Objection to plans for 87 houses off Mill Lane

by Prue Bray on 1 July, 2020

This is an outline application, 201346, that is looking for layout and access to be determined.   I have a very long list of objections to it.

The application includes a great deal of detail about house types and designs, affordability and tenure, and housing mix, and even materials.  All of those things, as far as I can see, are indicative, and are not to be determined at this stage – and could all look very different when the detailed plans come back if outline permission is granted.   Looking at the documents, the applicant has worked very hard to produce what is effectively a sales brochure, with many pretty pictures, none of which is guaranteed to come to pass if this application is approved.   All of that should be given very little weight when assessing this application. 

The applicant devotes quite a lot of space to describing the character of Wokingham town and how their scheme fits with it.  This scheme is not in Wokingham, which is several miles away. It is in the countryside.

Sindlesham is a settlement in which only minor development is expected to take place.  87 dwellings, a pub, a surgery and a convenience store is not minor development.  It might have been acceptable had the applicant made a proposal for reusing some of the existing farm buildings for a scheme of 15 or so dwellings similar in character to Harvest Drive elsewhere in Sindlesham.  87 dwellings is far too many.

The applicant talks about the plan being appropriate for an edge of settlement scheme, but glosses over the fact that Sindlesham only has about 400 dwellings in total, and that 87 houses would be adding roughly 25% to the size of the settlement, which can hardly be described as just an addition to the edge.

One reason Sindlesham is not expected to take major development is its distance from suitable amenities and facilities. The applicant tries to claim that by adding a pub, convenience store and surgery they are creating amenities and facilities on site, thereby overcoming the lack of them. However, 87 dwellings is far from enough to support either a shop, or a pub, let alone a surgery.  Were such facilities to be provided there, the only way for them to have enough custom to be viable would be for people from a considerable surrounding area to drive there, which goes against all sustainability aims.  If they do attract those customers, it could affect the viability of other existing businesses in the area.  On top of that, very limited parking is shown on the plan in the Design & Access Statement for the area that is designated for these non-residential uses.   

The surgery is particularly problematic, in that the proposed size is approximately the same as one of the 3 bedroom houses, which is extremely small to accommodate a waiting area, reception, toilet and treatment room(s), let alone the other features that a modern surgery would be expected to have. That is without considering whether it could fit in to NHS England’s, or the local Clinical Commissioning Group’s strategy, or whether there would be a GP practice willing to take it on.  I cannot see how any of these three non-residential elements could operate in practice.

The applicant tries to claim that permission should be forthcoming by referring to an appeal that allowed a small number of houses to be built off Mill Lane, as if the two schemes are comparable.  This scheme is on a completely different scale, with completely different highways implications, as well as encroaching much closer to the M4.  The two things are not comparable and the appeal does not set a precedent for this scale of development, particularly in such an unsustainable location.

There is no access to public transport within the normally accepted walking distances.  The nearest train station is 1.3 km, even on their figures.  There is no parking there. The bus service they mention runs once a week in each direction.  Cycling on Mill Lane is problematic because of the narrowness of the lane, the bends and the bridges.  There is no safe pedestrian route along Mill Lane to Earley, and there is only pavement on one side of Mill Lane in the direction of Mole Road.  The Design & Access statement refers to 2m footways, but only within the site or for a short distance to a Public Right of Way.  Building 87 dwellings here would inevitably increase traffic, because there are no sustainable transport alternatives.

Mill Lane is not suitable for additional traffic.  The junction with Mole Road is already identified in the council’s transport model as a location where queuing will increase even after the Winnersh Relief Road is built.  The minor tweaks proposed for the roundabout at that junction won’t make much difference, as at peak times vehicles travelling towards Winnersh will be joining a queue which tails back past that roundabout.  Similarly, the proposed changes to the roundabout on Lower Earley Way will make little difference.  

The proposed new roundabout on Mill Lane for access to the development is itself problematic.  It is positioned part way up the slope from the motorway underpass, which means visibility won’t be good, and the approaches to the roundabout won’t be level. 

None of these three proposed changes involving roundabouts gets over the problem that there are two extremely narrow bridges (with weight restrictions) on Mill Lane, or that Mill Lane regularly floods, necessitating the closure of the road towards Earley.

The Noise Assessment makes it clear that the motorway noise would be a problem. The worst noise levels are said to be for those dwellings within 87 m of the motorway.  Building that close to a motorway which is expected, according to figures in this application, to see an increase in traffic of 23% seems like madness.  In paragraph 5.6 the Noise Assessment actually says “The target internal noise levels would not be achievable with open windows for ventilation for any plot.”   This is even taking into account that for some plots they have recommended an acoustic barrier.  Paragraph 5.7 of the Noise Assessment says “Alternative means of ventilation to open windows should be provided to all plots.  It is recommended that mechanical ventilation is provided to those dwellings requiring the highest double glazing specifications to minimise any need to open windows and avoid any ventilation openings into habitable rooms.”  Keep your windows shut and live without fresh air or open your windows and have intolerable levels of noise.  What sort of living conditions for residents are those?

And finally, sustainability and climate change.  The claims made on this in the application are truly pitiful.  They even include the provision of a children’s play area and the fact that the houses have good windows that will let in lots of light (windows, which, lest we forget, in many cases are not supposed to be opened).

They say “the Site has been identified as being capable of providing the following future elements:  – electric vehicle charging points – photovoltaic/solar panels”.   In other words, they won’t be putting either of those things in.  This is simply not good enough.

So I very strongly object to this planning application.  It is completely inappropriate for the proposed location, and has some really problematic elements, as well as not being sustainable.

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