We’re still waiting for our Borough Council to finalise the local plan update. While the wait goes on, let’s see how campaigns against overdevelopment have fared in neighbouring boroughs. It’s a mixed picture.
Beginning with the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, one of the most controversial sites within their local plan has been Maidenhead golf course. The Tory Council’s local plan draft wanted to put 2,600 houses there. Campaigners called it environmental vandalism, but in February 2022 the local plan was adopted, despite protests from around 150 demonstrators at the town hall.
Trying to overturn the approval, the environmental campaign group ‘Maidenhead Great Park’ lodged a judicial review The group raised more than £11,000 for legal and ecological advice regarding development on the publicly owned parkland. Three grounds were given for challenging the Borough Local Plan: the flood risk to residents in Cookham, the loss of sporting facilities at Maidenhead Golf Course and the council’s failure to consider the plan at Cabinet before it went to full Council.
Above left: N.E Thatcham countryside (saved) Above right: Maidenhead golf course (not saved)
Unfortunately the campaign collapsed in a fiasco. Its legal representative failed to serve the claim on the Council within the six-week period allowed, so the High Court refused permission for the challenge to be heard.
The new LibDem council has been looking through the contracts for the golf course development and talking to developers, to investigate if there is any way to postpone or stop the development altogether. These efforts are led by the lead council member for planning, who was himself a supporter of the Maidenhead Great Park campaign. There’s no sign they are getting anywhere, however.
Out in West Berks, a fiasco of a different sort has left the other WBC with egg on its face. West Berkshire Council wanted to allow 2,500 houses to be built on green fields between Thatcham and the village of Bucklebury. Thatcham Town Council and Bucklebury Parish Council organised well-coordinated opposition to the proposal, in which the Parish Council’s ‘Bucklebury Says No’ campaign alone raised £11,000, over half from villagers.
WBC’s response was to claim that it was reducing the target number of houses in the North East Thatcham site to 1,500. However, once the final draft of the LPU appeared last December, opposition (LibDem) councillors pointed out that it contained a number of serious flaws, not least some very misleading wording. The housing figures for N.E. Thatcham were explained in full Council as a reduction from 2,500 dwellings to 1,500. However, the 1,500 number is stated in the draft for consultation as an approximate minimum number, and the supporting studies are still based on an eventual 2,500 dwellings! So the number could very well be increased to the original 2,500 when after 5 years or later the Plan is reviewed. The Council risked having the Local Plan submission dismissed as unsound by the Planning Inspector, on the grounds of a defective consultation.
West Berks therefore brought its Local Plan process to a screeching halt and went back on its tracks. It had to ask the Planning Inspectorate to give it more time to carry out a new consultation, after it’s patched up the various flaws in the botched local plan document it submitted.
The position may be no more than a temporary stay of execution, but there is little doubt that without the vigourous stand taken by parish, town and opposition borough councillors, even this would not have been achieved. What’s more, the Planning Inspector may still be wondering about the basic competence of West Berkshire Council, when the local plan examination hearings finally take place.
Meanwhile, over in Bracknell Forest the hard-fought Save Jealott’s Hill campaign was successful, at least for the time being. In January the planning inspector wanted the removal from the Local Plan of the proposal for a 2,000-home ‘garden village’ on green belt near Warfield. The site is owned by the Chinese-Swiss chemicals group Syngenta. The campaign group raised no less than £48,000 to fight the council and the site owners, and won.
Above: Jealott’s Hill,Warfield
The proposal to build on green belt land was considered to be unsound, with the Council unable to provide sufficient justification for doing so. Syngenta announced a few days ago that it hadn't given up, however and is ‘hoping to work with’ with Bracknell Council’ on a revised proposal. (NB: If you are a company or - say - a university wanting to submit a planning proposal, don’t worry: you don’t have to get that work done by yourself.)
Another successful campaign, this time down in Hampshire, goes back a few years, but again left the local planning authority looking foolish, after a badly managed ‘garden village’ scheme was struck down. Hart Council’s local plan draft proposed in 2018 to build at least 5,000 houses in Winchfield new town, soon rebranded more alluringly as Shapley Heath Garden Village.
The Rural Hart Association campaigned against the new town/garden village, wanting it removed from the Plan in favour of housing development on brownfield land. In 2020 they won their case, when the Planning Inspectorate found the ‘garden village’ proposal unsound. It approved 1,500 houses on a brownfield site outside Fleet, as local campaigners had advocated.
That wasn’t the end of the matter. Last year, a Hart Council Audit report has found major deficiencies in the way the ‘garden village’ project had been managed by the council. They included bad management of the project, lack of clarity around the overall expected expenditure, and failure to keep proper records. The Council leader has apologised to the people of Hart for these failings. So he should.
After the brave but failed attempts by the eco-activist group Bioabundance to get a judicial review of the huge housing numbers (23,550) imposed in the South Oxfordshire Local plan, it’s good to report a success story from north Oxfordshire. The villages of Hanwell and Drayton were threatened by housing development that would have left no green space between them and Banbury.
Last autumn the residents’ action group Keep Hanwell Village Rural held well-attended public engagement events. This August, the local authority, Cherwell District, voted unanimously to reject the outline PA, at a planning committee meeting packed out with people from the village. This followed almost 500 letters of objection from residents, parish councils, Banbury Town Council and the local MP. It just shows what even a fairly small community can do if they are determined enough and well-organised enough.
On that note, and much more locally, congratulations too to the 30-40 Save Our Edney’s Hill campaigners of Barkham Road. Last month Wokingham Borough Council rejected a PA that would have seen another stretch of countryside concreted over, if the developers had got their way. The council judged that the 40 houses the PA proposed would have been ‘inappropriate’ development in the countryside, especially given the lack of sustainable travel in the area.
A good decision by WBC, and surely one with wider implications, if the council wishes to be consistent in its decision-making. If 40 houses lacking opportunities for sustainable travel are ‘inappropriate’ what do you say about 4500, Mr Conway?
Above: Old Church Yard at Hall Farm (Photo Paul Stevens)
Written by: Pat Phillipps