We use essential cookies to make our site work. We'd also like to set analytics cookies that help us make improvements by measuring how you use the site. These will be set only if you accept.

For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our cookies page.

Essential Cookies

Essential cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. For example, the selections you make here about which cookies to accept are stored in a cookie.

You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics Cookies

We'd like to set Google Analytics cookies to help us improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify you.

Third Party Cookies

Third party cookies are ones planted by other websites while using this site. This may occur (for example) where a Twitter or Facebook feed is embedded with a page. Selecting to turn these off will hide such content.

Skip to main content

Local Plan meeting summary - 9/2/2024

Local Plan Update Meeting, Memorial Hall, Upper Bucklebury

Summary and Q&A

7.45pm Friday, 9th February

Chair:                   Barry Dickens, Chair BPC

Speakers:            Councillor Chris Read (Bucklebury); Andrew Black (BPC Consultant); Paul Goriup (Nature Bureau, Ecologist; Councillor Simon Pike (Thatcham Town Council)

Some 70 people attended this meeting in Upper Bucklebury. 


1                            Councillor Chris Read gave an overview of the current situation on the Local Plan and the NE Thatcham development (SP17). 

See attached details of his remarks.

2                            Andrew Black spoke about the next steps in this process:

The appointment of the Independent Inspector, William Fieldhouse, who will be assessing the plan against the tests of soundness as set out in the NPPF:

Four tests of Soundness:

  • Positively prepared
  • Justified
  • Effective
  • Consistent with national policy


The Local Plan Examination:

A round table event, presided over by the Inspector, which will include all interested parties (including   the developers and their planning / legal representatives (Planning Consultants / Barristers)).

Key issues to be presented:

  • The legal status of the Plan and ‘The Duty to Co-operate’.  The latter includes co-operation with other local councils and appropriate authorities (e.g. AWE) in the area.
  • The Sustainability Appraisal
  • Northeast Thatcham (SP17):
    • Alternatives
    • Transport networks
    • Education infrastructure
    • Healthcare provision
    • Community sports facilities
    • Landscape and impact on AONB
    • Flood risk
    • Biodiversity
    • Viability and Deliverability



Key dates: 

16th February 2024 – Initial matters statements

22nd March 2024 – Further matters statements (including the NE Thatcham Policy for SP17)

May/June 2024 - Hearings


3                            Paul Goriup spoke about the quality of the Plan in terms of the biodiversity requirements.  He reiterated that it had been compiled very badly, with no evidence and some outright untruths.

There were 2 key objectives for WBC, and they failed on both:

Biodiversity Net Gain: it is claimed that this Plan will have a significant positive impact but there is no evidence of this.  The net gain is required to be a minimum of 10% of the current position.

Air, water and soil quality:  the soil quality, based on chalk, is poor.  It will need to be removed and stored once building work begins; there will be inevitable overspills of water and a negative impact on the river Kennet. 

None of the Plan meets reality.

4                            Councillor Simon Pike said that he was currently working on Thatcham’s response to the Inspector’s questions.  He will attend the hearings.

He noted that there were 39 LVIAs (Landscape and Vision Assessments) in the Plan; the one for Thatcham was produced by the developers.

Councillor Pike had made Freedom of Information requests for documents relating to the Plan, including Meetings and Minutes.  None was available.

5                            Questions and Answers:

Q: Councillor Adrian Abbs (Newbury Wash Common):

There are two ex-officers in WBC who worked on the Plan – Brian Little and Eric Owens.  Will they be at the Examination?

A: Simon Pike: 

Brian Little is now on the Nuclear Planning Panel and might attend the public enquiry to represent AWE.  Also, Clare Lawrence was the Director of Place who signed off the submission of the plan when she had been in post only three weeks. 


Q: Paul Adams:

Clarity sought on the reasons behind the outcome of the EGM of the WBC in December concerning the Local Plan, given the LibDem’s commitment to vote for its withdrawal.

A:  Barry Dickens:

The letter received from the Secretary of State blocked the motion to vote on this. 


Q: Richard Sadler:

Chris Read said that 23 questions had been raised – by whom?

A: Chris Read:

By the Inspector, William Fieldhouse himself.  These questions can be seen on WBC website under Programme Manager, SP17.

Q:  Jennifer Ainsworth (Chapel Row):

i) Where will the Inspector’s Review take place – in officials’ premises, or locally?  How will they understand local conditions if in the former?

ii) Will there be an opportunity for the residents, or you our representatives, to meet the Inspector at that stage?

A: Andrew Black

i) The review will be in Shaw House.  However, beforehand the Inspector will walk around the proposed site.  This is usually a thorough process.  (Simon Pike agreed).

ii) The Inspector will normally keep his distance, but we can invite him to make himself familiar with the area beforehand.  If there are specific elements, we feel he has not seen we can request a further site visit. 

A: Chris Read: 

Chris quoted from Friends of the Earth advice that the Inspector is very much independent – he is not from the government or the developers.    CR will put a link on the website to the Friends of the Earth comments.

A: Simon Pike:

The criteria and regulations for Planning Inspectors are available under Freedom of Information.


Q:  Barbara Grey, Farmer, Cox’s Lane:

Is it correct that the points required for Biodiversity Gain can be ‘bought’ anywhere?

A: Paul Goriup:

There have been recent changes by Defra on this but in principle there is a mitigation hierarchy for points gain:

1st – on site by an independent ecologist.  The developer must engage a company to do it.

2nd – if all the gain cannot be acquired on site the Council can be asked to get it elsewhere – other sites, by planting trees etc.

3rd – Farmers can register their own land as biodiversity land bank with the local authority and get paid for developing biodiversity credits on the land. For SP17 it would likely be quite straight forward to achieve the 10% biodiversity net gain on the site. However, no baseline ecological survey had been carried out nor any plan developed to put in place mitigation or achieve the BNG as was claimed in the Sustainability Assessment.


Q:  Peter Weedon:

i) When will the Inspector deliver the final report?

ii) What are the implications if the Plan is kicked out by the Inspector (as in ‘Project Fear’ from previous WBC)

A: Andrew Black

i) 2 to 3 months if the Inspector is happy with the recommendations, i.e. they are all fine.  If the recommendations need a lot of work, then there could be a pause of 2 years or more whilst further work and consultation takes place.

If the Inspector says the Plan is unsound the Plan will be withdrawn; or, the Inspector will write a letter to state that the Plan is unsound so it cannot go ahead.  No appeal possible.  However, there can be a legal challenge if the Plan is adopted, and it is considered that there has been a failure against the legal framework on the examination of the plan or evidence base.

ii) If the plan were stopped the developers would need to make a Planning Application: this would take a long time and would be contrary to the Local Plan.  There would be no guarantee of any building. It is unlikely that any speculative application would be accepted by WBC and an appeal would be necessary. 


Q:  Richard Ember:

It seems that the Council just skimmed our objections to the LPR last year, and then took no notice anyway?

A: Andrew Black:

The Council must provide a summary of the consultations and their responses. This has not been made available yet but will be added to the evidence base ahead of the local plan examination.


Q: Mark Towsey:

What happens if the Plan is thrown out?  Laura Ferris appears to suggest that the developers will be able to go ahead anyway, with the government rubber-stamping it.

A:  Andrew Black:

This is not the case.  Any development would require a planning application, and this would be assessed against the current local plan, which is still valid. There is certainly no guarantee that any application would be allowed locally or at appeal.


Q: Katie Aldridge:

What are the implications if the Local Plan is deemed to be unsound?    Houses will still need to be built.

A: Andrew Black:

The current Local Plan takes us to 2026.  West Berks has a healthy supply of houses and is in a good position to defend unwanted planning applications.

A: Simon Pike

This Plan takes no account of brown field sites.  Various areas are possible so by the time of the next plan the need to build on green field sites will have reduced. 


The meeting closed at 9pm. 



District Cllr. Chris Read's report.

Thank you for all turning up this evening, really good to see you all.

Can I first say, other than at the birth of my 2 children, this is by far the most nervous I have ever been.

I want to be apolitical here, I think people have had enough of politics nationally, and I have no doubt that I am standing here today as your councillor as I stood on the platform opposing the massive development of NE Thatcham, known as SP17 in the Local Plan proposed.

I would also like to point out Councillor Adrian Abbs, member for Newbury Wash Common, who I understand was and is a great campaigner against the Sandleford development south of Newbury.

So where are we? We have been through 2 major consultations (regulation 18 and regulation 19).

Technically I believe Regulations 18 in practice was 3 consultations that took place between 2018 to 2021.

Regulation 19 was when the previous administration proposed the submission of the Local Plan Review on 1st December for public consultation between 20th January to 3rd March 2023.

However, on 2nd March 2023 an Extraordinary meeting of Council was held to review the proposal for consideration on the Local Plan that it had several major flaws:

  • That the 1500 house stated (an increase from 1250 in regulation 18 consultation) was actually a minimum and supporting studies are still based on an eventual size of 2500
  • That the HELAA (development site list) published on 20th January 2023 had a large number of sites that had been added since last update, but Councillors could not have been aware of this when they approved Regulation 19 with its list of sites.
  • The air quality survey only runs to 2037 and not to end of LPR which is 2039
  • That council had not complied with its legal duty to cooperate with West Berkshire Clinical Commissioning Group concerning the size of the GP surgery promised.
  • That the Council had not consulted properly with Thames Water for provision of water and foul drainage.
  • The settlement boundary is already extended to accommodate 2500 houses.
  • New provision for secondary schools is not consistent with council guidelines for minimum size of a viable secondary school. And the Infrastructure Delivery Plan has omitted costs for a secondary school in NE Thatcham
  • That the Secretary of State’s Written Statement of 6th December 2022, which

removed the need to maintain a 5-year housing supply for Local Authorities with up-to-date Local Plans, removed top-down housing targets (particularly for Local Authorities with constraints like AONBs etc.) and gave a two-year transition period for LAs in the final stages of preparing Local Plans and this statement should be taken into account by Council.

I also have to say, as my wife Paula is the manager of the very successful local PreSchool at Beenham, the Plan also does not give a single mention to Early Years Education!

The Motion that was set stated the “Council resolves to:

1) abandon the consultation so that all relevant issues can be rectified and/or clarified and thereby avoid the risk of the Local Plan Review submission being dismissed as unsound by the Inspector on the basis of a defective Regulation 19 Consultation: and

2) undertake a new Regulation 19 Consultation in the future once these omissions and errors have been rectified.”

The Motion was put to the meeting and declared LOST by democratic vote.

The plan was then submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for Examination on 31st March, with the Planning Inspector William Fieldhouse appointed.

It should be noted that there are new National Planning Policy Framework policies from central government, but the Inspector will continue to examine the Plan in the context of the previous Framework of July 2021.

The Inspector then issued a Preliminary set of questions to propose a number of modifications to the plan to address soundness to which the Council responded.

The Inspectorate have now published a document call “IN6” on 21 November. In the introduction the inspector notes:

“ I can only recommend main modifications if I decide that they are essential to make the Plan sound or legally compliant (irrespective of whether they have been suggested by the Council or in representations, or whether they would “improve” the Plan).” And the Inspector further states “Any representor may submit a written statement or statements answering the questions set out. However, these should only be in response to questions that relate to their original representations. Written statements must be received by the Programme Officer by the following deadlines:

• Midday 16 February – statements for matters 1 to 3.

• Midday 22 March – statements for matters 4 to 13.”

And I believe Andrew that SP17 NE Thatcham is Matter number 4?

The inspector then goes on to state “I will consider the following matters, issues and questions to help me decide if the Plan is sound and legally compliant and, if not, how it could be modified to ensure that it is.”….

and in the main document he raises 23 questions against SP17 (NE Thatcham) – many being the same questions raised at the Extraordinary Council meeting way back in March 2023. To my mind this means the Inspector is seriously considering the soundness of SP17 NE Thatcham in the Plan.

It should be noted that the current administration has tried several tactics to amend the LPR: minor and major modifications, and even an attempted to withdraw the Plan which was submitted to the Secretary of State March 2023. The aim was, as our concerns could not be addressed within the context of the current Plan, the Council needs to develop a new local plan with an alternative spatial strategy to deliver new development. It should be noted, as legally required a full impact of the withdrawal was published by the Council (as standard) stating the risks, resource and costs of the withdrawal, consultation and re-Plan.

This motion was blocked after intervention by the government on the day of the Council meeting to take the democratic vote by Councillors on behalf of the people of West Berkshire.

My thoughts on this are that it is bitterly disappointing that central Government has intervened to prevent the council from withdrawing this flawed Local Plan, which doesn't provide for the future of our villages and leaves our towns overburdened with little infrastructure gain. A fresh start for the plan would have allowed the council to address the concerns raised by our residents, especially those of Bucklebury, Midgham, Cold Ash, Woolhampton, Thatcham and many other communities in the area, to the plan. Local decisions should be made by local people, and I and many other local councillors want our communities to feel that they have a strong voice on what happens in their parishes and wards. A council and its councillors are here to serve not rule in my humble opinion. However, this is all history and behind us – we can only look forward.

So, what is next?

The Council Executive members have taken legal advice from a barrister who has very strongly advised after that letter from Minister of State Lee Rowley MP, that neither the Council nor the Executives Members should be seen to try and undermine the plan proposed. If they were seen to be undermining the plan, then either a senior Westminster Civil Servant or the government would step in and control the whole process without any control from the Council at all – we don’t want that.

However, I am a lowly (but rather vocal) back bencher so I am not tied to these protocols, and I will remain a strong voice for the residents of Bucklebury Ward! But it is now all eyes on the “Examination in Public” where we all have a right to be heard and take part in hearings if you have already objected.

I must re-iterate the next stage of the process is not about finding alternative sites for development, but finding the spatial strategy (development site selection) and the consultation that supports the proposal unsound.

Thank you so much for your attention.