April 2021 Oaks article
The Oaks April 2021 article - Proposed Thatcham North East Development
For those that have not seen the proposal, a brief synopsis “BPC Thatcham NE Brief” is on the www.buckleburyparish.org website, together with other relevant information.
Local Plan to 2037. SP17. THA20. Hardly names to fire the imagination, or make you read any further, but they all have the potential to dramatically change the landscape in which we live - quite literally.
Central government requires West Berkshire Council (WBC) to build roughly 500-600 houses per year, and as part of the process of meeting that requirement WBC produces a Local Plan. The current Local Plan extends to 2026, and WBC are now consulting on the next Local Plan to 2037. Stage 1 consultations are completed and many of you have written letters expressing your concerns about it.
Those concerns about the draft Local Plan centre on Policy SP17, which would, quite simply, carpet the area to the north east of Thatcham with 2500 houses. The proposed area is called THA20, though is routinely referred to as Thatcham North East. Given its proximity to Upper Bucklebury, the AONB and the Common, it could equally be termed ‘Bucklebury South.’ Thatcham North East is planned to extend from Cox’s Lane in the east almost to Lawrence’s Lane to the west, and spread most of the way up the slopes between Thatcham and Upper Bucklebury. It is the equivalent of bolting a new town the size of Hungerford onto the side of Thatcham.
WBC had planned to meet most of its housing needs at a site near Grazeley. However, this site has proved undevelopable, and WBC were left with a shortfall in building land and a looming deadline for a new Local Plan. In the current Plan, Thatcham was to be exempt from development to allow it time to absorb the significant recent development. Now, midway through that Plan, the only way for Thatcham to evolve and gain the infrastructure it needs is for the addition of Hungerford on its side. How Thatcham would evolve if Grazeley had been available is not clear, but Thatcham, and Thatcham North East specifically, has been selected to become an epicentre for development in the next few years. That bitter pill has been sugar coated with the promise of new schools and affordable housing and packaged as the only way to stop rampant development in the AONB. Describing Thatcham North East, WBC write “…there are very few negative impacts that developing the site would have …” Many would disagree.
Impact of Thatcham North East
There is a bitter irony in that WBC fought against, eventually up to ministerial level, development of 500 houses at Siege Cross. This vigorous defence was partly mounted because of the potentially devastating adverse impact on the local environment and harm to the setting of the AONB. That same Siege Cross development is now contained within the Thatcham North East proposal, and WBC would now have us believe that a development five times larger would be an improvement to that same environment and the AONB setting!
There should be no doubt as to the potential impact of this proposed development. It would take a green field site and destroy the local environment and landscape, and adversely affect the AONB that WBC is required to protect. It would have no actual links to Thatcham town centre, would potentially dramatically increase the risk of flooding in the town, and inevitably lead to traffic mayhem. The damage caused would be irretrievable; there is no replanting an ancient woodland or replacing lost flora and fauna. We would all have plenty of time to consider these losses as we sit in a Thatcham traffic jam.
WBC published their draft Local Plan in December 2020. Bucklebury Parish Council (BPC) engaged a Planning Consultant to ensure that all relevant areas of opposition were covered, and submitted a detailed and robust response. In parallel, a group of parishioners set up a Facebook page to encourage parishioners to write to WBC vigorously opposing the proposed development.
WBC are now digesting these responses and will issue Stage 2 consultation of the Draft Local Plan later in the spring. There is little confidence amongst parishioners that WBC will have listened to our concerns, or those from neighbouring villages and Thatcham, and made any meaningful adjustments to the development proposals.
It is fully expected that Thatcham North East will return in its current form in the next stage of consultation. BPC and the Facebook group have decided to work together to submit the best response for Bucklebury parishioners to this Stage 2 consultation. The combined group has formed as a Working Group of BPC (WG) and is tasked with organising that opposition response. The plan is to use attributes of the two teams, with parishioner help, to produce a compelling response. To best achieve this, the WG will undoubtedly require expert help from professional planning consultants. The WG is currently exploring liaison and joint working with other local parishes, Thatcham Town Council, environmental groups and local organisations to improve the response, and to share the costs of the expert advice that will so greatly bolster our case.
For this strategy to work there are two direct and real needs - people getting involved and money.
What can you do?
If you are undecided as to whether or not to become involved, please take a walk down Long Grove, or Cox’s Lane, or Harts Hill and imagine what those green fields would look like covered in houses. Imagine the impact on the delicate ecosystems of the Common. Imagine sitting in the inevitable traffic gridlock in Thatcham, looking at the houses of Hungerford-on-the-Hill. Imagine reading about flooding in Thatcham. Then consider that other sites may be available at a lesser cost to the environment. Imagine then not doing anything to try and stop that, or at least not trying to find out more to gain a fuller picture. This is not about protecting “our” Common or “our” environment, but about ensuring they are protected for future generations. People must live somewhere, but there are brownfield sites out there that do not come at such a high environmental cost.
There will come a time when we will have to write again to WBC to try and persuade them onto a different course. But for now, we need volunteers to put up a posters, spread the word, deliver flyers, or use their skills or time to help research or write our response.
To receive information or offer help please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You will be added to the distribution list for updates and if you wish to help added to the list of volunteers.
Updates will also be available on the:
- Parish website: www.buckleburyparish.org
- Facebook: Bucklebury Parish Against Thatcham NE Development
- Twitter: Bucklebury Parish Against Thatcham Development but the handle is @AgainstParish
- Instagram: #saynotothatchamdevelopment
If none of these methods are ones you use, but you wish to be updated or volunteer help, then please contact Helen Pratt, the BPC clerk, whose telephone and address are at the end of this Oaks.
Part of the opposition that the WG intend to mount will require expert advice. A complete understanding of environmental issues, traffic flows of 2500 houses, together with guidance on the best way to oppose a development such as this will require significant funding. A budget of £20,000 is the initial assessment for this stage of consultation.
At this stage, the WG has to assume it will need to pay for this unilaterally, until it can agree to share experts and associated costs with some of the other Parish Councils and Thatcham Town Council. Whilst sharing is an obvious aim, it will take time to organise.
However, we need to start work and so fund raising needs to start now. BPC have provided £1000 seed funding, but after that, the WG must raise its own funding, and that money will have to come from our local people. No funding means no expert input, which inevitably means a weaker response. A weaker response increases the likelihood of the irretrievable damage to the landscape and environment that we are all so keen to preserve. It is difficult enough to ask for money at the best of times, but these are not the best of times. We recognise that family finances may be difficult and there are many other worthy causes crying out for funding. But if you have some spare money and you want to help protect the Common and the associated area from inappropriate development for future generations, please give what you can to support our cause. I say ‘our’ because it affects all of us.
You can complete a bank transfer to Bucklebury Parish Council account:
Account name: Bucklebury Parish Council
Account no: 01688915
Sort Code: 30-95-89
For the reference, please include your name or Thatcham North East if you prefer to remain anonymous.
If sending a cheque, please make it out to “Bucklebury Parish Council” and post to the BPC Clerk.
If you are able to donate - thank you from all of us. If not, then maybe you can donate time or skills? Every donation - large or small - will help oppose this unwanted development.
For completeness, should there be any donated money left over when this entire process is concluded then, after consultation with all parishioners, BPC will use any excess for parish benefit.
If you have questions about Thatcham North East, want to be involved, want to be kept updated, or want to donate money or time then please check the www.buckleburyparish.org website or email email@example.com.