AG-RAG supports a suitably sized development that maintains Arborfield’s rural nature, as long as that development is restricted to brownfield behind the existing garrison wire and doesn’t start until the MoD have actually left the site.

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?

Refreshing the No Cold Calling Zone

As you might have seen, there has been some discussion locally about setting up No Cold Calling Zones in Arborfield, triggered by a push by the local Trading Standards to increase the number of zones across the area.

If you are a resident of the Garrison area, you may well be aware that we are already in a No Cold Calling Zone, as one was set up under the auspices of the MoD Project Home Front way back in 2007 – you can read some details of the setting up of the zone in this Project Home Front posting – however the most recent circular from the people at West Berkshire Trading Standards who are now responsible for trading standards in the Wokingham area did not include any of the roads in the Garrison on their list, nor mention the Garrison area.

As a result both ourselves and the Parish Council have chased this up with both the trading standards and Thames Valley Police contacts, and somewhere along the line details of the zone here were not passed on, perhaps when Wokingham Trading Standards closed and West Berkshire Trading Standards took over. However it happened it is now further complicated by the significant changes going on at the Garrison, so any sort of Project Home Front contact is now not available either.

The good news however is that West Berkshire Trading Standards are willing to adopt our No Cold Calling Zone, and will supply new signage and door stickers as part of a refresh of the scheme, the less good news is that because they structure the scheme on a road by road basis they do not want to adopt the Garrison as a complete area as was done before, especially as the existing zone crosses the parish boundary into Barkham.

Thanks to Alison in the Parish Office we have a list of streets that we believe were part of the original No Cold Calling Zone, so we need somebody from each street to confirm whether they were part of the original No Cold Calling Zone – if that can’t be confirmed the street can join, but the residents of the street will have to be canvassed again as part of the process to create a new zone. The list of streets we believe were covered by the original zone within Arborfield are as follows:

  • Arbery Way
  • Attwood Drive
  • Barker Close
  • Bentley Drive
  • Bushell Way
  • Gerring Road
  • Howell Close
  • Mabett Close
  • Milam Close
  • Rayner Drive
  • Tyler Drive
  • Faraday Close
  • Fleming Close
  • Kelvin Close
  • Sheerlands Road
  • Whitehall Mews
  • Bramshill Close

If you live on any of these roads and can confirm that the road was part of the No Cold Calling Zone please let us know – even better if you have an original sign or one of the window stickers – getting in touch will enable us to add your road to the confirmed list for West Berkshire Trading Standards and get updated signage and stickers despatched.

Planning Matters

We thought we would update everybody with a couple of recent planning applications which you might like to respond to. Both these applications can be viewed online using the Wokingham Borough Planning Portal at – enter the application number into the search box and the application and all relevant documents will be shown.

Firstly we have application 153358, which is a full planning application for a change of use of the old Spar and Post Office on Venning Road from a shop to become the new home for the local Army Cadet Force whose existing facilities are being closed along with the rest of the operational parts of the Garrison. If you recall the Spar and Post Office was closed at 24 hours notice back in the summer of 2013 leaving the village with no Post Office at all. Whilst on the one hand it is good that there are plans to reuse the building, which has become a bit of an eyesore since the sudden closure, reopening the shop and Post Office would be of much more benefit to the local community.

The application is factually inaccurate in a number of places, for example incorrectly describing the shop as being a branch of Londis rather than Spar, and suggesting that the shop was closed as part of the staggered closure of the Garrison as being commercially unviable which suggests a lot more forward planning than the no notice overnight closure that actually occurred when all operations were moved to a new site within the secure area of the Garrison, a site which again has now been closed. Comments on the application are open until February 1st.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 20.41.48The other application is 153486, and is an application for a scoping opinion for a development of 200 houses from Reading Football Club for the Hogwood Park site. Whilst this is not any sort of application to build as yet, it clearly shows what the football club are wanting to do once they move to their new site on Mole Road.

As you may know, Hogwood Park is outside the SDL boundary, and whilst the football club tried to have the SDL boundary moved to include their land this was rejected by a planning inspector. However they’re trying again. This time proposing to swap part of the land in Hogwood Park with the land designated to be the playing fields of the new school which lies within the SDL boundary. Of course this isn’t some generous offer to allow Crest Nicholson to reduce the density of the existing housing plans, this is a cynical attempt to increase the proposed housing in the development by 10% and try to squeeze value out of the land Reading Football Club has been clearly told is not within the strategic development location. The site was proposed as one location for the new school, and for students from Finchampstead is much more accessible than the adjacent site selected, but Reading Football Club refused to play ball, now we know why. This area is already taking the largest of the four SDL’s, and with concerns already about increased traffic what will be the effect of increasing the number of houses on the Garrison development by 10% just to satisfy the greed of Reading Football Club and their owners?

As mentioned above, this is a scoping opinion, so the council does not normally take comments on such an application, however writing to the council about the proposal at this early stage will certainly give the council an indication of local feeling as and when Reading Football Club attempt a full application.

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.

Hogwood Garden Village Approved

This week has again been busy in and around the Strategic Development Location. Alongside the official departure of REME this week also saw the approval of the second outline planning application covering the Finchampstead part of the development location – Hogwood Garden Village on what is currently Hogwood Farm. The approval was not unexpected, but as before was voted through unanimously against the overwhelming view of those who responded to the planning application being to object. You can watch the planning committee discuss and approve the application, along with the contributions from members of the public and the parish and borough councillors on the Wokingham Borough Council YouTube channel.

Alongside the approval there were various mentions in local and regional media. The Wokingham Paper mentioned the approval on the front page this week and had a good article reporting the approval and talking to members of the public who spoke at the planning meeting. BBC Radio Berkshire were also on site at the Garrison early in the week and talked about the departure and approval on the Andrew Peach programme on Wednesday.

Unfortunately the BBC Berkshire item was confused at best, and whilst they sorted themselves out somewhat later in the morning the clear message they were giving out early on was that the Army were leaving Arborfield completely and the Garrison was going to be replaced by 1,500 houses that were going to be approved that night.

Just to be clear:

The Army is leaving Arborfield – WRONG

We cannot say this often enough, the Army is NOT leaving Arborfield. Most of the Garrison will be closed by January and REME who have been part of the village for many years will have moved to Lyneham. However some units currently on site will remain for a bit longer, and the housing here has been retained for at least the medium term and is now part of the Aldershot Super-Garrison. It is currently being used to house families stationed there who will now commute along the A327 like many of the rest of the residents. Being associated with Aldershot has already produced some issues, the most obvious of which was the situation recently with the community centre. This also means that the MoD has moved their boundary fences to keep their remaining holdings secure leading to issues such as the dog walking field being fenced off.

There will be 1,500 homes for the Garrison site – WRONG

Wokingham Borough Council has already approved 2,000 homes for the Garrison site as part of the Crest Nicholson planning approval earlier in the year. Work has already got underway following that approval with work on the school site moving forward, and demolition work on the site of the first houses to be built over on Biggs Lane near the lake having started this week. The total number of homes for the whole strategic development location has long been set at 3,500.

WBC is approving the plans to replace the Garrison tonight – WRONG

As mentioned above the plans for the Garrison had long since been approved by the council. The approval this week was a separate application from the Marino Family who own Hogwood Farm for an additional 1,500 homes on land to the south of the Garrison, bringing the total number of homes to the 3,500 set by Wokingham Borough Council in their core strategy.

A reporter from BBC South Today was also in the area during the week and filmed a number of interviews. Whilst the BBC ran a bare bones story about the approval in a lunch time bulletin, as yet they haven’t run the full story. As yet we haven’t heard why this is, but often for these items they would need to get comment from Wokingham Borough Council to ensure they are seen to be presented a balanced viewpoint.

Having got approval, the Hogwood development will proceed in a similar way to how Crest Nicholson are working in the northern part of the SDL with a series of reserved matters applications as each parcel of land is brought forward. An early part of their plans will be the Nine Mile Ride extension which is a critical part of the plans to allow children from Finchampstead to access the new school when it opens next year.

Whilst it is obviously disappointing that the council approved the development over local objections, we need to remember that with both the Crest Nicholson and the Marino applications these are only in outline. The actual detail of what is built will come forward over many years to come, and as we have found with the recent changes to the first application from Crest Nicholson the developers are keen to hear local opinions on what they are going to build.

Community Centre and Hogwood Planning Approval

Again it has been a bit of a busy week with regard to the Arborfield Strategic Development Location.

Firstly, some good news, following a superb response from local residents, and pressure from both the parish and borough council to the impending closure of the community centre, ESS who were managing the centre for the Ministry of Defence reversed their previous decision including the associated staff redundancies and the centre will now remain open. If the company name seems familiar, alongside the community centre ESS are also the company that ran the shops and post offices on the base, and are also the company who closed the shop and post office outside the wire at twenty-four hours notice a couple of years ago leaving Arborfield as a whole without a post office, a situation that still hasn’t been rectified. Alongside the now reversed community centre closure they have also closed the camp post office and shop that were behind the wire.

As we have known for a while, whilst the garrison has officially closed all the housing was transferred to Aldershot, and is now being used to house overspill from the garrison there. The community centre will now be retained under Ministry of Defence management for the moment but will ultimately be passed to Crest Nicholson. We also understand that whilst the majority of the garrison has closed the helicopter units will remain for another couple of years as well.

The remaining Ministry of Defence housing areas brings us to another subject that was briefly mentioned at the Community Forum by a questioner, the status of the gate across Baird Road. As longer term residents of Arborfield will know when Penrose Park was built the Ministry of Defence put a fence and locked gates across Baird Road between the new development and the existing housing, that gate has remained ever since. Several residents have raised concerns on what might happen should the Ministry of Defence stop using the housing and pass the estate over to civilian use. Enquiries have found that although the council is aware of the gate it has never been officially approved because the fence is on Ministry of Defence property, so once the Ministry of Defence release the land the fence should be removed and the road opened. Retaining the gates or some other form of block will obviously require official approval from the borough council. Councillor Cowan has raised the issue with the council, but an official approval to retain the barrier will require consultation with local residents. If you wish the barrier to remain, or if you would rather see the road reopened, please contact Gary to let him know your opinions.

This week was also supposed to have seen the plans for the remaining 1,500 houses in the strategic development location, Hogwood Garden Village, go before a special meeting of the Wokingham Borough Planning Committee. However in a major goof by the council they failed to issue the notification letter to all those who commented on the application inviting them to speak at the planning meeting. Those letters have now been issued, and the application is scheduled to go before the planning committee on October 14th at 7pm. As with the Crest Nicholson application it is a hybrid application covering the whole development, and includes the Nine Mile Ride extension that will be a key part of how students for the new school from Finchampstead will get to the site by road. Much as with the Crest Nicholson application council officers have worked hard on resolving problem areas so the application is recommended for approval, however it will be the councillors on the planning committee on the night that will vote to approve or reject the application. Members of the public are entitled to attend and address the planning committee on the night to raise matters of concern.

Community Forum and Community Relations

With the Community Forum, announcements about the school, and the impending closure of the Garrison there is much to report this week.

Firstly there was the Community Forum, held as previously at Henry Street Garden Centre. Much of the evening was devoted to discussions around the school. Firstly the decision by the council to utilise their fallback position rather than build the school in two phases and try to complete the build with the first intake of students already occupying the first phase was reviewed. There was widespread agreement that given the quality of the existing buildings it was an obvious decision, making the school build easier for the construction company, and also giving the new students and their parents some certainty over the school buildings as they consider whether to choose the school in the coming weeks. Both the council and residents expressed a wish that all the legacy buildings can be retained for the longer term – under the Crest Nicholson plans only the gym is going to be retained – the other buildings the school will utilise are scheduled for demolition later on in the build schedule. There was no comment either way about whether Crest Nicholson would accommodate this request.

Whilst those members who have children about to go to secondary school are delighted at the news on the school, other AG-RAG members and residents have contacted us expressing concern as to how much extra the change in plan will cost, especially as this week the council is once again looking to make cutbacks to balance their strained budgets. As has been previously highlighted the school is being built ahead of when it was originally scheduled, and the school place predictions the council has presented on several occasions over the years show that there will still be free places in the council education system as a whole even if the new school in Arborfield weren’t to open in September 2016. The question was asked at the Community Forum this week and the council confirmed that they are expecting free places within the system this year even with the new school opening, but as they are predominantly in the north of the borough at Bulmershe school, and given that all the council schools operate a simple distance based tie breaker for oversubscription, not opening the school in the south would result in students here being unable to get into their catchment schools and the expense of students being bussed long distances to Bulmershe school daily, as has been highlighted many times previously. The council also highlighted that they are confident that the provision of a school at Arborfield will also attract back parents who would otherwise have sent their children to out of borough schools, in particular Yateley. In terms of costs the fall back position has always been in the budget, so no extra funding is needing to be found, however the decision to move the new school build to a single phase and not require the developer to work around the school on the same site would reduce construction costs. In addition the council is intending to make the buildings available for community use outside school hours, and even more once the school building itself opens in 2017 giving further value to council tax payers. How long they will be available is of course subject to whether Crest Nicholson can be persuaded not to demolish them!

Other resident concerns related to traffic – despite all the efforts to encourage walking and cycling to the school many see that the reality is that many children will be dropped off by car – where the council highlighted that the design included a large drop off area for students, and that a planning application will be going in shortly for the revised access arrangements needed for the fall back buildings. They are confident that school drop off can be accommodated within the new development and should not impact existing roads. We have also received a couple of questions relating to whether the council is intending to redirect children from other years to the school in order to fill it once completed, to which the answer is a definite no. The school will not be completely full until the September 2016 cohort finish at the school, so for those children in the early years of the school they will have much more space than other children at the established schools. This however is a much more efficient, and less disruptive way to build a new school rather than expand every year for the gradually increasing numbers.

Following the presentation on the school buildings, representatives of the Bohunt Educational Trust took questions on the school itself. The Educational Trust gave a generally assured performance discussing how they are going to build the community of the new school. The points where they had more of a bumpy ride was firstly when the question of school name came up – it is safe to say that Bohunt Wokingham is not a popular name, however when considering any of the other options a discussion similar to what happens when the name of the overall development comes up – Bohunt say that a final decision will be taken after consulting with the potential parents at the school open evening in a couple of weeks time. Bohunt also hit choppy waters when they were questioned about special needs provision. You may recall that back in January before the Education Provider was announced the council was questioned about special needs provision and said at that point that the school policy would be inclusive particularly for pupils on the autism spectrum or with challenging behaviour, but there was no plan at that point for a special unit for pupils with greater levels of need. When presented with the same question this week the Bohunt Educational Trust gave a rather different answer. Their basic line is that as with any other school they will consider what special needs provision to make once they see which children apply, this was greeted with some surprise by residents who on the basis that the Arborfield School has always been pushed as a community school, with some obvious feeder primary schools locally, it would seem that the trust could easily gather approximate numbers of special needs by looking at the students attending the local schools. Certainly the impression given to those concerned about special needs provision is that as the council will be providing specialist provision elsewhere Bohunt will do as much as they are required to for special needs students who are allocated to the school, but it didn’t seem to be a priority.

After the education trust had presented there was a traffic presentation in particular focusing on how students were going to get to the school. At this it was pleasing to see that with a lot of the areas of concern around the site by potential parents the council has taken on board and are trying to move forward, for example reductions in speed limits in particular on Nine Mile Ride which will be the main access route for students from Finchampstead. The council also made a commitment that if the access routes for students on foot and on bicycles were not complete when the school opened from Finchampstead they would provide a bus service for students. Similarly they will be providing a bus service for students coming from the Farley Hill direction as they have concluded that improvements to foot and cycle access from this direction are not possible.

The final presentation of the night was from Crest Nicholson, initially covering the latest progress on the various reserved matters planning applications, changes to the designs of the houses on the first phase following community feedback, and probably most emotive of all, the name of the development.

As feared the name discussion quickly degenerated with Barkham Parish Councillors especially pushing for the new development to be referred to as Barkham, even suggesting that the developer should attempt to get the Royal Mail to change the post code of the development from Arborfield to Barkham – Royal Mail has previously refused point blank when Arborfield tried to change from a Reading to a Wokingham postcode. The attitude of Barkham is perhaps most surprising since for many years they have fought development that might connect Barkham village with the Garrison, in particular the Barkham Square development. It seems counter productive to very publicly insist that the Garrison is not part of Barkham and campaign for a clear separation between the communities, and then change now to saying that it is part of Barkham after all, as saying that they are one community will only increase development pressure to connect the housing areas of Barkham together. Currently the new development when complete will have barely discernible gaps with Finchampstead and much of it has always been regarded as part of Arborfield, whilst there is a significant gap with Barkham. Developers are already looking at speculative developments towards the Garrison end of Nine Mile Ride on this basis, making a very public link with Barkham could very easily backfire causing a variation of the Barkham Square development to reappear as part of the next round of major housing development plans and ultimately resulting in one of the last significant gaps separating the housing here from the ever expanding boundaries of great Wokingham falling to the developers. The argument of the name, particularly for the school being in Barkham is on shaky ground anyway as Finchampstead has an equally strong claim as the part of the Garrison on which the school is to be built was historically part of Finchampstead, and has only comparatively recently been transferred to Barkham Parish to ensure that the whole of Rowcroft Barracks was in one parish – the historic boundary runs straight across Sheerlands Road across the Garrison to Park Lane unlike the current boundary that has a sharp turn south when it meets the edge of the Garrison and follows the fence around.

Anyway, Crest Nicholson are proposing the name of Allsebrook Village, their argument being that many of the names proposed were already similar to other towns and villages. Allsebrook would be distinctive whilst still having a local connection – unfortunately for the loud objections from Barkham that local connection is that the Allsebrook family were the last owners of Arborfield Hall. There seems to be a vain hope from Crest Nicholson that the councils will be able to work out something between them, but on the basis of the arguments at the Community Forum what may well happen is that Crest Nicholson will use the Allsebrook Village name for their marketing, the Marino Family will use Hogwood Garden Village for their marketing, and all the existing residents will continue to regard themselves as living in Arborfield or Finchampstead depending where they are located. In reality this may not end up as too much of a problem, there are numerous examples – Lower Earley and Woodley, Crowthorne and Wokingham Without being within a few miles – where the actual boundaries are now lost in wider communities without it causing too much of an issue.

Moving on, with the impending closure of the Garrison, a number of issues relating to the MoD decommissioning are coming up.

Previously we have mentioned the fence that appeared this week blocking access to the dog walking field. Long time residents will remember that something similar occurred when what became Penrose Park was sold off by the MoD a decade ago. Effectively the MoD put a new boundary fence around their remaining areas for security reasons, so in the same way they are fencing around the houses they are retaining, despite the fact that this cuts off access to the dog walking field for both their own personnel and the wider community.

A similar disregard for their personnel and the wider community is apparent with what is happening with the well used Garrison Community Centre. Whilst separately leased parts of the building such as the Poperinghe Pre-School are continuing the MoD has decided that the army services offered to the local military families are unnecessary following closure, this despite them retaining all of the military housing. As such they have decided to withdraw their support of the centre immediately the Garrison closes, initially by terminating the insurance the centre needs to continue letting the hall. Whilst businesses using the centre will be able to continue at least for the short term, those too may run into problems before the end of the year. The development plans have always been clear that the community centre would be passed over, so subject to alternative management and insurances being set up the centre can continue to serve the surrounding community. What will be more difficult to replace is the specialist support the centre gives to the military families.

The community in Arborfield has always valued and supported the service personnel and families living within our village, and we’re sure we will continue to do so, however it is sad that the higher reaches of the MoD are so concerned with extracting maximum revenue from building houses here that they are willing to abandon the personnel families that will be housed here in the medium to long term expecting them to travel many miles to Aldershot to gain access to the specialist support that has previously been available within walking distance on the base here.

There is currently a petition running calling on the MoD to change their minds, and we would encourage as many of you as possible to sign to ask the MoD to continue to support the personnel and their families that will continue to be stationed in Arborfield for many years to come.

WBC Takes The Fall Back Option

Today we had an important press release issued by Wokingham Borough Council with regards to the school. The release was massively full of spin, but the bottom line is that as a result of the delays caused to the school construction schedule by the additional contamination on the site found earlier in the summer, the council has chosen to open the school in September 2016 using the fall back option of adapting some of the existing army facilities on the site rather than opening the school in the first phase of the new school building. They have further said that the school will now be built in a single phase so the students will only move into the new school once it is complete rather than trying to build the second phase of the school when the first phase is already occupied.

We warmly welcome the council decision. The previous statements that a decision on the fall back would be made in January, whilst they left maximum opportunity for the council to save face and achieve their previously stated aim to get the school open in a brand new building in September 2016, left parents of potential students with a difficult decision. By choosing to opt for the fall back position now, that gives parents currently choosing a secondary school for their children a clear indication of where their children will be taught and allows them to decide with their eyes open. It also gives the council several months of additional time to adapt the army buildings and ensure they are properly prepared for their new role as a school.

Hopefully it also marks a change of attitude from the council. Given the schedule for the MoD handing over sections of the Garrison, attempting to clear and decontaminate the land and build a new school building in such a narrow window as to open for September 2016 was always going to be a challenge. Information we received about developments on other former MoD sites indicated that they were always problematic, and there were often unexpected discoveries. As the council and Crest Nicholson statements have both highlighted subsequent to the discovery of additional contamination there are always these kind of known unknowns when dealing with a site like this that has been in MoD hands for over a century. Sadly this knowledge was not reflected in the initial plans by the council. Given what we had been told we highlighted our concerns early and often in the face of unbridled optimism from the councillors. We were therefore pleased when under pressure the council finally put a fall back plan in place, despite surrounding the announcement in further comments about how unnecessary it was and expressing continuing confidence that the new school building would open as planned in September 2016. As this announcement has proved, when dealing with a site like the Garrison, the council should always have a back up plan.

Whilst we’re sure there will be disappointment that children will not be moving into a brand new building in September 2016 as previously promised by Wokingham Borough, the early council decision gives clarity for potential parents, and minimises disruption to their children’s education by putting them in established buildings needing comparatively small changes rather than rushing the build to achieve a grand opening, and trying to educate children whilst the rest of the school is built around them. The decision also makes the build significantly easier as by moving to a single construction phase the construction company will not have to plan around having young people in close proximity for large amounts of the build, and can properly secure the entire building site rather than trying to build one part without disrupting the other. It is a far better option and in the long term will hopefully ensure our community gets a much better built school rather than the rush job we could have had if the council had carried on with the initial plan.