Sharma blasts Blue Living's plans for Pincents Hill at Public Inquiry

Reading West MP Alok Sharma spoke at the Pincents Hill Inquiry last week which is hearing Blue Living’s appeal to reverse West Berkshire Council’s decision last year to reject the Blue Living planning application to build 750 homes and commercial space on the Pincents Hill site.

In his submission Alok made the following key points:

  • He spoke about his detailed involvement over the past three years, together with the local West Berkshire ward councillors Joe Mooney, Tony Linden and Emma Webster, with the local campaign to stop development on Pincents Hill
  • Alok praised the excellent work of local residents’ campaign group, Save Calcot Action Group (SCAG), very ably led by Mrs Joan Lawrie

He said to the Inquiry: “I know at times it has felt to members of SCAG that they are like David up against the might of Blue Living’s Goliath. But I hope when we look back in the fullness of time, history will record that in the case of Pincents Hill, David most certainly triumphed over Goliath.”

  • He highlighted that there was local political consensus against development on Pincents Hill, with local Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and Greens all opposed to Blue Living’s plans
  • He noted that Pincents Hill was a strategic gap separating Tilehurst from Calcot and Theale and allowing building on the site would breach West Berkshire Council’s existing, as well as emerging, policies
  • He said that the proposed development would have a massive detrimental impact on already stretched local public services with acute pressure on secondary school places, which would not be relieved by any of Blue Living’s proposals
  • Whilst acknowledging that the developer appeared to have made some progress on mitigating transport issues in discussions with West Berkshire Council, Alok noted that Reading Borough Council was still opposed on traffic impact grounds and that the potential impact of IKEA’s planning application needed to be factored into the equation before any final conclusion could be reached on transport and traffic matters
  • He cited the potential detrimental impact on the AONB, the local environment and the loss of a valuable public amenity and green space if any development on the site was allowed
  • He noted that West Berkshire Council had already identified areas for development to meet the local area’s housing needs up to 2026, and that Pincents Hill had been clearly rejected as a strategic site
  • He asked the Planning Inspector to bear in mind the history of Pincents Hill, pointing out that previous applications by Charles Church, for much smaller developments on this site, had also been eventually rejected
  • Alok spoke in detail about the Government’s emerging national planning policy with the Localism Bill, which is currently making its passage through Parliament, and the publication of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) Business Plan for 2011-2015

Alok said: “The government is doing away with centrally imposed top-down housing targets and giving more power for housing and planning to local communities so that neighbourhoods and communities have a much greater ability to shape the places in which they live.”

Alok also noted that the DCLG Business Plan made reference to creating “a new designation to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.”

Alok concluded by urging the Planning Inspector not to give Blue Living a green light, saying: “Local people, West Berkshire District Council, Reading Borough Council and the local Parish Councils are all opposed to Blue Living’s plans. If this appeal is upheld such a decision will be seen as riding roughshod over local views and the Government’s very clear localism agenda. I urge you to reject Blue Living’s appeal.”

Photo: Alok Sharma and Joan Lawrie with SCAG campaigners.

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