Many of you will have attended the public meeting with Laura Farris that was held in the Memorial Hall on 31st August. Thank you to everyone who sent in questions. If you were unable to attend, you missed a positive meeting with Ms Farris listening to our concerns. We are grateful for the support she showed us at the meeting but understand that she is limited in what she can actually do to influence any decision on planning matters such as the one we are fighting. We recognise, however, that it is quite unusual to get MPs to agree to hold meetings like this one on local issues such as planning which is typically the domain of the local council and we are grateful to her for this. We are not sure how much of a difference she can make, but she is still in a position of power and influence, and we are pleased to have her attention on this issue.
She made it clear at the meeting that she would still welcome letters from constituents on this matter but urged us also to write in with further questions, views and concerns to Graham Pask who represents us at West Berks Council.
You may have noticed that we have gone a little quiet since the public meeting. Changes in government policy on planning and the subsequent cabinet reshuffle have meant that phase 2 of the consultation has been delayed. Everything is on hold, which is good news, while we wait to hear what effect a new Minister for Housing and his policies will have on the whole process. Goalposts seem to be shifting…
Despite all this, we know that the issue of the 2,500 houses has not gone away. The Working Group is looking at the implications of the Government reshuffle and how best to continue with the campaign where there are new rules and new stakeholders.
For those who have so generously donated money to the fund to help fight this development, please rest assured that the money is safe and ringfenced for when we will most certainly need it at the next stage.
Thanks, as always, for your support,
The Working Group
Questions for Laura Farris’ Public Meeting
These questions have come from Bucklebury parishioners. There will be some further questions sent directly to Laura Farris’ office.
Greenfield vs Brownfield - Boris Johnson said after the Chesham and Amersham by election "we’re not going to build all over the countryside". THA20 does just that. Nick Carter, the recently retired Chief Executive of WBC said in interview (p10 NWN, Aug 12th) ’The environment would have been nice, but realistically, given it wasn’t a government priority, it would have been difficult.’ What steps will you take to ensure WBC follow the PM’s guidance?
Size - The Government formula for housing allocation doesn’t account for the area in West Berkshire that is subject to development restrictions due to the AONB, two atomic DEPZones and flood zones. You told us that you were meeting Robert Jenrick to discuss this. Could you please tell us the result of that discussion?
AONB - WBC opposed the proposed development of 500 houses at Siege Cross in 2015. Their vigorous defence highlighted potentially devastating harm to the local environment and setting of the AONB. This development site is nested within THA20.
The CPRE report "Beauty Still Betrayed" says that "developments within the setting of an AONB should only take place if it can clearly be shown that there will be no adverse impacts on the neighbouring AONB".
What will you do to avoid public money being wasted on a promoting a proposal that inevitably leads to damage to The Common?
Traffic - 2500 houses will create additional traffic at the level crossing, on the A4 and as rat runs through the villages to avoid the gridlock. This will have a devastating effect on residents, but WBC have produced no analysis or mitigation plan. What steps will you take to prevent your constituency from grinding to a halt?
Schools/Healthcare - The number of new residents will put impossible strain on local schools. WBC recognise this but new schools will be built towards the end of the scheme leaving a generation of children searching for schooling. What steps will you take to ensure every child gets the education they deserve?
A similar issue arises with health care. Our GP services are already oversubscribed. A large single development will lead to a service breakdown.
Community cohesion - The community is not opposed to new homes. It is opposed to THA20 because of its size, concentration, lack of community links damage to our AONB and the strain on community services. What steps will you take to persuade WBC to consider a plan involving several smaller developments?
LF’s plans - If the new proposed constituency boundaries are approved, would you prefer to stand for the constituency that will then contain Newbury and Thatcham, or the 'mid Berkshire' constituency that will contain Bucklebury and the Pang Valley?
Campaign Update - 16th August 2021
North East Thatcham Development Public Meeting
We thank Ms Farris for arranging the Thatcham North East Development Public Meeting and welcome her to the Memorial Hall on 31st August 2021 at 5.30pm. If you haven't already booked your place please do, or if you can't make it there is an opportunity to share your thoughts on the proposed development in Thatcham North East on the online form:
It is important for her to see solidarity among her constituents that are against the development, so please either attend or share your thoughts with her!
You may also have received a Residents’ Survey through your door. Please take this opportunity to share your thoughts on local issues. When completing the survey online there is a comments box allowing you to express your views or concerns. You can use this to highlight your concerns about the Thatcham NE development. You can use the paper form you received through the door or you can complete the survey online here:
We hope to see as many of you as possible at the Public Meeting.
Thank you, as always, for your continued support.
The Working Group
Campaign Update - 8th August 2021
Laura Farris’s Lack of Response
Supporters of Say NO to Thatcham NE Development (2500 houses in the countryside) have written to our MP Laura Farris, some of them more than a month ago. All have been raising their concerns about West Berkshire Council Local Draft plan to build 2500 homes on local green space adjacent to the AONB. The AONB is home to a number of protected species of wildlife and the impact of building so many houses so close to the AONB will cause irreparable damage to all manner of flora and fauna, many of which are at serious risk of harm from such large-scale development. We all want our MP to address our concerns but as of today, we are not aware that she has been responding to your personal letters. If you have been lucky enough to have received a response from Ms Farris, please let us know but as the rest of us wait for a response from her, we might ponder…
Is she using pigeon post? or has her pen run out? Perhaps the expense of envelopes and stamps are beyond her budget? or too busy leading a different project.
“The Best Pub in West Berks”??
It would be very good to know what OUR MP’s opinion is on the Planning Bill?
Some in the Conservative ranks are revolting as they act to reflect the concerns of their constituents about the large scale developments taking place in their areas. Labour MPs are increasingly vocal about the donations made by developers to the Conservative Party and all in all, it’s a hot topic in Westminster. Subtle signals of discomfort from Conservative MPs have apparently been heard by the Housing Minister and what has been described as the “planning wheel of doom” may have induced our own MP to become brave and voice what she really thinks about this proposed development in NE Thatcham. We don’t know if she’s found her voice during the debates in Parliamentary corridors but for the moment, we’d be happy to know she’s found her pen and paper to let us know she’s hearing us.
When and where is the public meeting taking place as promised?
Laura Farris said she was going to challenge the number of houses WBC was being asked to deliver - given the amount of land lost to AONB, AWE, flood plain and existing development. Add to this the comment about needing to 'level up’ the country rather than continue to push up the number of houses in the south-east, and we have a line of discussion very much in need of a response.
According to the Parliament website:
“What should I do if my MP hasn’t answered my email/letter?
MPs receive a large amount of correspondence, so cannot always reply immediately. If you haven’t heard back from them after about two weeks, you should follow up your email or letter with a phone call, or make an appointment to go and see them at their local surgery.”
Ms Farris last held a Constituency Surgery within the immediately affected area of this proposed development at the Frank Hutchings Hall, Thatcham on the 19th June 2021, which she only announced would be taking place on the 14thJune 2021. It was not widely advertised and many of us may have missed the opportunity to go and see her. We are not suggesting we should all call her, but if you’ve not had a response and she’s not holding a surgery any time soon (we are not aware of any imminent plans for her to hold a surgery here in Bucklebury, are you?), then calling her, or writing to her repeatedly until you get a response is about all we can do. A stamped addressed envelope might get you a speedier response.
As a post script for this week:
Ms Farris’ website states “Climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation and a core concern to my constituents. I will: Support local communities to develop effective flood prevention schemes.”
She might offer up some thoughts on the kind of support will she be offering the local community of Thatcham who are worried about the increased flooding risk associated with this development at NE Thatcham.