Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Well done to Pincent Hill campaigners

This evening I attended a special meeting of West Berkshire Council's Eastern Area Committee held at Little Heath School where plans for 750 new homes between Theale and Tilehurst were due to be discussed. This plan has caused a lot of disquiet in the community and attracted over a thousand written objections from residents when it was submitted. I attended the meeting with my colleague, Tilehurst Cllr Ricky Duveen and my friend Jean Gardner, longstanding chairwoman of Tilehurst Parish Council. Jean has long been concerned about the impact the proposed development could have on people living in Tilehurst Parish. Jean is a great community campaigner who is well-known across the area for her work representing local residents over the years.I have huge respect for her and everything she has done for the community - she's a great role model for me in my campaigning as well as a a great friend.
It was a packed house for the meeting - hundreds of residents gathered in the school hall to listen to listen the Planning Committee's response to the planning application submitted by developers Blue Living to build 750 new homes on land at Pincents Hill. Planning officers identified many valid planning reasons why this proposal should be rejected - all of which were closely linked to the detrimental effect the development could have on the environment and the quality of life of residents. The land earmarked for development by Blue Living is well used by the community for recreation and provides a natural buffer or 'strategic gap' between established urban areas. Campaigners are currently trying to get it designated as a village green to protect it from future development. Developing such a site would therefore be contrary to a number of local and national planning policies.
Reading West PPCs Alok Sharma and Naz Sarkar both spoke out ably against the proposals in the meeting along with Jean Gardner, members of the Save Calcot campaign and councillors. A statement on behalf of Blue Living was read out by a representative of the developers which proved very controversial with the audience - not least because it included some bizarre claims and accusations about the handling of the application by the Council. This was met with anger from councillors, officers and residents. The representative then made a quick exit, refusing to answer questions. This did not go down well!
There was a huge cheer from the audience when after a brief discussion members of the Planning Committee rejected the plans unanimously. This was clearly the right decision and it represents a great result for the local community. Well done to Joan Lawrie and the Save Calcot campaigners, also to all the local residents who have submitted detailed objections and campaigned against this flawed plan.The local politicians of all political colours who have actively supported the local grassroots campaign including local MP Martin Salter also deserve praise for their hard work on this issue which has helped to protect this vital open space. Sadly this is unlikely to be the end of the road for these ill-conceived proposals - many people at the meeting voiced their concerns that an appeal is likely and the fear is not so much if this will happen as when.

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