7 March, 2014
Mention 'property development' to the residents of Crowthorne and it's likely you'll receive a sigh in response.
On 27 February, Bracknell Forest Councillors unanimously approved the construction of new homes on a 250-acre brownfield area on the Old Wokingham Road. The developer, Legal and General, has been given the green light to build 1,000 homes and other amenities on the former Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) site.
At the same time, neighbouring Wokingham Borough Council also has plans for the construction of housing in the area.
Why is this happening?
To meet an urgent need for new housing. The schemes form part of the two councils' Site Allocation Local Plan, which stipulates that Bracknell must construct 11,000 homes before 2026 and Wokingham 12,460.
Speaking about the Crowthorne scheme, Legal and General spokesman Nick Baker said that the "comprehensive and well-designed mixed use development [makes a] significant contribution to meeting...identified housing requirements". He added that that it was equally a step towards "addressing the UK's chronic housing shortage".
The decision on the TRL site was heard by an audience of some 50 local residents, including members of community groups, Crowthorne Village Action Group (CVAG) and Protect Our Wokingham Without Woodland Residents (POW3RS).
Calling the decision ridiculous, campaigners said that the scheme is too big, particularly as it will extend onto a surrounding area of woodland - an area the council has termed a 'strategic gap' between Crowthorne and Bracknell.
While the groups are not arguing the fact that new houses are necessary and that disused buildings should be reused, they oppose the fact that many trees will be lost and only a few hundred metres would remain between the two areas, increasing congestion and worsening air quality.
The groups additionally claim that Bracknell Forest and Wokingham are not 'talking to each other', leaving the residents of Crowthorne just 'stuck in the middle'.
In addition to 'making a significant contribution to meeting identified housing requirements', the new developments will also provide locals with more facilities and services. The TRL project - the biggest development in the area - will include a primary school, community centre, care home and municipal depot. There has also been a request for medical provisions.
The scheme will necessitate traffic infrastructure improvements and the council has confirmed that road improvements, such as the installation of traffic lights at the Golden Retriever Pub and the widening of some lanes. This will be completed before the construction work can commence.
Keen to answer the environmental concerns, Legal and General said that far from consuming open land, the scheme will actually transform many acres of concrete and 'return them to green', creating an additional 100 acres of open green space for the public to enjoy.
Housing developments will always be contentious, no matter where they are situated. The saving grace is that the developers and councils actively invite comment from the community; hopefully this will lead the opposing sides to find a compromise that maintains the integrity of the area and supplies housing for those in need.