Category Archives: Comment

Recap of the Arborfield Medical Centre Saga

The Arborfield Medical Centre has become a topic of conversation again, so for those new to the area, a recap of the whole story is probably worthwhile.

The whole Arborfield Medical Centre saga goes right back to the planning stages for the currently building strategic development locations. As with what is now Bohunt Secondary School for school places, in the initial stages it was worked out that with the building of over 13,000 houses in the borough it was thought probable that a new medical practice would be needed, and that as the largest of the SDLs it made sense for that to be put at Arborfield, and the then Berkshire West Primary Care Trust in principle agreed.

Roll on to 2013 and as the results of the Conservative governments controversial NHS reorganisation were pushed through, Berkshire West Primary Care Trust was abolished and Arborfield came under the newly formed Wokingham Clinical Commissioning Group who had rather different ideas. Essentially our Clinical Commissioning Group, like others across the country was being pushed to introduce efficiency savings, and one effective way to do that is to move towards a smaller number of larger medical centres. As a result they calculated that by expanding the Wokingham and Woosehill GP practices they could meet the increased demand of the two Wokingham Strategic Development Locations, and meet Arborfield and South of M4 by expanding Shinfield, Swallowfield and Finchampstead GP practices. Anyone who is with Finchampstead Surgery will be well aware of the significant work that has gone on at the surgery over the past couple of years to expand the facilities, and the merger with and closure of the much smaller Cedar House GP surgery that used to be on Nine Mile Ride.

Needless to say this went down like the proverbial lead balloon with residents in Arborfield. We were told at a Community Forum, when the representative of the CCG gave us the news and swiftly left without answering questions. Their position was reiterated at the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee last year which confirmed that the CCG had calculated that there was capacity for an additional 22,900 patients between Shinfield, Swallowfield and Finchampstead, and again at the meeting of the Wokingham CCG Governing Board where it was stated that a new facility at Arborfield Garrison would not be viable. The minutes of both meetings are available using those links.

That’s not to say that the developers are ignoring health requirements, indeed if you look at the exhibition boards for the district centre consultation that took place a little while ago, the community zone does explicitly include health facilities. The question of course is what will be there – health facilities could describe a variety of options.

The local Clinical Commissioning Group is independent of the borough council, indeed following a four way merger our group now extends way beyond the boundaries of Wokingham. Wokingham Borough can require developers to provide space for health care, but ultimately they can’t force the CCG to provide anything there.

So what might happen? In much the same way as we already have an Arborfield Surgery as a satellite from the Swallowfield practice, there is nothing to stop either Swallowfield or Finchampstead providing a similar facility in the community facilities in the new district centre. This may well be what our candidates are suggesting.

The basic facts however are this, whatever the local politicians are saying, whoever they meet with, or write to, all they can do is put pressure on the CCG to think again, they can’t force them to create a new practice here, all they can do is provide space in the plan, and this is what has already happened. The CCG however have been clear and consistent that they see the future of healthcare in our area being based on larger practices able to offer a more comprehensive range of services, and that a new practice here is not viable.

Short of somebody finding a magic money tree, or a significant number of extra houses being built locally to push the local practices over the threshold, it seems unlikely the CCG is going to change their decision.

Election Protocol

We’re aware not everybody is on Twitter, so following a discussion with David Edmonds the Conservative candidate for the upcoming Arborfield election we thought we would reiterate our election protocol.

As you may be aware David has been trying to line up private chats with all the influential people in the village, and that includes us. When we pointed out earlier today that his public tweet suggesting that he had been influencing members of the council and was confident they would reject the applications either side of School Road could be a material consideration were the developer to appeal a rejection a discussion ensued in which he once again several times asked for a private meeting to discuss Arborfield and “the strategy for Arborfield moving forwards”.

Just to be clear, we will not be sitting down for private chats with any of the candidates in the run up to an election. If there is a strategy for Arborfield moving forwards share it publicly, so everybody in Arborfield can discuss it openly.

A campaign conducted in private chats and deleting comments you don’t like does not benefit anybody who is interested in a free and open discussion of the issues facing Arborfield.

Who has Your Vote?

It’s that time of year again, borough election day is Thursday 3rd May.

As usual only a third of Wokingham Borough Council is being re-elected on a four year term so in particular for one seat wards like Arborfield, this is an important vote for how you want to be represented until 2022. Key issues that will be addressed over that period are that by 2022 a lot more of the Arborfield Garrison SDL will be built out, but more importantly the council will have to determine where the tens of thousands of more houses the borough is planning to build after the current strategic development locations are completed will go – Grazeley, Barkham Square, Hall Farm?

This election in Arborfield is also a bit different.

For the last few elections, although we’ve had the odd candidate from UKIP or Labour, the election in Arborfield has always been a straight fight between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Steve Bacon, a long time Arborfield resident had been our Liberal Democrat councillor, but in 1997 narrowly lost to Gary Cowan, another Arborfield resident standing for the Conservatives in part over a Liberal Democrat plan to create a strategic development location at Grazeley. The Conservatives were elected across the borough on a promise to minimise house building, and most significantly they canned the Grazeley plan, John Redwood our MP even planted a tree in Grazeley promising the area would be preserved.

Roll forward to November 2016, and Gary was the first of a number of long standing councillors to quit the Conservatives, after revealing that the Conservative group had in secret been planning a significant new development of 15,000 houses at Grazeley – almost ten times the numbers proposed by the Liberal Democrats twenty years earlier. As highlighted in the press coverage at the time, after disagreeing over Grazeley, Gary was initially just deselected as Conservative candidate for Arborfield, and would have been allowed to serve the remainder of his term as a Conservative councillor on the understanding he wouldn’t run this time, he instead chose to resign, and has been an independent ever since.

It’s fair to say that Gary has always been pretty independent even before he resigned, most notably was a heated council meeting which many local residents attended and will remember when the Arborfield Garrison SDL was finally adopted. At that point Gary was a member of the Executive, and the meeting was actually stopped for a period when Gary said that he couldn’t vote for the plan because the concerns of Arborfield residents had not been properly taken on board. After stopping the meeting the entire executive disappeared into a side room, and came back with Gary looking ashen faced. When the meeting was restarted Gary still didn’t vote in favour, and lost his executive role and was sent to the back benches shortly afterwards. He also backed local residents over the routing of the Arborfield Relief Road when Wokingham Borough wanted a cheaper route that ran directly behind Chamberlain Gardens and sliced through Lockey Farm, and continues to fight for the medical centre on Arborfield Green that was dropped by the local clinical commissioning group.

This highlights one of the difficulties of being a local councillor backed by a political party, you serve two masters. On the one hand you are answerable to your electorate, to the people of your ward, on the other you are answerable to your party. The difficulty comes when your political party is asking you to do something that is not in the best interests of your residents.

Currently one of the main ways that Wokingham Borough Council is financing new infrastructure like roads and schools is by building houses, each new house built brings in extra money. Agreeing to take a development like Grazeley brings in even more money, as by taking those houses the council gets extra money from the government. Whilst most local residents understand that there needs to be some building, equally most of the existing residents moved to places like Arborfield because they are villages, and want proportionate development that retains the character of the communities. With Arborfield we currently have the largest strategic development location in the borough, and it’s no secret that the new infrastructure being built here can easily accommodate many more houses close by.

If you take a look at the map of areas under consideration for new housing in our part of the borough, Grazeley is obvious, but less talked about is the significant areas of land around Arborfield. At the most recent Community Forum Crest were already including Barkham Square as an area they’d secured for development, and the council is already in early planning consultation for what infrastructure will be needed. Barkham Square was highlighted in the press last autumn, and again here. There are also significant areas, some of which are already getting planning applications put forward around the south side of Arborfield Cross either side of School Road and around to the A327 and beyond that would fill the gap between Arborfield Cross and Arborfield Green. However the biggest area by far is around Arborfield itself which is Hall Farm, the land owned by the University. This site extends as far as Sindlesham and the M4 in the north and the A327 in the south. It’s certainly not on the table in the same way as Barkham Square is, but the University has made significant money over the last few years selling land around Shinfield for housing for the South of M4 SDL, and Hall Farm would represent a significant amount of additional money should it be developed.

So that brings us to the election. This time we have three candidates, Gary Cowan is standing as an independent, the Conservatives have nominated David Edmonds, and Chris Everett is standing for the Labour Party. There is no Liberal Democrat candidate this time, with the leader of Wokingham Liberal Democrats backing Gary instead. Of the three Gary is the only one who actually lives in Arborfield. David Edmonds is a long time resident of Riseley, and Chris Everett lives in Wokingham.

A Labour party candidate in Arborfield is comparatively rare. Chris Everett has been an active campaigner for Labour across the borough and has run for the council before, for example he ran as the Labour party candidate in the Emmbrook by-election last year getting 79 votes. As yet we really haven’t heard anything from Chris around here and it certainly seems likely he is a paper candidate.

Moving on to David Edmonds, if you’re on local social media you’ll certainly have noticed him, and he has been active leafleting around the ward, sharing how great it is in Arborfield, and what great facilities we have thanks to the Conservatives – so great he lives in Riseley…

It’s safe to say that the Conservatives desperately want to win Arborfield back. Given what happened with Gary, they’re obviously wanting a party loyalist – David is treasurer of Wokingham Conservatives. He also runs his own accountancy firm, which is coincidentally based in Grazeley, skills that he highlighted in early campaign material would be beneficial in helping the council use their limited resources wisely. Unlike the Labour candidate he has been trying to be seen to engage with local concerns. So he is apparently against the gravel extraction on Farley Farms – although he didn’t object at the time. He’s also against the new housing developments on School Road, although it wasn’t until it was pointed out that he hadn’t objected to those either, that on the last day of objections he actually put in two objections to the developments, and his wife duly highlighted the fact on social media. He is also apparently fighting for a new medical centre in Arborfield, although once again he only has taken an interest in the run up to the election.

These of course are clearly not much more than the usual publicity stunts for the period of higher scrutiny in the run up to the election. Before either David or Chris were selected you won’t have seen them involved in village life, or attending the Arborfield Community Forums. You won’t have seen them on the local social media, nor seen letters from them in the local paper, or writing in the Arborfield News. Indeed even after having been selected neither of them bothered to show up to the annual Arborfield Parish Meeting a few weeks back to take the opportunity to meet local electors. For local Conservatives, Arborfield has always been considered a safe seat, a shoe in to get a useful pair of hands like David Edmonds and his financial expertise onto the council. The complication for them is that independent to the last, Gary hasn’t done what the Conservatives wanted and stood aside as they told him to.

So that brings us on to Gary. If you look at the other Conservative councillors who left the party at around the same time as he did in 2016, one switched to the Liberal Democrats, and the other resigned altogether, only Gary continued to serve out the remainder of his term as an independent. Independents have historically had difficulty getting elected in Wokingham, but we were glad to find him putting his hat into the ring again this time to continue to serve Arborfield. Gary we’re sure will highlight his long record of successes over the years he has served Arborfield. Prior to resigning the party whip Gary would be limited by the party in what he could say, but having resigned he has been active in putting forward the views of Arborfield residents in council and attending relevant meetings such as the many community forums and planning meetings. Other councillors refer to him as “Mr Arborfield”, and if the primary role of a local councillor is to consistently represent his constituents, he has done that admirably.

Certainly whatever May 3rd brings, we will always be grateful for the support he has shown our group over the years in order to ensure that the concerns of Arborfield residents were highlighted as we accommodated the biggest strategic development location in the borough. We have no idea what went on in that side room when the SDL was adopted, but Gary showed on that night and since then that he’d put Arborfield over party orders, and ultimately the party paid him back by trying to force him out. We also can’t fail to acknowledge his integrity in going against party orders over the resurrection of Grazeley because he’d stood on a ticket of no housing at Grazeley when he was first elected.

So there you have it, on May 3rd will you pick candidate number one, Gary Cowan, described by many of his fellow councillors as “Mr Arborfield”. Candidate number two David Edmonds, the social media savvy accountant from Riseley, who thinks Arborfield is great, but just doesn’t want to live here, and just happens to be Wokingham Conservatives treasurer. Or will you pick candidate number three, Chris Everett, the Labour Party activist from Wokingham who nobody has seen and who is hoping that Arborfield will give him more than 79 votes.

The decision is yours.

October Community Forum

Last night was the next Arborfield Community Forum. This used the new marketplace model with stands for each topic rather than presentations. However there were several key bits of information that came out.

Probably the most significant bit of news is that Crest Nicholson have secured the Barkham Square site with a view to putting an additional 800 houses onto the site. Crest are already in consultation with the council about the site meeting part of the next cycle of housing development for the borough. The site had already been listed as one of their major strategic development sites alongside sites around Twyford and Grazeley, given that Barkham Square is an expansion of an existing development it is probably the least controversial of the proposals across the borough.

There was also news about the other part of the existing strategic development location, which was put through planning by the Marino Family who currently own the Hogwood Farm site. Also present at the Community Forum were representatives of Legal and General who are currently developing the TRL site in Crowthorne. Prior to last night we’d heard rumours that the Marino Family were selling the land, at the Community Forum it was confirmed that Legal and General were buying the site and are going to be developing the project. This hopefully will allow key parts of the southern part of the SDL to be moved forward, in particular the missing section of the Nine Mile Ride Extension which amongst other things will make access to Bohunt School a lot easier from Finchampstead.

Across the rest of the development Crest offered an update on the next phases of the work up to March 2018. Key upcoming phases are a number of parcels along Biggs Lane, in particular the new primary school. They are also moving forward on the controversial parcel based around the current Church Car Park, and a parcel beyond the current gates on Princess Marina Drive.

The Borough Council had a number of displays at the Community Forum. Firstly they had a display of the ongoing changes at California Country Park. This included details of the street lighting proposals for the California Greenway. Unfortunately they are still very much proposals, which renders the viability of the Greenway as a safe route from Bohunt School for Finchampstead students pretty moot.

They also had a display of the Arborfield Cross Relief Road plans which are currently going into a detailed design phase ready for a planning application in the winter. The council was also promoting the new Arborfield Leisure Centre, which is rather optimistically being described as being on Sheerlands Road – it’s actually along the Nine Mile Ride Extension and is a similar concept to the leisure facilities at St Crispins making use of the sports all and all weather pitches built as part of Bohunt School.

The council were also giving out documents for two important consultations. The first is as a result of the significant cuts being made to the money Wokingham Borough receives from central government. This means that the council is consulting on what cuts to make, or whether to increase council tax or to increase or add charges for council services. The consultation can be filled in online.

The second consultation is on the borough plans for Transport and Highways, which includes the gem of a question “How often do you find your car journey affected by road works in Wokingham Borough?”. Again this consultation can be filled in online.

Nine Mile Nightmare

Discussing the Nine Mile Ride Cycleway with councillors, discussions have always tended to go the same way.

If you take a look at the recommendations for shared use footpath and cycleways suggests a minimum width of 3m (9ft 10in in old money), with a minimum width of 2m (6ft 6in) being acceptable on less important links in rural areas, provided there are no side constraints. Even from a car it is pretty obvious that there isn’t 2m of space on either side of Nine Mile Ride along a lot of its length, even if you shift the line of the road and take the verge off the other side, let alone the recommended 3m. Needless to say residents when told that the council was going to build a cycleway, if they knew the rural end of Nine Mile Ride well questioned whether there was space, and were assured by councillors that officers had confirmed that there was space.

It even became an issue in the most recent local election campaign with Jim May, a parish councillor who was running as the Liberal Democrat candidate questioning whether there was the space, and being roundly criticised by the Conservative candidate who once again assured residents and parents that the cycleway would be provided.

At the beginning of this year, the council finally sent surveyors along Nine Mile Ride as the first stage of delivering the cycleway in time for September. Then things went a bit quiet.

It all exploded this week when local councillor Ian Pittock, who has been a long time advocate of providing a school in the south of Wokingham, even to the point of saying he would resign if it wasn’t delivered, and has regularly assured parents and potential parents that a safe cycleway would be provided, posted an angry note to the Bohunt Parent Forum. His note said that he had been informed that the Wokingham Borough Executive had decided that plans for the safe cycleway along Nine Mile Ride had been abandoned.

That needless to say produced a lot of angry parents, and clearly Cllr Pittock feels thoroughly let down by his fellow councillors on the executive who knowing full well he has been assuring parents that the cycleway would be delivered for years, have left him well and truly in the firing line, and apparently gave him no warning of the decision.

It is also an embarrassment for the council as a whole, as it isn’t just Ian who has been giving assurances, but now suddenly the plan is abandoned. A key part of providing a safe route to their high profile new school dropped in favour of an isolated and indirect rural back route that most parents consider totally unsuitable as a route for their children to cycle. A big reason for building a school in the south was to avoid the long standing Finchampstead school bus routine familiar to generations of parents and children. If a safe route to Bohunt School is not provided, that long standing tradition will continue, albeit on the regular Reading Buses Leopard service.

The official line seems to be some vague comments about some protected trees and hedgerows and Cllr Pittock suggested on his original post to the parent forum that there were a small number of places on Nine Mile Ride where properties have encroached onto highways land. However even before the surveyors going out it was clear there would be a few problems, and the road would need to be realigned, all stuff that would have been budgeted for. How can it be suddenly so much more expensive to build the cycleway?

To work out why you really need to do what the surveyors did, and set out on foot along Nine Mile Ride, remembering that the cycleway needs 2–3m or 6–10ft of space. The officers have been assuring people like Cllr Pittock for years that their plans show enough space, so it should be there.

If you look at the widest parts of the northern pavement there is a paved part directly next to the road, then the combined power line and phone poles, then a wide grass verge, and on those parts there probably is the acceptable width, and a smaller verge on the southerns side. But in others front hedges are further forward, indeed in others the power poles are surrounded by hedge, and still more have walls and fences close behind the power lines. It is pretty clear that there are more than “a few” properties that if the Wokingham Borough plans suggested there was space for a 2m cycleway let alone 3m, are encroaching onto highways land. Could it be that the bean counters at Wokingham Borough Council totalled up how much it would cost to issue enforcement notices on dozens of properties along Nine Mile Ride, and the associated legal costs of a number of those residents fighting the enforcement and decided it would be better to take the anger of the school parents than fight the action?

The council is needless to say playing their cards close for the moment, although they said to the Wokingham Paper that they are still exploring options. As a result we don’t know how many properties are actually affected. It’s also quite likely that many of those affected properties will have been bought and sold in good faith, and the current owners aren’t responsible for the encroachment. Wokingham Borough Council and their predecessors have been failing to enforce and protect their highways land for decades, and it’s only now they need the land that the problem has come to light.

Whichever way this eventually works out, the whole issue is turning into a nightmare for all involved. On the one hand you have parents who thought their children would have a safe route to walk and cycle to the new school from September, on the other you have residents of Nine Mile Ride who if the cycleway is to be built are going to find themselves in a legal wrangle with the borough council over long unenforced property boundaries.

Suffice to say with the anger of local parents, and a front page story on the local paper about the cycleway, this isn’t the end of the story.

Construction Problems Contact Details

As the development work has expanded we’ve had a number of queries about vehicles not where residents think they should be, and work being undertaken outside the hours that are allowed, so we have clarified this with the council. The agreed movement plan for vehicles on the development that was approved by the council does include Sheerlands Road, Baird Road and Princess Marina Drive past St Eligius Church as an approved route, however after complaints from residents Crest Nicholson have subsequently agreed that the route should not be used, and have put up signs to that effect at the roundabout on Biggs Lane, and at several other points around the Garrison area. Any issues with “lost” vehicles should be raised up through the [email protected] email address in the first instance – although there are quite a few vehicles that seem to quite regularly get lost in exactly the same way…

With regards to working hours, the approved working hours on the development are as follows:

Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm
Saturday: 8am to 1pm
Sunday and Public Holidays: No Work Allowed

Any work outside these hours has to be previously agreed with the council, and will generally be for short periods for specific tasks, for example last year Crest were given permission to work on a Sunday to catch up with utilities work.

If work is occurring outside those hours it should be reported via [email protected].

It is worth noting that Wokingham do take this seriously and have taken enforcement action against Crest Nicholson previously when they were working on a Sunday in contravention of planning consent at their site in North Wokingham back in 2014. That address can also be used for any more general problems, or if you feel that your issue is not being properly dealt with by the developer.

A Road to Perdition?

On Monday we had the latest Arborfield Community Forum, with presentations from council officers on the overall development and the current situation with the Arborfield Relief Road/Bypass, an update from Hugo Reeve from Crest Nicholson on the latest progress on their part of the development, and finally from Bohunt Educational Trust on the current progress on the new school.

Of the presentations the most professional was from the school, who had evidently sat down and considered all the questions parents may have about the school, and made sure they answered them in the presentation. In general it seems Bohunt is on schedule to have the school open and running and are now recruiting staff, and looking forward to working with their first cohort of students in the run up to their first day at the school in September.

At the other end of the scale were the council officers who turned up incredibly poorly prepared, lacking the information residents were wanting and reaped the result in some pretty heated questioning, especially when it came to the newly appointed project manager for the relief road who evidently hadn’t even properly understood how we got to the adopted route in the first place and why the others were rejected.

Going over the main points that were covered, there were several questions over the changes in phasing both to the council and to Crest Nicholson. The basic reason given for the change in phasing around the Nine Mile Ride extension is as a result of Wokingham asking Crest to build the school end of the Nine Mile Ride extension first. The initial plan had Crest starting from the A327 end and building into the site, now they have been asked to start the road at the school, and will then be building towards the A327. This is also reflected in how the services are being brought in – coming from Sheerlands Road rather than the A327. Whichever phasing is used the ultimate result is the same, it’s just that on the original phasing existing residents had a while longer without houses on the fields.

Much of the remaining discussion revolved around roads.

If you look back to last year one of the significant changes around the bypass was in how it was going to be funded. The council managed to secure central government funding which was sold to the residents as an advantage in that having got the funding it meant that the road didn’t need to wait until the development reached a housing trigger point before the road could be built. However from the schedule given on Monday we’re potentially heading for the negative side which is that disconnected from the development, if the road is delayed or funding is lost then the development can continue whether or not the road is built. To many it seems that the schedule for the road had slipped, and whilst that seems to have been done to allow an extensive round of consultation about the design of the road, the main concern for many is now how long we’ll have to wait for the road to ultimately open, during which time the increased traffic generated by the development along with the building traffic will continue to travel through the conservation area at the heart of Arborfield village.

The other area of significant concern around the roads is in particular with relation to the school. The parental reference group realised early on that this was going to be an issue and spent a considerable amount of time looking at all the potential access routes and coming up with a list of measures they regarded as essential for the opening of the school to allow as many students as possible to walk rather than drive to the school. The council, as they often do in situations like this discussed the measures, made positive noises, but prepared a fallback position which is to bus children to the school if the measures aren’t ready. On Monday they announced that they would be using the fallback option.

Sadly as we’ve found over and over again, verbal agreement, or promises from Wokingham mean relatively little. Indeed even with a more formal agreement timings for things slide – let’s not forget how long we’ve actually waited for the school itself, despite repeated promises that a school for the south was on the horizon. What is frustrating is that there doesn’t really seem to be any coherent reasons given for why the council is not delivering the required changes to the roads, especially considering that the council will end up having to spend money bussing children because the required changes haven’t been made. Could it be that some council bean counter has worked out that the cost of bussing a relatively small number of children to the school is less than the cost of the road modifications? Who knows.

Moving on to wider issues, as you may know, originally the MoD planned to vacate the Garrison and sell all the housing they owned around the base, and to that end they were gradually selling off some of the housing around the Garrison long before the decision to close was actually made. That all changed when the Government decided to bring back our forces stationed in Germany. The MoD having been selling off housing in Aldershot found that they didn’t have enough housing there for all the families that now needed accommodation so the programme selling off housing at Arborfield was stopped, and personnel attached to Aldershot are now housed here. One side effect of that is that we currently have several roads on the Garrison that are within the MoD owned areas, but where the residents are civilians. This has effects in all sorts of areas where residents elsewhere would just turn to the council, in the MoD owned roads the residents are left dealing with the MoD. Over the time since civilian residents moved in there have been particular issues over maintaining the streets, basic stuff like fixing streetlights for example. Also issues with the MoD owned playground where on several occasions the parish council has had to chase up the DIO to fix problems.

Most recently we’ve been contacted by a local resident over their extortionate water bill. Unlike residents in other parts of the Garrison who have mains water from Thames Water, the MoD owned houses get their water through the same arrangement as the houses retained by the MoD. This means they end up getting a fixed bill from Severn Trent Water who handle the water across the whole estate. With the original programme this was only going to be a temporary problem with the roads ultimately being handed over to the council once all the MoD personnel had moved out, however with it now looking like the MoD are going to retain ownership of a large number of houses on the Garrison for a number of years getting large fixed water bills with no opportunity to switch to a water meter is becoming an increasingly frustrating problem for some residents.

All the right notes… Just not necessarily in the right order.

There is a famous comedy sketch featuring Morecambe and Wise, and an increasingly frustrated André Previn as Eric says he is going to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto. As the sketch progresses Previn accuses Eric of playing all the wrong notes, and Eric comes back saying that he is playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. The planning phasing for the Garrison development is getting a bit like that.

Several weeks ago we were contacted by a resident of Badgers Mount about the work that was going on in the fields between Sheerlands Road and the A327. Whilst the plans have always shown the Nine Mile Ride extension being built early in the plan with some housing development either side of the new road, the phasing plan had shown that the areas closest to the existing houses would be developed much later on, leaving the most controversial and contentious parts of the development that would most affect existing residents until last.  The resident was concerned because the work was going on in the field right up to the boundary close to the existing houses.

Contacting Crest Nicholson, both ourselves and Gary Cowan our local councillor were told that it was merely archeological work, something all developers have to do before undertaking a significant development, and it made sense to do the whole field in one go rather than just do the part to be developed now and come back and do another round of investigation later on. The resident has continued to keep in contact with Gary, and has contacted us again following a worrying email they have received.

I am writing to make you aware of the change in phasing for the Arborfield development.  The houses due to be built in the adjacent fields in 2020 are now being proposed for development in a few months’ time.  Planning permission will be sought by Crest Nicholson soon and they will be highlighting the changes in the meeting at Henry Street on Mon 22nd Feb (7.00pm).  The Nine Mile Ride Extension will be cut through to the A327 first and falls just the other side of the hedge of the nearest field.  They then propose to build houses north of that road and closest to us.  I have asked if they could first build the southern side of the road retaining our semi-rural aspect for as long as possible, a benefit that I’m sure you appreciate and new households will too.  I asked the reasons to why the phasing was brought forward via Gary Cowan and this is the reply he received.  I fully understand the houses will come however the district centre hasn’t moved, the NMRE road was always going to be built first so there is no reason to alter from the phasing they consulted us on.  They have changed their plans using the school inappropriately as their excuse.  If you are in agreement then please raise your concerns so we have a stronger voice and can retain the 2020 phasing we were promised and consulted on.
PS They do say the will honour the 30m buffer between our gardens and the new development.

This highlights an ongoing concern we’ve heard from local residents. Back when the outline planning application went into the council, Crest Nicholson included a phasing plan, but that phasing plan seemed to go out of the window with the very first bit of development which was in an area over by the lake on Biggs Lane. There are some broad directions that are being followed, driven by the need to have better access to the school for example, but as this resident has highlighted they are proposing to build all the houses alongside the Nine Mile Ride extension rather than the two phased approach that was originally proposed. As they only have outline planning permission, Crest Nicholson have to go through a reserved matters planning application to fill in the detail, which they will do shortly, and at that point residents are able to make their concerns about the changes known. However even between answering the question on the archeological work and today things appear to have changed.

As the local resident highlights, Crest Nicholson will be presenting the changes to their plan at the Arborfield Community Forum on Monday night, so this will be a good opportunity to ask them why they are changing around from their original phasing plan. If you wish to attend the meeting is being held at the Henry Street Garden Centre, and will commence at 7pm. Representatives of Crest Nicholson will be presenting at the meeting along with council officers and representatives from the Bohunt Educational Trust talking about progress on the school.

Speaking to the Box

A while back, I had a conversation with a local resident who had been speaking to a friend of theirs who was an Army Padre elsewhere in the country about the various issues that have been coming up locally and the difficulties of dealing with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. His friend apparently laughed and said in his experience dealing with the DIO was like speaking to a box with a speaker on it, you never felt like you were dealing with real people.

That comment rings true with people all over Arborfield, again and again we’ve come across situations where the DIO have done things that seem inexplicable when you look at the effect it has locally.

Firstly we have the closure of the shop and Post Office, without any consultation with local people. The presence of the shop and Post Office had been used as a justification for not providing any sort of convenience store for the development of Penrose Park, and subsequently the Garrison Post Office had taken on the role of main Post Office for the whole of Arborfield when the Post Office had closed the facilities in the village. However this counted for nothing when the Garrison Post Office was closed at 24 hours notice. The Post Office have now all but given up trying to get the DIO to actually follow the proper closure procedure despite maintaining that the closure was only temporary for a long while after the closure.

Moving on, the DIO for a while has been acting as if the Garrison is completely closing, and all military personnel are leaving, despite this not being the case – we continue to have personnel from Aldershot resident. It really does seem as if the DIO think all the personnel here are going to drive down to Aldershot to use the facilities there.

So far they have tried to close the Community Centre, again at short notice, which was saved by a concerted local response. They tried to close the Garrison Church which was only saved by an appeal from the local congregation to the Bishop of Reading to take responsibility for the church as part of the civilian church organisation.

There is also the whole fiasco over the dog walking field, much of which is being retained as public open space, and which Crest Nicholson are happy for residents to keep using. However the DIO has had a wire fence put all along the edge of the field blocking access. Crest Nicholson have said that the fence will more than likely be removed, and have argued with the DIO that it is pointless to erect a fence just to have it removed.

It’s not just the regular personnel whose needs have been ignored, recently there has been discussion locally about the fate of the Arborfield Army Cadets following a planning application to convert the closed Post Office and shop. The cadets had had facilities within the Garrison, but as part of the closure they were kicked out and have been meeting in the Pavilion. At no point during the departure plans was it even considered that the cadets, who draw members from the local community, would need somewhere to meet. The DIO solution is to convert the old shop, that whilst it is a DIO owned building that isn’t due to be demolished, is not exactly ideal. It’s a relatively small building in a residential area that already has parking issues, and yet the building has no parking. Whilst the inside can be converted there is no outside space with the building at all.

Sadly this inadequate building seems to have been presented to the cadets as the only option aside from closing the Arborfield Cadets altogether. The Arborfield Cadets have been a valuable presence in the community for a number of years, parading at events such as Remembrance and providing activities for young people in the village that would not be available anywhere else, and nobody wants to see them close. However they really deserve better facilities than a converted shop – at the very least they need somewhere with both inside and outside drill space, somewhere where their needs have been properly considered, rather than palmed off with a “spare” building. Or are the DIO expecting them to parade in the children’s playground next door? That is quite apart from the need for a shop and Post Office which has been regularly raised by residents ever since it was closed and has been rebuffed a number of times by the DIO since then. Whilst eventually there will be new shops opening as part of the development according to the plans, the experience in Jennets Park in Bracknell is that even if it is a required part of the planning approval it can be a real fight to get a shop provided. It’s almost as if somebody in the DIO box has decided that putting the cadets in the shop would solve two problems in one, a new home for the cadets, and no place to reopen the shop the residents keep asking for.

Fundamentally, the focus for the DIO seems to be to maximise the amount of money they can generate from the closure of the Garrison. With the decision of the Navy and Air Force to pull out of the joint training base at the former RAF Lyneham this is even more of the issue as they have a much larger base than needed there, and are not going to be getting money from the closure of Navy and Air Force training facilities elsewhere. Things like the fence are merely procedure that must be followed, but the rest is trying to save as much money as possible, whatever the effect on personnel and civilians living locally.

The local community has stepped up to save the community centre and church, and we will continue to support the personnel families as long as they are in the village as we always have done before. We need to do the same for the Cadets – with detailed plans not finalised for many parts of the former Garrison it is perfectly possible to provide facilities for the Army Cadets that are exactly what they require, and will meet all their needs – the obvious place would be as part of the school development underway a short distance away. Do we really want our cadets squeezed in a converted shop and parading on a children’s playground – or should they get the facilities they deserve as part of  the wider development?

What’s in a Name?

We have a new consultation company, with a new website asking for our opinions – the vast majority of local residents should have received a card through the door from Meeting Place Communications, who Crest Nicholson have given the ongoing hot potato of the name of the development.

Of course Crest Nicholson has consulted on this once already, and hit the problems caused by the location falling across three different parish council areas, so they got the Barkham “anything but Arborfield” arguments, along with finding that the residents of the almost a thousand homes already within the Strategic Development Location boundary being quite clear that they live in Arborfield and being less than enthusiastic about a change of name. The other point is that they are only consulting on a name for half the development – you will note that the wording on the card talks about 2,000 homes, not the 3,500 that will make up the complete SDL, this of course is because the Marino Family Trust are putting forward their plans quite separately and up to now have been referring to their development as Hogwood Garden Village.

We’ve seen one or two suggestions, many are some variation of Arborfield, so Arborfield Green has been suggested which would give a new identity to the development that would be something the existing residents who live in Arborfield could adopt without too much of an issue. Another resident responded that they should “just drop the ridiculous Garden Village” and call it Arborfield. The suggestion from another resident that they should name it Mordor raised some laughs as well.

The consultation is running until 4th December. Whatever name is picked will primarily be used for the Crest Nicholson marketing of the new development, certainly the discussions we have had indicate that any process to formally change parish boundaries or create a new official identity around the development is a very long way off, so ultimately if they want to include the residents in the almost a thousand existing homes in their new community Crest Nicholson really need to choose an identity that includes them.

That brings us on to an interesting meeting that Crest Nicholson organised with residents from within the SDL a few weeks back many of whom had contacted Crest over various issues over the past few months. Hugo Reeve highlighted at that meeting that the development at Arborfield is relatively unusual for several reasons, firstly that it is split between three parishes, but also that there are a significant number of existing residents, both the continuing army presence in the retained Garrison housing now being used by Aldershot based personnel, and also the large numbers of civilian homes, many built as a result of previous MoD land sales, but many more who have lived here for decades. Crest are very aware of the risks this situation brings, primarily that it is very easy for a classic us and them situation to develop. As such they were very keen to try and understand how residents use the site now, and what problems and issues there are.

What was interesting from the discussions was that even for the non-military personnel a lot of life revolved around the army presence. So residents valued the open access we have been given to army owned facilities, whether that is simply walking the dog around the army playing fields, events in the Garrison Community Centre, attending services at the Garrison Church or using the Garrison Post Office and shop before the MoD closed it and moved it behind the wire. Residents also valued the community events the Army hosted during the year, at the time of the meeting coming up to Bonfire Night the Garrison Fireworks that the wider community could also attend were mentioned. Whilst residents here participated in village events such as the village fete and would walk up to the village shop, the clear separation between the housing around the Garrison and Arborfield village – the sign for Arborfield is on the road between the Langley Common Road roundabout and Arborfield Cross for example – means that for residents here whilst they feel part of Arborfield there is also a distinct community down here around the Garrison.

What was highlighted was that even though army personnel were remaining, much of what we used was being removed. The Post Office and shop were both closed to civilian residents a while ago, but the MoD had closed the replacement Post Office for military personnel behind the wire and the shop as part of the base closure. There had been much local publicity about the attempt to close the community centre, the centre being saved in part by local support. The MoD has withdrawn support for the church, Crest Nicholson highlighted that this was in the process of being transferred to be run locally with clergy coming from Finchampstead to take the services, again despite the church continuing to be the local point of focus for military families. Subsequent to that we have found out that the large playground that the MoD currently looks after next to the old Post Office location is to be closed, again because the MoD are not willing to look after it. The MoD, over objections from local residents and even Crest Nicholson themselves have fenced off the field used by dog walkers.

The group also discussed wider issues such as any potential changes to the road layout in the Garrison area such as whether or not the blockades on Baird Road or Bramshill Close should be removed or retained, and also the ongoing problems with getting broadband, in particular to residents in Penrose Park where BT seem to have all but given up trying to provide – we have heard that one resident was actually advised by BT to move if he wanted faster broadband!

Demolition of the Garrison.

The clearance of the site of the first new houses.

We are starting to see visible changes around the Garrison now, whilst buildings have been being demolished for a while, work commencing adjacent to Biggs Lane has brought it home to many more. The first new residents of Arborfield Garden Village, Arborfield Green, Mordor or whatever they choose to call it will be moving in within the next year, the real question is whether existing residents will start their own community separate from the existing residents as described on the Meeting Place Communications card, or join the existing community of almost a thousand homes, both civilian and military. Please put your opinions down on paper and respond to the consultation – if you have lost the original card a copy can be downloaded here.

Also, we have been asked by a student at Reading University whose dissertation is looking at perceptions of the flood risk in the River Loddon Catchment area if we could publicise a survey she is conducting – as many of us are affected when the Loddon floods we are happy to share this link to her survey, which should only take a couple of minutes to complete.