Following the submission of revised plans being submitted to Wokingham Borough Council in relation to the full application for the proposed erection of a food store (Use Class E), 43 no. dwellings (Use Class C3) and associated access, servicing, parking and landscaping. Earley Town Council, as a statutory consultee has amended its original comments on this application which have been submitted to Wokingham Borough Council, the Planning Authority. Earley Town Council’s recommendation is still that this planning application be refused on the now following grounds:-
1. In the absence of a challenge to the WBC 5-year HLS there is no NPPF Paragraphs 2 and 11 justification for a development outside the development boundary, on land designated as “countryside”, which would be contrary to Policies CP11 and CC02, and neither is it a brownfield site as set out in NPPF Paragraph 117. As a result, the proposals fail to maintain or enhance the high quality of the environment and are of an inappropriate scale of activity, mass, layout, built form and character to the area, to the detriment to the amenities of adjoining land users, including open space; the proposals result in the intrusion of a dense urban character into the countryside, with no graduation in response to the landscape character of the surroundings; they do not enhance the ability of the site to support fauna and flora; and do no integrate with the surrounding open space, contrary to Policies CP1 and CP3, and contrary to NPPF Paragraph 170.
2. There is an adverse impact on local amenity arising from the loss of the current continuous green wooded corridor along Lower Earley Way. Existing open space and landscaping along most of Lower Earley Way creates a strong visual green corridor that is an essential part of the wider character, whether or not it is accessible to the public, and landscape setting and amenity of Lower Earley as a whole. This corridor also forms part of the wider open countryside to the south of Lower Earley. The green corridor is essential to the character of Lower Earley as a transition between built up and green areas and provides an environmental buffer to the M4 motorway to the south.
The proposed food store would destroy the green corridor character with a visible commercial use in a prominent location, comprising a building, with significant hard paved areas to the frontage of this part of Lower Earley Way. The building and parking would be visible to traffic using Lower Earley Way and Meldreth Way, disrupting the continuous visual function and amenity of the existing green corridor. The opening up of views from the nearby roads would be considered essential for attracting customers, as indicated in the Design and Access Statement.
The proposals show a reduction in width of the green corridor as a result both the food store and residential development. This reduction in width of the corridor is excessive and would weaken its current character and visual function.
The proposed development would fail to enhance the landscape, by not protecting or enhancing the green infrastructure; failing to promote accessibility, linkages and permeability between and within existing green corridors such as footpaths; by not integrating with adjoining open space and countryside; resulting in the unacceptable fragmentation and isolation of areas of green infrastructure; contrary to Policies CC03 and TB21. It would also fail to ensure that the proposed development would be ecologically permeable through the protection of existing, and the provision of new, continuous wildlife corridors, which should be integrated and linked to the wider green infrastructure network, contrary to Policy TB23(c). Also, the proposed development demonstrates a failure to enhance the natural environment and improve access to the countryside contrary to NPPF Paragraphs 8(c) and 118.
3. The proposals for a footpath connection linking the open space on either side of the site, tracking through a retail car park, frequented by heavy goods delivery vehicles, and alongside a suburban road presents an urban aspect, failing to enhance the landscape, and footpath links in manner that would enhance the connection between green spaces, contrary to Policy CC03.
4. The retail element of the proposals is not well connected to the existing centres and is well beyond the edge of centre of the nearest retail area, contrary to NPPF Paragraph 87, indeed seems more targeted at passing trade than to serve the immediate community. In addition, the proposals do not demonstrate compliance with Policy TB16. In addition, the Town Council is concerned that the assumptions derived from pre-pandemic retail spending patterns may no longer apply due to people switching to on-line purchasing, and this does not appear to have been addressed in the Planning and Retail Statement.
5. There is a failure to demonstrate that adequate and safe access to the proposed development, in particular the Chatteris Way junction, which has been designed without regard to best practice, which would normally result in such an access being straight for at least 10m from the bellmouth channel, and within 10 degrees either side of perpendicular. The purpose of this would be to ensure that larger vehicles could enter and leave without conflicting with other traffic, particularly between cars and service vehicles, giving rise to highway safety risks, contrary to Policy CP6.
6. The proposed development fails to address the climate emergency by not incorporating appropriate technologies to future proof the proposed dwellings, and the operation of the proposed food store, against the emerging National policies for net zero carbon.
7. The Energy Statement fails to make it clear that photo voltaic panels would be installed to all residential properties, to address Policy CC05.
8. The design of the access into the food store fails to address the potential for fast moving vehicles exiting the Lower Earley Way roundabout, as observed by local residents, and evidenced by the historic number of accidents at this roundabout, giving rise to potential road safety concerns, contrary to Policy CP6.
9. The Ecological Statement fails to address the issue of badgers, a species alluded to in an un-redacted element of that report as originally presented on the WBC website, where reference was made to the criteria for assessing the occupancy of badger setts. As such, the Ecological Statement fails to adequately address wildlife and biodiversity issues raised in the report, contrary to Policies CP3(c), CP7 and TB23. It is concerning that the applicant has directed ETC to sections of the Ecological Statement in answer to this which are redacted.
10. Due to the potential adverse environmental impact on adjacent dwellings, as the acoustic report fails to identify the impact of the noise from delivery vehicles and plant on the properties behind the store which will benefit from reduced background noise levels, arising from the bulk of the proposed food store, making the disturbance from plant and delivery vehicles likely more prominent. In addition, the lighting report fails to give any indication of the qualitative impact of service lighting on adjacent properties, addressing only the operational needs of the lighting; also it fails to address the implications for bats, which the Ecology Statement identifies as being present in the area. Contrary to policies CP3, CC06 and TB20.
11. The application documents identify that parts of the site are subject to 1 in 100 year surface water flooding events, but this has not been addressed in the application contrary to the 2021 NPPF, Planning and Flood Risk, Paragraph 167 and 169 in particular.
12. The proposed changes to plot 1 do NOT appear to resolve the concerns about shading of the rear garden amenity area by a large adjacent tree, as the increase in garden area lies to the northwest of the tree and will be shaded by the tree for the majority of the year, therefor not improving the situation.
13. Pedestrian safety is compromised across Meldreth Way by the applicants failure to address pedestrians crossing the road to access the retail store, due to the relatively high speed at which vehicles exit the Lower Earley Way Roundabout, adding to the additional traffic movements to the store and the increase in pedestrians drawn to the store with no means of safely crossing the road. as supported by Policy CP3 failure to provide a safe scheme.
14. Failure by the applicant to provide revised tracking diagrams of both the Meldreth Way and Chatteris Way junctions to demonstrate how large vehicles can enter and exit without conflict with other vehicles using the junction sand traffic in the major road.
15. The applicant continues to fail to address the concerns about potential rights of way across the proposed development site, particularly as there is a pending application for a right of way designation that would impact the proposed scheme. This will need to be addressed when the application is presented to the WBC Planning Committee.