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WBC planning committee breaks its own rules - but that's OK

Landowners Farley Farms unsuccessfully tried to foist a cement works and quarry on Arborfield Cross back in 2019. Now they have succeeded in a new attack on the character of the village.

They’ve won outline planning permission for three hectares of business, storage and distribution facilities at Bridge Farm, between the Arborfield bypass and Greensward Lane (where coincidentally some of the most active opponents of the quarry plan lived).

The developers, Angle Property, published this artist’s impression above of the intended uses of the site. There does indeed appear to be a fair amount of storage and warehousing. Arborfield residents may note with some concern that no vehicle access road from/to the bypass is provided, so the lorry delivery traffic that appears to be planned will emerge on to the Reading Road near the roundabout (out of picture at the top).

It was an impressive bounce back for Farley Farms after the setback they suffered four years ago. Still, they needed some help from Wokingham Council’s Planning Committee and its

planning officers. A planning officers’ report to councillors acknowledged that the commercial use proposed for the site would cause some harm to the countryside, and conflicts with council policies limiting development. Luckily for Farley Farms, they thought these problems were ‘outweighed considerably by the economic and social benefits of developing the site’. Benefits? Up to 170 jobs are mentioned in the outline planning application: Keep that in mind for now.

Let’s first look at the various policies the council were breaking by approving this planning application. They’re taken from Arborfield & Newlands Parish Council response to the PA, which gave detailed grounds for objecting to it. These were based solidly on official policies which the planning committee should have observed when deciding on the PA.

First, the proposed development goes against the National Planning Policy Framework, which says that planning permission should not be granted normally for development that results in ‘loss or deterioration of ancient woodland’. The site abuts ancient woodland, Pound Copse (above), which would suffer deterioration from light, noise and particulate pollution.

The development also goes against Wokingham Borough Council’s Core Planning (CP) Strategies, which council officers themselves drew up, in the following ways:-

CP1 §2: Emissions of pollutants should be minimised. This development would be bring industrial traffic into Arborfield and extra vehicle use of local roads by cars, vans and large lorries.

CP1 §12: There is little to no evidence of the inclusion of on-site renewables or any further environmental considerations for the site such as grey water recycling.

CP7 §§ A B and C: This development would harm the biodiversity of Pound Copse through Light, Noise and particulate pollution from the industrial nature of the development. The PA offers no appropriate compensation measures to offset the harm to be inflicted upon the local environment

CP10 Improvements to Strategic Transport Network: The PA makes no attempt to offer improvements in the local strategic travel network. It relies upon existing roads for the heavy industrial vehicles to be using the site. It offers no mitigation for the adverse effect of the vehicle traffic to and from site on local and strategic roads

CP15: Employment Development: This development sits outside any of WBC Core employment areas.

Finally, the PA went against Arborfield and Newland Parish Council’s own local plan policy TC3. This encourages new or existing businesses in the countryside to re-use vacant buildings. There are already a number of industrial units available nearby, e.g. Hogswood industrial estate and Nine Mile Ride industrial units, with plenty of vacancies for small and medium-sized businesses

So in short the Borough Council’s planning committee judged the planning application to be a ‘good idea’ even though it contravened policy statements set by the government and local council authorities themselves. It’s no wonder David Cornish, chair of the planning committee, said he felt ‘conflicted’ about the plans. Poor man, we share his pain. But we may also wonder why it's so important right now for WBC to ride roughshod over their own planning policies in approving this site. The clue is the location. Stand in Reading Road Arborfield near the site (picture below), look across the road, and what do you see?

Hall Farm.

Not long from now the Council will have to make a final decision on whether to include the Hall Farm estate in their local plan update. If they do, they will need to make a very good case for destroying this area of countryside with around 4,000 houses. For one thing, where will the people in these houses work?

The University's Hall Farm development proposal for the local plan showed its land at the top of the site as the area for ‘employment’. Unfortunately, employing many local people at

the Shinfield film studios located there doesn’t look like a realistic prospect. After two years of operation, there’s the person who goes in to make the coffee, but that's all, according to what I've heard locally. Which shouldn't come as a surprise, as it’s well-known film companies take their own production crews from one site to another. They don’t advertise for employees in the neighbourhood.

Well, Bridge Farm is just over the road from the proposed Hall farm housing development. Once this business park approved in outline by Andrew Cornish and his colleagues is set up, it will no doubt offer jobs accessible to some of the people living there. Now that can be mentioned in the local plan update, the Council might be thinking…

And that can make the anti-social,* anti-environmental* housing scheme proposed by oh-so-‘green’ Reading University look a little more acceptable to the planning inspector?

Pat Phillipps

* That's the opinion of a Shinfield LibDem councillor. At least, it was when she was standing for election…

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