossroads issue, and several other problem roads back to the council. We can at least be grateful that a number of elements of the development were already established and agreed before that happened, and we just hope that the amounts agreed as contributions for California Crossroads, Eversley Street and the rest are enough that the local councillors who have taken control and our poorly funded council can provide the solutions that residents in those areas deserve to mitigate the significant effects the now approved plans for Arborfield Garrison will bring. Hopefully whoever at the council decided to push for the school site earlier realises what they gave away by doing so, as the plans could have been a lot better for the current and future residents had the council not so significantly weakened their position last summer. As these houses get built and inevitably the discussions about where the housing in the borough will get built after 2026 starts to get discussed we hope lessons will be learned – remember under national policy Wokingham has to be building 600-700 houses a year up to now, and is required to do so up to 2026, and is likely to be expected to carry on doing so after 2026 so after this development is finished where are the new houses going to go?

Having said that, we as a community now need to start looking forward, for better or worse the application is agreed and there are 2,000 new houses coming starting later this year, bringing many new people to our borough and our villages. The details of what will be built will be will come through in a series of subsequent planning applications, and as before we as local residents have a vital role to play shaping those applications to try and create the best community we can both for ourselves and the future residents of the area.

Will They Approve? Do You Approve?

This week we reach a critical point in the Arborfield Strategic Development Location when the Crest Nicholson led Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium planning application along with the application for the school comes before the Wokingham Borough Council planning committee. If you have submitted comments to either application you should have received formal notification of the meeting, taking place at 7pm on Wednesday 25th March at the Council offices in Wokingham.

You will see from the notification that the recommendation from the officers for both applications is that they be approved.

This is an interesting recommendation when you look back over the comments, and the council promises. Right from the start one of the biggest concerns about the new development would be, that like so many other developments across the borough over the years, it would cause major traffic problems. You only need to try and drive anywhere in the borough at peak hours to realise that there are a number of long standing traffic issues especially around the large estate developments. The council has long established form in approving housing developments with ludicrously unrealistic under estimates of traffic generated, and wildly optimistic suggestions of how many residents will use public transport or get on a bike. Whenever those points are raised about this development, whether that be the A327 through Eversley, Barkham Bridge, Nine Mile Ride, California Crossroads or numerous other problem areas the assurances come back from our elected representatives that no, they have learnt from previous developments and they will ensure that the development will not be approved until everything is sorted out. They have said much the same thing in answer to questions at executive meetings, and even made the commitment on TV, as Cllr Angus Ross makes on the end of the South Today report from a few years ago.

Given these assurances over and over and over again, you’d expect that the developer has provided comprehensive plans for all the critical junctions? The simple fact is that they haven’t. They’ve done some, but on critical junctions such as California Crossroads there is no plan at all, the developer is providing a pile of money and a working group consisting of the same local councillors who have been promising for years that the traffic problems will be sorted before planning permission is granted has been set up, but they haven’t produced any plans. Similarly the developer has provided a pot of cash for improvements on the A327 through Eversley, without actually giving any indication what they might be. This is coupled once again with a wildly optimistic suggestion that residents will get on buses – without any detail of where these buses might run – or ride a bike or walk to the “nearby” railway services.

At every stage residents have been assured that the traffic and transport plans would be sorted before planning approval is granted. Here we are the week of the planning meeting, with the plans recommended for approval, despite leaving critical junctions unplanned, and sustainable transport plans based on fantasy and wishful thinking.

So what can you do about it? Most importantly, if you are available on Wednesday night you are entitled to attend the meeting. As affected local residents you are also entitled to speak at the meeting. If you feel your points about traffic have been ignored by the recommendation to adopt the plans you can tell the planning committee so – please let us know if you would like to speak and we will pass on details. Cllr Simon Weeks and Cllr John Kaiser who represent Finchampstead and Barkham respectively sit on the committee, so if you are in Finchampstead or Barkham contact them and let them know what you think of adopting the plans for housing development without the promised traffic mitigation being in place. It is also worth noting that in a few weeks time some of us will have another chance to express our opinion via the ballot box, as alongside the general election, residents in Barkham get to elect a new local councillor. However across all the parishes with a critical General Election local parties will be out knocking on doors too.

Although there will be another chance when the Marino application comes before the planning committee, this meeting on Wednesday is when a large part of the future of Arborfield, Barkham, Finchampstead and the surrounding area will get decided, and residents of Wokingham will be living with the results of that decision for many years to come.

We have issued a press release to all local news organisations highlighting the broken promises.

Arborfield School Meeting

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:

Consultation Period Closed

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.

Questions

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.

Flooding

  • Both applications are not joined up so water flow from one part of the development could affect the other.
  • SUDs: how are these to be managed? Are they to be managed and maintained by WBC? This is not included in the planning applications.
  • Both sites are built on London Clay and so water does not drain away easily and could result in surface water.

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.

Transport

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

  • Proposed junction with Biggs Lane and Langley Common Road. Does this make sense?
  • Should the roundabout at Langley Common Road onto A327 be kept?
  • Should Barkham Bridge be widened? (No plan to widen it in the planning application)
  • How will the Bull at Barkham/ Barkham Ride roundabout cope with the increased traffic?
  • How will Barkham Road/ Bearwood Road cope with the increased traffic?
  • Should Commonfield Lane be closed to traffic?
  • When will the Arborfield Relief Road be built?
  • How are children from outside the SDL to reach the secondary school?

Hogwood Farm Planning Application

  • California Crossroads: Are you happy with the proposals to make it easier and safer for pedestrians and cyclists to the junction as opposed to just cars?
  • What should happen to Park Lane and White Horse Lane?
  • Is a cycle lane at the back of California Country Park a viable option for children to get to the secondary school?
  • What extra traffic will be generated from the secondary school?
  • Should there be a cycle lane down Nine Mile Ride?
  • Why are there no bridleways in the application? How can cyclists travel from outside the SDL into it?
  • Should the junction between Nine Mile Ride/Park Lane/ Nine Mile Ride Extension be a straight road from Nine Mile Ride into the development?

Secondary School (AG Application)

  • Is it in the right place, next to the District Centre?
  • What will happen if the AGLC planning application is not approved in March 2015? Can the secondary school still be ready to open in September 2016?
  • What mode of transport will pupils use to get to school?

Design

  • Both applications claim their designs are based on the Garden City principles. They list these principles but don’t explain how they can be achieved.
  • There is no overarching theme for the two applications such as road design, parking etc to ensure the two developments marry together as one village.
  • Hogwood Farm: Is the district centre too large as WBC saw it as being a small neighbour centre and not competing with the main district centre?
  • Hogwood Farm: Should houses be built right up to the boundary of Park Lane? Will there be a distinction between Finchampstead and the new development?

Spot the Difference

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.

Screenshot 2014-11-27 10.59.36This 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.

Screenshot 2014-11-27 10.59.49This 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…

Remember Remember the Fifth of December

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:

  • Whilst it may make you feel better to object to the principle of building houses here it is a waste of time, that decision has already been made when Wokingham Borough Council designated this area as a Strategic Development Location a number of years ago. The principle of building houses in the South East was pushed by both the previous Labour government, and the current Conservative led coalition, and Wokingham is required to find space for a certain number of houses each year. All that will happen if you object to building houses is that your comments will be noted and ignored.
  • Keep it brief – the council is expecting a lot of responses to these applications, brief bullet points might be better than an essay.
  • Write a unique letter, multiple copies of the same letter, or a single letter or petition signed by multiple people counts as one response.

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.

Given the Nod

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.

Screenshot 2014-11-02 20.53.44If 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?

Screenshot 2014-11-02 21.45.07But 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.

What is Most Important?

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.

Hypocrisy?

You may remember just over a year ago, Crest Nicholson the developers appointed by the Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium to bring forward the northern part of the strategic development location appointed a consultancy called Curtin & Co to handle the consultation with local residents and interested parties. We were less than impressed as the reputation of Curtin & Co precedes them, and they are specialists in getting contentious developments through often over the objections of local residents, who like in Arborfield and Finchampstead consider the scale of what is proposed to be inappropriate, with poor mitigation for the obvious traffic problems that will be generated, and as we have discovered, existing community amenities being lost. The head of the consultancy Tom Curtin and one of his colleagues had even penned an essay discussing localism and rural “NIMBY’s”. You can read our thoughts at the time here.

Screenshot 2014-10-14 08.59.07Moving forward, over in Caversham, much like here in Wokingham there is a crisis over school places, and there is a long running battle over the location of a desperately needed new school, a school which for the moment has had to open over two miles away from it’s intended catchment area. The education authorities have considered other sites but eventually settled on a 1 acre residential site, that has been thrown up in the air again, but with big names like Sir John Madjeski defending other potential sites.

The campaign against the free school location is spearheaded by an organisation called Caversham Residents Against Inappropriate Development, whose aims are pretty similar to ours – basically residents are frustrated at the apparent lack of consultation, the selection of what they regard as an inappropriate site, and a clear failure to consider traffic impacts and numerous other issues related to the proposed site. However things get a bit more interesting when you take a look at the list of people behind the group. Second on the list is Tom Curtin who “runs a public relations consultancy in London”…

Screenshot 2014-10-14 09.37.16Watching Meridian News last night there was a report with campaigners outside the proposed school site, and about 38 seconds in a local resident is interviewed. Take a look and then look at the staff at Curtin & Co the specialists in getting contentious developments through, in particular Tom Curtin himself…

At the very least it’s quite ironic, that the man in charge of an organisation that is hired by housing developers across the country to push through contentious and inappropriate developments, and has clearly expressed his views on “NIMBY’s” in the past is now doing much the same thing he has criticised residents elsewhere for in the past.

On his profile on his own website he says he is most proud of this:

Consistently delivering some great successes for our clients often on very difficult and contentious projects.

The current problems have been building over years and years of inappropriate development, the kind of developments that his organisation helps push through. Caversham is just another area that has had loads of housing developments over the years but without a similar investment in required infrastructure. So is it ironic that he’s now fighting what he sees as inappropriate development in his own community – or is it just blatant hypocrisy?