Staff College inquiry - day nine: a campaigner's diary
February 26, 2009
A public inquiry is being held into controversial plans to develop Bracknell's former RAF Staff College.
Campaigners have united into protest group Staff College Residents Against Madness (SCRAM) to fight the scheme by Taylor Wimpey.
Chris Turrell, a Bracknell Forest councillor and SCRAM campaigner, gives getbracknell a daily update of the inquiry.
The ninth day of the Parks inquiry heard the remaining evidence from Taylor Wimpey, and that of third parties.
David Lander, a consultant for Taylor Wimpey, said he believed putting sports pitches in South Hill Park was in line with the park's management plan, developing "more varied recreational uses". He was asked if the Homes and Communities Agency [HCA], the owners in succession to the Developement Corporation, would wish to take action inconsistent with the park's heritage status. Mr Lander said there had been no heritage assessment, and he was unaware of the bid for more than £4 million fom the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve the park.
Neil Cameron, for the Borough council, said that the Local Plan proposals for the site included protecting views across the site, building only on the built area, and keeping the area of green space intact. The local plan inspector had described it as a valuable "green lung". He pressed Mr Lander to agree that there was no conflict with national policy on this, and that recreational facilities had been on the site before development.
Mr Lander said Taylor Wimpey would continue with the approved scheme, for 730 houses, if they lost the appeal. He said the loss of sports pitches through building the extra houses would be justified by the quality of the scheme. He said there were numerous cases where green space had been "lost and re-provided".
Mr Cameron said Taylor Wimpey would be hard pressed to say that their proposals for 1120 houses were supported by many local people, and Mr Lander agreed.
Temporary buildings erected by the staff college in 1996 were discussed. These were removed, as promised, by the Ministry of Defence in 2001 when they left the site. They had indicated this would happen at the time the buildings were put up. A point at issue is whether the land on which these classrooms stood, counts as previously developed land.
Mr Lander said there was no obligation to keep Ramslade House under the approved scheme, but this could be done under the appeal scheme. Consultation with the public in summer 2007 revealed they wanted it retained and remodelled.
The question of ownership of the site was raised. It emerged that the site is owned by the HCA. Housing is being built by Taylor Wimpey under licence. The number of houses and proportion of affordable housing in the approved scheme, 20 per cent, were controlled by contractual obligations.
It was agreed the Core Strategy was part of the Borough development plan, but the South East Plan was not. It was established the Borough had enough housing delivery for five years, with small sites, Garth Hill and Amen Corner becoming available, as well as the town centre. The Amen Corner area action plan was likely to be adopted in May 2010, and one for Quelm Park in 2011.
David Brimmer of Taylor Wimpey was then questioned by Bob Pennell of Scram on technical data relating to transport. In a lengthy session, it emerged that it could be difficult to find comparable sites, there was significant margin of error, and confidence levels could not be established for transport data and statistics. Two "robust" surveys had produced results 15 per cent apart.
Bob Pennell than made a statement in which he siad the character of Broad Lane had changed since he moved there in 1987, and that with the housing currently being built, "enough's enough". There was public concern at the multiple planning applications, and about local traffic. He said traffic technicians "marked each other's homework", and that the devil was in the detail. Confidence levels were important in other fields, but apparently not in traffic engineering.
Cllr Shelagh Pile said she had moved to Harmans Water in 1973. It was a very settled estate, and she was still regarded by some as a newcomer. She said residents needed green space, and that Taylor Wimpey should build "not one house more" than 730. They were building in the middle of a settled area. There had also been considerable infill development.The lack of visitor parking would cause problems on surrounding roads, and there were other infrastructure difficulties.
Cllr Chris Turrell said the RAF had been involved with the local community, and the staff college had been accessible to them until the IRA bombs of the 1970s. After the adoption of the local plan, a planning brief had been consulted upon widely with local residents. He went on to highlight the demand for sports pitches in the area, particularly full-size ones. He criticised recreational facilities in the appeal scheme, and pointed out the difficulties of overdevelopment.
Cllr Turrell clashed with Peter Village QC, for Taylor Wimpey, over the extent of the tree felling which the plans would involve, and the potential for Parks residents to claim their homes had been mis-sold. Mr Village insisted that residents knew beforehand of the plans for extra houses, but Cllr Turrell pointed out the number who said they were uninformed.
Richard Ireson, for Ranelagh School, said the governors felt that planning policies support the protection of sports facilities. He went through the sizes of the pitches to be provided, and concluded there was a 48 per cent shortfall on the Borough's standards. full-size pitches were more versatile, and they should be of good quality. There were lengthy exchanges with Mr Village over pitch sizes. Mr Ireson felt the developer's proposals were "rationalised expediency".
The inquiry has now heard the evidence from all parties. It adjourned at 7.30pm, and will reconvene at 10am on Monday 6 April in the Council Chamber, Easthampstead House for legal submissions and closing speeches.
Visit www.bycar.com/scram for updates.