Today was the first day of the public inquiry for Woodcray countryside. Woodcray is a piece of countryside land next to Finchampstead Road backing onto Luckley School. Gladmans have put in an application to build 216 houses on the land, and Wokingham Borough Council turned it down for a number of very good reasons. I’m not going to go into detail on all the aspects as you’d be reading this all day, but if you want to dig into detail on certain aspects, the documents are on the WBC planning portal under application number 190286.
In short, WBC is fulfilling its housing quota and the location is unsustainable for a number of reasons. What has been amazing is seeing the team effort, spear headed by a group of residents, into scrutinising all the information submitted and co-ordinating our responses. Today, 10 members of the public and councillors (cross-party) spoke against the application, and there are more to come on Friday morning. This group of amazing residents worked with us to ensure that we all picked up on different aspects so we weren’t all repeating ourselves. The result today was some incredibly powerful statements that demonstrate why the planning inspector must turn down this application. It was a fantastic team effort, and I am also impressed with WBC’s barrister and the effort the officers have put in in preparation for this inquiry.
The inquiry continues with the following itinerary:
- Wed 11th – Landscape character and appearance – evidence and cross examination
- Thur 12th – Round table – trees in the morning and highways and pedestrian safety in the afternoon.
- Fri 13th – Public statements followed by round table – access to local services and public transport (finish by lunchtime)
- Tue 17th – Round table – housing land supply in the morning and affordable housing and planning evidence in the afternoon
- Wed 18th – Affordable housing and planning evidence continued
- Thur 19th – Planning conditions and S106 agreements followed by closing statements.
Therefore, if you wish to speak either for or against this application, there is another opportunity on Friday morning.
What was also incredible today was the number of people in the council chamber opposing the development. Not only was the council chamber full, so was the public gallery. Please do continue to come down and support us all on this. It sends a very strong, clear message to the inspector making the decision.
Please see below, the statement I made today for the inquiry.
The design of the junction onto the A321 Finchampstead Road to and from the proposed development, is substandard and consequently dangerous, for the following reasons;
The access road from Finchampstead Road is the only public access road to the proposed development, which for a development of this size, contradicts policy. Policy that is there for the safety of people. Both the Highway Design Guidance and Living Streets states that in a development that proposes an access with no through movement and is a cul-de-sac, a maximum of 100 homes would be allowed. This application has more than twice that number of homes.
Finchampstead Road is an A class road with a speed limit of 40 mph at the point of the proposed junction. In order to determine visibility for junction design, either the speed limit is used or the 85th percentile speed from a speed survey. Although reference is made to a speed survey in the application, there is no speed survey. Therefore, visibility for the design must be determined from the stated speed limit of the highway – 40 mph.
There is some confusion as to which highways guidance should be used for this application. At the point of application, the Wokingham Highway Design Guide 2006 was the document on the council’s website to use. On 1st October 2019, the council released Living Streets: A Highways Guide for Developers in Wokingham.” As the latter is still draft policy and has not been adopted yet, the 2006 Design Guide is the policy which should be accorded most weight in determination of this appeal.
The Wokingham Highways Design Guide 2006 states that for a road with a 40mph speed limit, the ‘Y’ distance, which is the visibility a driver would have looking out along the Finchampstead Road, must be 120 metres. Not the 59 metres that this junction has been designed to.
Even if this application is determined in accordance with the guidance set out in Living Streets, this requires that the Manual for Streets 2 should be the basis for determining the ‘Y’ distance for a 40mph road. The Manual stipulates that the ‘Y’ distance should be based on ‘safe stopping distance’ as determined in the Highway Code. This is 36 metres (12m thinking distance and 24m braking distance). However, the Highway Code also states at Rule 227
“..in wet weather, stopping distances will be at least double those required for stopping on dry roads…”
Under these circumstances, to allow a safe stopping distance in accordance with the Highway Code, a ‘Y’ distance of 72m should be provided. Either way, whichever policy framework is applied, the 59m ‘Y’ distance proposed in the design of the junction is well short of what is deemed safe.
These images demonstrate what the proposed ‘Y’ distance of 59 metres looks like. Please note that the ‘X’ distance of 2.4 metres, which is how far back the driver is set, cannot be demonstrated as there is too much hedging in the way. Note, you are looking for me in a high vis jacket in each image. Image 3 you can’t see me due to the bend in the road. As you can see from these images, there is very little time for a vehicle travelling at 40 mph to react.
The safety audit even highlights that the ‘Y’ visibility is not right for the speed of the road stating it “may result in an increased risk of vehicular collisions.” So the probability of an accident is increased by the poor junction design. This design is not safe for road users and it is not safe for those living in the development. Approving this development puts people’s lives in danger.
Air quality in the area also concerns me greatly. I frequently walk and run along Finchampstead Road and I can actually taste the pollution, it’s that bad. I have 2 young boys at Evendons Primary School and my youngest, Leighton, since starting at the school has developed a severe allergy to cats. Prior to starting school, Leighton had no issues around cats. Now, even after taking antihistamines, with some cats he not only gets red and itchy eyes, he gets a rash all over his face and body, his breathing becomes very laboured and wheezy and he coughs so much he cries because its hurts. The children’s play area at the school backs onto Finchampstead Road.
More and more these days, people are suffering with allergies, and science has proven that one of the main contributing factors is the rise in air pollution. And it’s not just allergies that air pollution causes or affects. There are a whole range of chronic illnesses people suffer from that are either caused or made worse by the poor air that we breath, including heart disease, asthma and cancer amongst others. Air pollution stunts lung growth in children and in Wokingham, according to the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, we are above national and regional averages for children being hospitalised for respiratory tract infections.
Air pollution is now the number one environmental cause of premature death in the world. A major contributor to air pollution is transport, and Wokingham is one of the highest car owning boroughs in the country.
The proposed development is approximately 1 km away from an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) where we have hard data showing that we are in breach of the Nitrogen Dioxide limits. Don’t let people tell you that it’s getting better there. When the levels dipped in 2018, the town centre, where the AQMA is, was being regenerated and the road was closed. Preliminary Nitrogen Dioxide testing has also been taking place through Friends of the Earth outside Evendons Primary School, and the raw data is showing levels of nitrogen dioxide that breach World Health Organisation (WHO) and EU limits.
The British Heart Foundation have been doing a lot of research into air quality and interestingly, have produced quite different results in the area of this proposed development that contradict the air quality report done by Wardell Armstrong.
Using the same source of data, Defra, the British Heart Foundation have found through their methodology that the average level of particulate matter 2.5 in the vicinity of the proposed development was 10.13 micrograms per cubic meter in 2017 and 10.18 micrograms per cubic metre in 2018, i.e. it’s on the rise. Particulate matter is the solid matter that gets absorbed into your blood, is often carcinogenic, and is attributable to 4 out of 5 deaths from air pollution. The amount of particulate matter 2.5’s in the vicinity of this proposed development is already above World Health Organisation (WHO) maximum levels. Please bare in mind that small particulate pollution has health impacts even at very low concentrations – indeed, no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed. 10.18 micrograms per cubic metre of particulate matter is equivalent to smoking 129 cigarettes per year. No wonder my little boy is suffering! And we’re talking about putting more polluting cars on the road!
This leads me to question why there’s such a difference between the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Research and the Wardell Armstrong research. Firstly, whilst both are using the Defra data, Wardell Armstrong are using 2015 data, and BHF are using 2017 data. Secondly, Wardell Armstrong appear to use a composite approach where they show the background levels of pollution then superimpose the traffic levels on top, based on estimations, as there is no monitoring in the area. This is different to how BHF do it, who use Defra’s raw output data and don’t use a composite approach. (Link to BHF methodology https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/assets/documents/reports/cat09/1903201606_AQ0650_2017_MAAQ_technical_report.pdf). With particulate 2.5’s, you would typically see between 10 and 20% of the total amount attributable to traffic, but the data in the Wardell Armstrong report is substantially lower, with figures between 6 and 8%. This doesn’t make any sense given the traffic movements on this major A road. And if you compare this report to the air quality report submitted with the previous application for this site in 2017, which was done by the same company but different authors, the levels of particulate 2.5’s in the previous application’s report is substantially higher and breaching WHO limits. The air quality report for this application is showing a substantial decrease in particulates, which goes against the national trends which demonstrate it increasing, and as previously stated, the 2017 and 2018 data from BHF demonstrate exactly that. In addition, there is no mention in the report from Wardell Armstrong of the Southern Distributor Road that will be coming out at the Tesco’s roundabout which will accommodate the 2,500 houses being built there, and will be placing even more vehicles onto this route. In short, something is wrong with the Wardell Armstrong report, and it does not reflect the reality of what we are breathing every day.
The British Heart Foundation has also produced research that demonstrates how many of the annual deaths due to heart and circulatory disease in Wokingham were attributable to air pollution. The most recent data they’ve produced for Wokingham was for 2017 and that figure is 65. Let that sink in for a moment – 65 people died in Wokingham alone from air pollution in just one year!
Gladmans will tell you that people can travel without using their cars. The reality is that the infrastructure for this is extremely lacking. This is an unsustainable location. The bus service is so infrequent, very few people use it, and throwing a small amount of money at it, isn’t going to fix it long term. The footways, where they exist, are narrow and right next to this busy major A class road. Gladmans may very well state that residents of the development can use their new cycle and walking access route, but it doesn’t stretch the whole length of Finchampstead Road. They will join this heavily polluted road at Tangley Drive, and that’s if they’re heading towards town. There are other locations they may be travelling to, such as towards Finchampstead, that would mean they would be accessing and using Finchampstead Road from the poorly designed junction I mentioned earlier. If they were trying to take one of the infrequent buses, they still have to stand and wait on the side of the road breathing in the polluted air. And what about those of us that aren’t living in the development? We all still have to carry on using a heavily polluted, narrow and dangerous footway with no safe cycling infrastructure with even more cars either driving or idling next to us. Think for just a moment about those children being walked or who cycle on the narrow footway to school having to have the growth of their lungs stunted by the pollutants coming out of those car engines. And most children do walk and cycle to Evendons Primary School despite the terrible infrastructure, the school having recently won an award for this.
Do not tell me for a single moment that this development is not going to make air quality worse. It’s already damaging us and our children and this development will make it worse. This development is unsustainable and must be rejected.