Category Archives: News

Contamination

In our last update we mentioned that there had been no official word as to whether the school was running late, and if it was running late why this was. Today after sending a number of emails to the council over recent weeks, asking questions at meetings and raising a freedom of information request we have finally received an official response from the council confirming the rumours in an e-mail from Mary Severin the borough solicitor:

The delay has been caused by the discovery that the level of contamination on the school site was more extensive than that declared by the MOD. It has, therefore, taken longer than anticipated for Crest Nicholsen to complete the de-contamination works ready for handover to us. We now expect to gain control of the site on Monday 7th September. Fortunately there was some contingency time built into the build plan and we can also apply to another part of WBC to increase the hours of work. The weather over the winter will also either allow us to progress at a good speed or slow us down, we shall have to wait and see re this. The project plan includes an action at the end of January 2016 for a decision to be made on the contingency site. This site was heartily approved of by all the potential Education Providers, including Bohunt the successful provider, also by the members of Parent Reference Group.

She subsequently sent a second e-mail later in the day correcting the date to today as the site had been handed over ahead of the date expected when the statement was written.

With regards to the school the statement highlights that we need to hope for good weather over the winter to allow the project to catch up, and also confirms that a decision on the contingency site will be made in January so parents should know before they have to accept a place whether the school will open in the new building or the contingency.

What is more of a concern is the reason for the delay – site contamination that was more extensive than that declared by the MoD in the planning documents. This is a concern we had raised previously based on experience from other residents groups based around other former MoD sites where unexpected contamination had often cropped up as the sites were developed. Whenever we did we were assured by the council and developers that plans were sound, the contamination survey was reliable and that we shouldn’t be concerned.

We have obviously put in further freedom of information requests as to what the additional contamination that has been discovered consisted of, especially given that the school will open before all the rest of the Garrison will have been cleared, and more pressingly because all the contaminated material is currently being moved off site close to houses and the pre-school on the Garrison, and through the middle of Arborfield Village. The planning committee and officials approved the development on the basis of a flawed assessment of the contamination level on the site, given that they are not saying what has now been discovered on just a small part of the Garrison it is important that those plans and surveys are reassessed to assure residents and parents who will be sending their children to the school next year that the environment around the school and the environment for residents is safe.

End of Summer Update

As the summer draws to a close and the schools return from the long holiday, attention is turning towards this time next year when after decades of waiting there will be a secondary school opening for children who live in the south of the Wokingham borough, and to which many of our current year six students will be directed.

Although it was expected, there has still been general disappointment expressed by many at the choice of name for the school, with the Bohunt Educational Trust choosing to follow the model they used for their new school in Worthing, calling their new school here the Bohunt School – either Bohunt Arborfield or Bohunt Wokingham depending on which leaflet you’ve seen. Many had hoped that the name of the school might be used to retain a link with the past, maybe picking up on the long standing army connection with the site, and certainly if the council or local parents had picked the name we would have got something relevant. However disappointingly the Bohunt Educational Trust is choosing to heavily promote their brand taking the logo and name, that whilst they might have significance for residents around their original school in Liphook, built on land from Bohunt Manor, mean little to the people to the south of Wokingham. Of course the other thing to remember about a strongly branded school like this is that should the Education Provider change at some point in the future, as they can do, exactly as if a petrol station or supermarket changes hands, so will the name and branding.

Naming aside, the original Bohunt School in Liphook has once again got very impressive exam results this year, and the trust continues to be regarded as one of the strongest amongst the new education providers, even despite the rather bumpy ride their appearance on TV over the summer has received in the press. The Bohunt Educational Trust are hosting two open evenings on Tuesday 6th October and Wednesday 7th October between 6:30pm and 8:30pm at Henry Street Garden Centre, with two identical talks on each night at 6:45pm and 7:30pm. Obviously as the school itself hasn’t been built, this will be hosted by staff and students from the original Bohunt School. The trust is also offering the opportunity to visit the original school in Liphook and see how it operates on their open mornings between 12th and 14th October. In addition to the original Bohunt School the trust is also launching their new build academy in Worthing this year, and took over the running of the Priory School in Southsea from the local authority as part of the established government process for academising failing schools, there are no details as to whether Wokingham parents would be welcome at the open evenings at the other two schools run by the trust.

imageWith regards to our school, concerns have been expressed to us that the developers appear to still be clearing the school site, and have not started building anything as yet when at previous meetings about the school it had been suggested that due to the tight timescales if the building wasn’t started by July it would not be finished in time. Whilst there are various rumours as to why the site clearance is taking longer than expected there is no official word for us to report. The council has previously confirmed that there are contingency plans in place should the first phase of the school building not be finished in time for an opening next September. Members of the team from Wokingham Borough Council and the Parental Reference Group will be at the open evenings and will obviously be able to answer practical questions about the buildings alongside the details on curriculum and teaching methods that the educational trust will share.

Moving on to wider issues, over the summer there have been various issues around the clearance work, initially caused by trucks being routed through the Garrison. Crest Nicholson responded to complaints and put much improved signage to direct trucks around on the A327 and up Sheerlands Road, which aside from one or two drivers seems to have worked. More recently there was an issue with a pair of trucks who turned up on site after it had closed, and being on the limit for their driving hours decided to camp up in the Garrison Church Car Park. Again we talked to Crest Nicholson and they have now agreed that arrangements should be made to provide proper facilities for drivers should the situation occur again.

As yet there is no official contact point for site issues. Whilst Phiala Mehring of the Loddon Valley Residents Association backed by Gary Cowan the Arborfield Borough Councillor proposed a residents liaison group when the SDL application was approved, as this idea had worked well on other developments in the borough, and this idea appeared to have been accepted by the Borough Council, the idea has been hijacked by the local borough and parish councillors. Unfortunately in an entirely democratic vote amongst borough and parish councillors the borough and parish councillors decided to exclude any resident who wasn’t a borough or parish councillor from the residents liaison group. Needless to say despite the importance of this group as a contact point for residents, the parish and borough councillors who democratically voted themselves into their roles haven’t actually met yet, and certainly haven’t started to consider providing a contact point for residents, despite work on site being well underway and a number of issues having already come up.

As always we’re happy to use our contacts with the developers and borough council to raise any issues or concerns, we can be contacted via our contact page, email address or alternatively through our Facebook page or Twitter account. Thanks to those residents who have been providing pictures of any lost truck drivers over the summer, please continue to do this as it was residents concerns about the camping truck drivers that highlighted the issue initially and have lead to Crest Nicholson providing better facilities for them in future. Especially as the schools go back and children will be walking to local schools, pre-schools and bus stops we need to remain vigilant to ensure the trucks keep to the safe routes to and from the site.

In wider issues it was great that the closure of the A327 completed a day earlier than expected, and given the monsoon like conditions we’ve been getting over the past couple of weeks the new flood relief could well get an early test. As before there will be off peak traffic lights in place on the A327 to allow for various other parts of the project, but since the developers are acutely aware of the traffic levels the road carries those lights are removed for the morning and evening peak.

Wokingham Borough Council have announced the next date for the regular Community Forum – Wednesday September 23rd, from 7pm to 8:45pm, as usual held at the Henry Street Garden Centre. There is not a full agenda as yet, once we get more details we will issue an update.

Post Election Update

We’ve been fairly quiet during the election period. With the decisions over the future of the Garrison already made, and all the major parties committing to significant house building and agreeing the importance of providing suitable infrastructure alongside the houses there was a lot less to discuss. Certainly whilst the results have caused much discussion in the media we’re expecting business as usual without the controversies over housing numbers not being cut, and the significant uncertainty that the cancellation of the REME move to South Wales brought that followed the election in 2010. With the fully Conservative administration we’re very much in the housing model of the previous coalition government where there are no formal regional housing targets as favoured by Labour, but councils are strongly encouraged to build through the land supply rules and being offered a bonus for building new homes. Locally all the key players retained their seats or were not up for election this year, so the election period was merely a pause!

Things get going again very swiftly on Tuesday 19th May with the next Arborfield Community Forum held as usual at Henry Street Garden Centre in Arborfield from 7pm to 8:45pm. The main part of the meeting will be a presentation from Crest Nicholson on the first reserved matters planning application, and we expect this to be very similar to the presentation on the same subject that they gave to the Arborfield Parish Meeting a few weeks ago.

As those of you who were at the meeting will be aware the first development location is slightly unexpected in that they are choosing to develop over on the north eastern side of the Garrison adjacent to the lake, so in an area that is going to require demolition of some buildings before they can commence building houses. They are proposing to build their part of the Nine Mile Ride extension from close to the school site across to the A327, but they are not proposing to develop any of the areas alongside the road or around the proposed district centre until the new road is in place. This does of course mean that with the opening date of the school a fixed date in September next year that there will need to be some careful planning of development around the Nine Mile Ride extension and the district centre as if building in those areas doesn’t commence until the Nine Mile Ride extension is complete it will almost certainly be taking place once students are attending the school. The parental reference group set up by the council are of course well aware of this and we understand that their main focus is on ensuring that the developer and the council provide safe routes for the children to the school through the building site and the surrounding development areas as a first priority.

Responses at the Arborfield Parish Meeting to the proposals was generally positive, and certainly at this stage Crest Nicholson seem keen to keep a dialogue open with local residents. Perhaps the biggest reaction came to the answer to a question about whether there would be public fishing allowed in the lake when Crest Nicholson said they had been told that the MoD were going to remove all the fish from the lake as they were MoD property! Other points that came up at the Arborfield Parish Meeting which may well come up again this week were that even with the significant numbers of houses being built in Wokingham, Reading and surrounding boroughs we still do not have enough new houses to go over the threshold for a new hospital or even any sort of extension to the Royal Berkshire Hospital. There was also some discussion of the various road schemes, and it was highlighted that because the Arborfield Bypass is being funded by money obtained by the council rather than the developer we will not have to wait for the previous threshold of houses built before the road is provided. The council intends to keep moving forward and open the road as soon as possible. Whilst this won’t remove the trucks and vehicles associated with the development from travelling through Arborfield village altogether, they certainly will stop a lot sooner than if we had to wait for the developer to achieve a fixed threshold.

In other news, we have received a couple of enquiries about a large protected tree that was cut down and hedgerow removed between the MoD owned land and the service road for the houses along Sheerlands Road. The hedgerow and tree were replaced with a significant fence that now runs for part of the length of the hedgerow leaving a gap at the end. Whilst there have been cases previously where the developers have cut down trees, and parts of that hedgerow have previously appeared on plans as for removal, the most recent plans retained that hedgerow and all the trees following feedback from residents on that part of Sheerlands Road that wanted the significant green barrier between themselves and Sheerlands Road to remain. All the trees in and around the Garrison have had Tree Protection Orders applied to them as well, something which the developer is well aware of. At the time when concerns were raised with us we made enquiries via the council and were assured by the developer that they were not responsible. Speaking with Gary Cowan our borough councillor he has confirmed that it was not the developers and that the matter had been passed to planning enforcement.  However Gary did add that there were two gates in the removed hedgerow that were removed and not replaced, and which were used by pedestrians walking up and down Sheerlands Road, if you have used these gates at any time for getting to or from Sheerlands Road, can you get in contact with Gary, or contact us and we can pass on details, as although the gates weren’t an official right of way they have been in existence long enough to be regarded as permissive routes, however the council needs comments from residents who have used the gates to confirm that they have used them.

Arborfield Garrison Landowners Application Changes

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:

  • The ongoing Area B debate has again resulted in some changes, and depending on which plan you look at area BB1 next to the tennis courts has now been changed to be an area of allotments. The other area of new housing in the area that currently includes the parking for the Garrison Church is still retained, however the plans do now include replacement parking to mitigate the loss of the parking area adjacent to the cricket pavilion, a new parking area off Whitehall Drive, and on street parking along the length of Whitehall Drive. Whilst the plan still diverges from the development limits set by Wokingham Borough Council, it now corresponds largely with the development areas proposed by JTP in 2013. There is a significant section of additional justification as to why the plans diverge from the Wokingham Borough Council developable areas in the design and access statement.
  • The internal road network has been tweaked slightly to take the main route through the development down Princess Marina Drive to the edge of the district centre rather than past the existing houses on Sheerlands Road. However it should be noted that the developers are still proposing that Sheerlands Road will be one of the main routes for construction traffic. The plans also consistently omit the access roads to any of the houses on Sheerlands Road, or around onto Tyler Drive – when we’ve raised that in the past the response has always been that it is a mistake and there are no proposed changes to these accesses, however this is not confirmed anywhere in the application.
  • People wanting a better idea of how the final development will look will want to look at the extensive Design Access Statement Addendum which defines the feature areas of the development with lots of pretty pictures and sketches. It’s still not exactly consistent for example in one place it suggests that the housing being put outside the developable boundaries on the open space at the corner of Baird Road and Sheerlands Road should be “sensitively nestled within the parkland fabric”, whilst two pages on suggests the housing should have a “strong frontage” defining the new edge of the parkland with the encroachment of the housing.
  • Some of the more controversial proposals for the roads, for example around the junction of Biggs Lane and Langley Common Road, and the Barkham Ride/Commonfield Lane junction have been changed. There is a significant discussion of why Commonfield Lane is going to remain much as it is. Instead there is a proposal to widen Barkham Bridge. Whilst the Langley Common Road proposals are better they’re still proposing to fill in the underpass without providing an alternative method for pedestrians from Arborfield Cross to cross.
  • For residents in White Horse Lane there is finally acknowledgement that the SDL will increase traffic flows along the lane, however along with California Crossroads the response is essentially to give the local community a lump of money and ask us to solve it through a working party that is being set up by the council. Considering that the developer is supposed to be able to show that their development is nil detriment, essentially handing one of the most complex problems to solve to local people seems to be primarily an effort to absolve themselves of any responsibility for actually fixing the significant effect their development will have at the crossroads.
  • The revised transport documents also include responses to the comments from Arborfield, Barkham, Swallowfield, Finchampstead and Eversley parish councils, plus a significant set of comments from Hampshire County Council. We suspect those councils are going to be less than pleased with the responses as in most cases the response is to justify the original proposals. As before the developers have no coherent public transport proposals aside from their ongoing negotiations with Reading Buses over the number 3, and seem to be hoping lots of the new residents are going to hop on a bike rather than doing what everybody with an ounce of common sense knows they will do and get in the car.

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.

News Release on the School Planning Caveat

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:

Both Planning Applications are In

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.

Latest News – Promises, Planning Applications and School Name

It has been a little while since we have issued a news update, so we have a few important items to update everybody about.

Firstly, anybody who made specific comments about the building on the existing green space around the junction of Sheerlands Road and Baird Road, and the buffer between the existing houses on Badgers Mount and the new houses that will be built in the field adjacent, both of which were parts of the Wokingham Borough Council Supplementary Planning Document for the strategic development location should have received a letter from Crest Nicholson detailing proposed changes to their plans in light of the feedback. Alongside the comments from residents both Gary Cowan as our local councillor and the Parish Council made similar representation.

Their proposal is to remove areas BB1 and CC from the plans which are the parcels adjacent to Whitehall Drive. This of course means that half of the area will still be built on. The justification for this is that they need to build on this land in order to achieve the density requirement laid down by the council across the rest of the development, and also achieve the target of 2000 houses for the consortium part of the SDL again laid down by the council. If the council were willing to relax the density requirements slightly then perhaps parcels BB2 and K could also be preserved, but sadly it seems that the council is much more concerned to ensure the developers achieve the density requirements than preserve the amenity land used by the existing residents.

One other point that has come up, and was raised again by the Parish Council with the developers is that the land they are proposing to build on was thought to have been protected from development as it was designated as public open space to balance the previous developments on MoD land, most notably Penrose Park, however the developers are pleading ignorance of this commitment and have insisted that the land was passed to them with no restrictions on it at all. This highlights an important point, that we need to ensure that the commitment made by Crest Nicholson over BB1 and CC is properly recorded so that we’re not fighting another attempt to build on the land after 2026. Firstly the letter from Crest Nicholson has no legal basis, so it is important that the commitment is reflected in their planning application. Secondly the letter makes no commitment over the long term protection of those areas, so it is important that Crest Nicholson show a real commitment to preserving the green space for current and future residents by officially designating and registering the land as a village green which will give it legal protection from future development. This is especially important considering that they are not honouring the commitments made by the MoD over that land in the past.

The council has also shared with us the tree survey prepared by Crest Nicholson for their part of the SDL. If you remember residents have been repeatedly assured by the council that all the trees on the site had been protected, sadly it seems that they are not quite as protected as residents may have assumed. The tree survey is a complex document, but the headline is that Crest Nicholson is proposing to remove or replace almost half of the existing trees. In some places trees are going to be removed to make way for houses – the trees currently in development parcel K for example. After raising a query with the council over some of the proposed removals the council officers confirmed that they did not put tree protection orders on any trees that they thought it would be likely that a developer could challenge and win. Having shown the report to a specialist who writes similar reports he has highlighted a number of errors and mistakes in the tree report, but also added that the report is quite clearly designed to make things easier for Crest Nicholson to remove the trees they want to.

As yet, the council is not totally sure when the Crest Nicholson planning application will be submitted, however you will now find that the planning application for the Marino part of the SDL has been submitted and is available online under application number O/2014/2179. Residents should be getting an official letter from the council highlighting that the application has been submitted. As yet the documents relating to the application are not available online, but as with previous planning applications there is a lot of paperwork for the staff at the council to scan in and make available. The closing date for comments on the Marino application is currently set as 20th November 2014.

Finally, progress is being made by the council parental reference group over the new school, and members of the reference group are asking for ideas about the name – if you have any suggestions over a name, please let us know and we can pass them on to the parents on the group.

AGLC Consultation Exhibition and School Location Announcement

After a relatively quiet couple of weeks, over the past couple of days there have been two key announcements relating to the development.

Firstly, the Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium, headed up by Crest Nicholson, have announced the three dates for the exhibition of their revised proposals. These are as follows:

  • Friday 29 August from 4pm to 9pm at the Finchampstead Baptist Church Centre, Gorse Ride, Finchampstead
  • Thursday 4 September from noon to 6pm at the Garrison Community Centre, Sheerlands Road, Arborfield
  • Friday 5 September from 4pm to 8pm at the Arborfield Village Hall, Eversley Road, Arborfield

The first of these dates in Finchampstead is at the end of the last full week of the school holidays, whilst the other two dates in Arborfield are after the local schools have gone back. The consortium seems to have now abandoned their previous Arborfield Vision site and are instead setting up a new web site that will carry details of the proposals at www.arborfieldgarrison.co.uk which is due to go live on the day of the first exhibition.

We would urge everybody to try and attend the exhibition, and to ensure you give your feedback to the developers representatives who will be attending.

The other announcement, which came today from Wokingham Borough Council announcing that the potential site for the new school had been identified. To be fair the potential site they have identified is actually the same site that was proposed in some of the earliest layouts for the development, indeed you can go back to this posting from 2010 for an example, and which was actually revealed by the Marino Family Trust on the front cover of their Hogwood Garden Village brochure a few weeks back. The site still has all the same problems it did two years ago, when the previous group of AGLC consultants successfully argued to have it relocated to the edge of the development, the primary reason that it has moved back is that Wokingham Borough are now pushing for the school in 2016 and the site identified on the edge of the development just won’t be available in time.

The fundamental problems with the site remain, the biggest of which being that, as can be seen from the plan in the Marino document it will only be accessible via the new village centre. With the Reading Football Club training ground at Hogwood Park directly behind, and a large area of SANG and the existing industrial estate adjacent, the route for students from Finchampstead will be along the new Nine Mile Ride extension into the village centre. Students from Barkham will again be coming into the development right to the centre to get to the school. It would make significantly more sense from an accessibility point of view to turn the school around and access it from the Park Lane side, but unfortunately whilst Hogwood Park is there and occupied, this isn’t possible.

No Time for Holidays

Whilst the schools may have broken up for the holidays, events around the development continue to move on.

Thanks to everybody for the steady stream of copies of feedback to the Marino Family Trust over their woeful exhibition. It is clear that rather than assuage any concerns about the development the lack of detail in the exhibition had much the opposite effect. There has been a good deal of press coverage with an article in both the Wokingham Times, and also an article published in the local papers over in Hampshire highlighting how Eversley residents were ignored in the limited promotion for the exhibition. It is interesting to note the disagreement between MFT and Wokingham over whether Eversley should have been included with MFT saying Wokingham asked them not to send details to addresses in Eversley, whereas Wokingham are saying that they were only asked for addresses in specific parishes.

The article that appeared in this weeks Wokingham Times, which has yet to appear online also asked Curtin and Co, the representatives of the Crest Nicholson led consortium developing the northern part of the SDL about their upcoming consultation. Disappointingly they told the paper that they are planning to mount their consultation during August at the height of the summer holidays when many people will be away, a decision that runs contrary to their supposed desire to consult as widely as possible. There are also comments from Arborfield councillor Gary Cowan highlighting concerns that the applications from the two groups must be considered together.

Much like Curtin and Co and Crest Nicholson, Wokingham Borough Council is also continuing to make key decisions during the holiday period. The agenda for the Executive Meeting this Thursday, 31st July contains a number of important issues. Firstly the new secondary school for the south comes up under item 31. The report amongst the agenda papers highlights the ambitious schedule the council has set themselves, and in the section on capital funding highlights this as a key challenge due to the school being brought forward well in advance of when the funding from developers will be available. Whilst there is now an enthusiastic parent reference group organised by the council in operation, it is fair to say that confidence amongst parents whose children fall into the critical period for secondary transfers is not high. We are aware of families moving out of the area purely because they do not believe the council will deliver, with other families that can afford to looking seriously at private education for their children because they know that their children will have no choice over which school they will go to. As a contingency we would urge Wokingham Borough Council to consider putting a fairer tie breaker in place for their four schools, perhaps based on the segmented Oakbank tie breaker, that would give parents in the southern parishes more confidence that they will have some choice over places should the council not manage to deliver a school as promised.

Also on the agenda for Thursday is designation of a combined neighbourhood plan area for Arborfield and Newland, and Barkham parish council areas. Ensuring we have a Neighbourhood Plan in place is very important as under the recent Localism Bill it provides additional funding to our local parishes from central government.

Whilst not directly related to our SDL, another interesting item is item 44, where it seems that Wokingham Borough Council is getting into the Pick Your Own Fruit and Veg business by buying Gray’s Farm over in Heathlands Road. Under the plan the farm, which was on the market anyway, will remain open until the end of the 2017 season, but then will close and become part of the South Wokingham SDL which abuts the farm to both the north and east. Following closure in 2017 it will be converted into the sports hub for the South Wokingham SDL. Whilst it is certainly sad to see a popular local business go, it is perhaps not surprising as the farm would not be nearly so attractive with thousands of houses surrounding it in a few years time, and with the council buying it that at least ensures that it will remain as open space rather than being picked up by a developer.

Press Release and BBC Berkshire Interview

After the short notice invitation to the Marino Family Trust exhibition of their development plans, we issued the following press release, and participated in a discussion on BBC Berkshire.

The second exhibition date and location is tomorrow from 2pm to 5:30pm at Henry Street Garden Centre in Arborfield. As Roger Bullworthy says in the interview below the Finchampstead afternoon was consistently busy, and they are there and happy to answer any questions you may have.

Arborfield and Finchampstead residents have slated developers over, what appears to be, a cynical ploy to discourage people from viewing plans for a 1,500 home mini-town proposed on local farm-land.

Arborfield Garrison Resident’s Action Group (AG RAG) says the number of people who have contacted them complaining that they have been given less than 24 hours’ notice to view plans put forward by the Finchampstead based Marino Family Trust for the mini-town, which includes a neighbourhood centre and school, is unprecedented.

A spokeswoman for AG RAG, Gill Purchase, explains.

‘Residents received a brochure with basic information about the proposals for the ‘Hogwood Garden Village’ on Wednesday. It invited residents to view and comment on the plans the following afternoon, with a further exhibition planned for just three and a half hours on Saturday at a further location in the area. It is the first time the plans have been made public and most people were not aware of the exhibition until AG RAG posted details on social media sites.

Ms Purchase says. ‘This highlights the fact there is no intention for any meaningful dialogue between these developers and the public. The MOD and Crest Nicholson showed similar complacency when they organised public meetings just prior to Christmas in 2010, so we are hoping that the next round of consultation they carry out will be arranged to ensure the maximum number of people can attend and voice their views’.

She adds. ‘The whole rushed process is just a cynical move to ensure they (developers) can tick the box for having conducted public consultation when they put the planning application in five days’ time. Any reputable organisation that is serious about getting the opinions of local residents would give adequate notice – weeks not hours – and would not plan to arrange the consultation period when significant numbers of people who would be interested and would like to comment are likely to be on holiday’.

The proposals for the 1,500 mini town are in addition to the 2,000 homes proposal being put forward by the MOD for the Arborfield Garrison.