Community Meeting re: Potential Planning Application from Berkeley

Held: 3rd May 2022, 8.15pm
Evendons Primary School Hall

ChairKate Graefe (KG)
SpeakersKate Graefe and Sarah Kerr (SK)
ScribeHelena Hughes

Key Messages/Exec Summary:

  • A planning application has not yet been submitted
  • Key for those interested to engage in the process as individuals as well as a community – number of responses and amount of interest a factor
  • The intent is to create a Committee (please get in touch if you’re interested)
  • The website and email address are set up for communications.

Introduction & Agenda (KG)
Welcome and hello! Community meeting going through what we know so far in terms of Berkeley Homes potential planning application on land off Blagrove Lane.

Also, go through key aspects which are important considerations relating to planning, which council will look at when the planning application is submitted for decision, such as the 5-year land supply, and other key aspects which we are taking the opportunity to speak to the community about. The aim is to share as much information as we can.  There is no planning application yet submitted, so the info could change.

We also aim to cover previous planning applications. Information was to be shared by Ian Andrews, previously involved in contesting a prior application, but Ian had to send his apologies.  KG covered this section with input from those in the audience.

Q&A at the end.

What do we know so far? (SK)

Berkeley Homes (BH) approached SK regarding a meeting. Sally Gurney (Wokingham Town Council) & SK met to gather as much information as possible at this stage.

  • 375 homes, 900 people approx.
  • 40% of homes affordable. Of those, 70% of those affordable rents (which typically means approx. 80% of the market rate), 30% shared ownership
  • 2 storey houses with gardens
  • Main access off Barkham road, near Leathern Bottle. BH is aware of some trees under TPO and will try and come through where more recently trees were seeded,
  • Further access off Blagrove Lane at the 5-bar gate near 30 miles an hour. Secondary access.
  • The east side of the development (adjacent to Viking Field) has not yet decided how they would want access.
  • Want to divert bus route from Barkham Road to the development.
  • The west side (land that backs onto Doles Lane) – contains the majority of housing; BH wants to add a community building.
  • Recognise that around the electricity substation is ancient woodland, so no houses, but flooding mitigation instead.
  • SANG proposed on-site with a green corridor to move through the site to Viking Field.
  • BH working towards a Biodiversity net gain – but on questioning, they did not share how they would do this and how much net gain they are aiming for. 
  • Proposing that the 60mph section of Blagrove Lane be closed to vehicles/ open only for cycling and pedestrians

Planning Overview (SK)

Stages of the process are as follows:

Pre-application: the stage that BH is at present, approach Planning Dept and pay a fee to get advice on what typically is acceptable. Get advice from Planning Dept, and put in an application.
BH gave no timescale for a move to submitting the planning application.

BH confirmed are intending to action some community outreach.

Once planning in, public consultation is usually a 3-week period. SK would try to push to get extended, given public interest.

Due to the size of the proposed development, the result of consultation and officer recommendations would go to a Planning Committee made up of a politically balanced group of councillors. SK confirmed a small group of local residents could choose to speak at the meeting should they wish.  Residents are permitted to speak for 3 minutes maximum, so it is advisable to have one resident speak on behalf of everyone.  Local councillors can also speak for up to 3 minutes. 

Planning Committee would make a decision. If it is refused, the developer has a right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

SANG – what is a SANG? (SK)
We live near the Thames Basin Heath, an area that is resident of ground-nesting birds and is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA).  This means that it is important to limit the number of people using the area so as not to disturb the ground-nesting birds. 
When new housing developments are built within the area, there is an obligation to provide a Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) to limit the number of people accessing the SPA. Natural England has a set of requirements for a SANG, including a circular route of a minimum of 2.3km in length.  As such, SANGs are typically a minimum of 8 hectares in order to accommodate a minimum 2.3km route. 

For a SANG in this location (in the 5-7km buffer zone from the SPA), a SANG has to be a minimum of 2 hectares per 1,000 people from the new development.  As such, BH needs to provide just under 2 hectares, but to provide a SANG of that size, would not meet Natural England requirements.  It would need to be nearer 8 hectares to qualify, and therefore, BH proposes providing a SANG that could provide mitigation for a lot more houses than are being proposed.  Should that mitigation be for new houses on another site, they would need to include a car park, but have stated that they have no intention of including a car park.  Is there then potential that they could try and put in further future development? 

5 Year housing supply (SK) See for full details. 

Previous planning (KG)

It was confirmed that this is not exactly the same footprint as the previous planning application.
The most recent planning application for up to 140 dwellings was submitted in May 2013 by Thames Valley Housing Association. The council refused the decision in August 2013. No appeal. 13 different reasons why it was rejected. (Reference should anyone want to look is on the Council website is: O/2013/0991 – the first 2 documents listed show the decision and reasons for refusal)

Reasons for rejection included rural landscape, flora impact, trees impact, public transport links as well as protection of Great Crested Newts and Barn Owls. As well as affordable housing.

Ken Rowlands confirmed that TPOs were put on the trees around Viking Field. Is it possible to put TPOs on trees in the proposed area? However, a consideration that TPOs may have only been for 6 months, so we need to monitor them. SK to investigate the TPO plan.

Action suggested (KG)
Previously committee formed, residents came together – broadly what expecting to do again. Especially given the level of interest.

Committee to coordinate communication, collation of the for/against views, e.g. activities such as TPO’s could be part.

No planning application to react to; the purpose of this meeting is to say what we do know, share information and contact details, and any initial views and comments. We are not at a point where can make comments to the developer or council.

BH is well funded and will have a different approach vs previous applications. Also seen local investigations, expect BH to be well prepared. To reiterate, we do not have a planning application to react against. Have information from the BH meeting with Sally and Sarah.
DO know the local plan being consulted on by the council does not have this area within it; however, the local plan has not yet been adopted by the council. Theoretically, still, an opportunity for a developer to put in an application.

SK confirmed that even if the Local Plan was in place, this does not stop a speculative planning application from going in.  SK to check on the expected timeline for the Local Plan.

Regardless of opinion on development, good interest levels from the community & those in the room. A committee can come together; essential that we continue to garner community engagement support, especially attending BH meetings and replies from individuals to the council and BH, as and when planning is requested.

Q&A (All)

  • Who owns the land
    • Multiple owners
  • Has BH got options on the land
    • Assumed must-have. Confirmed (by attendee) yes.
  • Confirm location
    • As you enter Blagrove Lane from Evendons Lane, it is the land on the right-hand side that stretches to Viking Field, and after the Doles Lane junction, it is the land on the left that stretches to Barkham Road. (Admin – we will add some plans and maps to this site asap).
  • Does this include the GRT (Gypsy Roma Traveller) site
    • No, they have been granted permanent planning permission to remain.
  • Given over delivery in previous years, is there no mechanism to stop this ‘ridiculous’ building
    • The national policy framework is silent on this. Nothing to stop developers. All part of five years’ supply. No control over developers.
  • Surely Wokingham council to monitor
    • They can’t. Five-year land supply means specific deliverable sites (see five-year land supply explanation)
  • You mentioned BH are proposing dead-ending Blagrove Lane at the national speed restriction area and diverting through the estate
    • Confirmed that is their current suggestion. However, it could be changed with community engagement. BH want to have a small road through the estate, but one which does not encourage through traffic. Blocking of BL would need council approval. Consider much more traffic.
  • Where would there be an exit
    • On the Barkham Road near to the Leathern Bottle pub.
  • Do we know if in any previous development houses are unoccupied
    • I don’t believe that this is a consideration for planning, but SK will investigate.

Further comments from attendees

One of the main aspects which stopped the previous application was the Evendons Lane restriction/narrowing of the road by the school main gates on the bend. The applicant wanted to put a bus route through to the new estate. Berkshire Council reviewed and realised that two emergency vehicles could not pass each other. This has NOT changed.

Also could be considered in the application that Blagrove Lane will need to widen by the corner of Roberts Grove and Blagrove Farm, by 5 bar gate, the narrowest part of the land, been there for many years.

Furthermore, the entrance to the new estate exits opposite the Leathern Bottle. There is an entrance within 50/60 yards, right on the bend – the entrance to the electrical substation. A few years ago, some new machinery had to be introduced, and when Southern Electric applied for access via this route, it was denied. Instead, access was allowed via the field, via the five bar gate entrance.

By the GRT site entrance, there was an old entrance, 15/20 yards prior to the current entrance; underneath that is a dyke – main water access runoff from the woods/meadows/ Blagrove Lane. The pipe runs from underneath Blagrove Lane right through Fishponds and empties out into the Emmbrook. Water would need to be accommodated – likely in the main drainage. Surface water could be disruptive.

After Blagrove Lane houses were built, they had a hard winter with snow 3 feet deep, which turned into flooding later that day. Nowhere for water to drain to.

SK confirmed that once a planning application goes in, there will be a consultation, of which there are several statutory consultees.  These consultees include both internal (to the council) and external consultees.  This includes flooding, trees, ecology, and others. Experts in each of these areas will submit a report to the planning team.

On the 20th of July 2007, local residents in Blagrove and Roberts Grove were heavily flooded. Many had to move out for 6 months to have houses dried out. Nearly 2 feet of water.

Community consultation – are the developers in an obligation to consult in a centralised location
Expect them to do something online and may also do something face to face. There is no obligation to do, but it would not be in their favour not to consult. Note: It is important that as a community, we engage, perhaps without giving them all the detail – if they reach out to consult and no one engages, it is seen negatively.

Blagrove Lane area, could there be issues for school places? Issues about place planning for schools. Some oversubscribed and some undersubscribed, dependent on school and year group.

Sustainability (which includes access to facilities like schools) is a planning consideration.

A comment that there is not much space for entrance between Folly Court park and the substation. (SK commented we believe this would not be over Folly Court land and assume the other side of the sub-station)  Folly Court park is now under the ownership of the council. 

Affordability assessment – what is this? What do they plan to charge for the range of housing? Can this be compared to the average range of salaries? What is considered affordable?
Definition of what is required as affordable can be 80% of market rent. Where shared ownership housing comes in, or a number of different categories. Believe 35% affordable housing is the local requirement. Affordable housing has lots of different categories. I don’t believe it is a planning consideration of what is affordable. If the market value of housing is high, it isn’t a consideration. Ultimately developers consider their profit.

So many houses are being built locally, and one of the greatest worries is the lack of places in schools. Evendons is a super school that so many houses can squash. We are finding facilities are not really there for young people growing up.

Is there any obligation for them (BH) to fund schools etc.? SK confirmed a community infrastructure levy is something that developers are obliged to pay – a sum of money to provide community facilities. In some of the larger strategic developments (e.g. Montague), the developers pay towards building roads.

Issue lack of GP’s doctors places? There is a national shortage of GPs. Council cannot mandate the building of a doctors surgery; this is a decision within the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)

Bottlenecks in the area due to traffic? Once we know more about the planning application, we will work across the community and will need volunteers to look at things like transport. Also, we need to consider the climate emergency and the need for sustainable transport.

What are the mechanisms for feeding into the local plan update? All have been completed. The environment agency has come back on a number of sites saying they don’t meet flooding concerns.

Can we learn from any recent developments, such as Eldridge Park? Was there an association in place? SK to look into.

Woodcray Group confirmed they would be happy to share experiences. When the Woodcray residents appealled, all areas which are planning consideration – were divvied up the different areas, taking responsibilities for different areas, such as trees, junction design, in order to go into the detail and understand. Any previous knowledge can be shared.

Q: Do we know anything about sewage capacity? Area for someone to investigate.

Comment that on Council planning website, a document has been published highlighting that no detailed environmental impact assessment may be required. Number 220856 – request as to whether they need to do environmental assessment.

Suggestion to take photographs of some of the wildlife. This can include deer, but deers aren’t protected species, so focus should include badgers, owls, snails, frogs, slow worms, bats, newts. Any unusual snails. Suggest photos and time stamps. (Admin – also many rare plants)

Suggestion to take photographs of any accidents in the area.

Comment that when the council originally previous planning suggested that it would eat away the Barkham/Wokingham gap – confirmed this is still a planning consideration. Also, one of the reasons planning was turned down at Woodcray.

A note from the admin

Please note that the Q&A above have not been fact-checked and may or may not be accurate. In respect of the documented comments regarding previous applications above, when the information was checked, some information did not match exactly what was stated. Given the time since previous applications, this is not unexpected. Once the committee is formed, we will follow up and investigate the topics raised in the meeting and any more that are relevant.

Thanks to everyone who gave up their time to attend, especially the speakers. Also Evendons school for use of the hall.


Evendons area email address has been set up  

Thanks to all for signing up to receive future information via e mail and to those who are interested in volunteering to join the committee. Minutes will be shared via email in due course and future plans.

Ian Andrews