Recommendation: Conditional Approval subject to legal agreement.
Proposal: Full planning application for the change of use of 14.77ha from existing private woodland to informal recreational land and associated infrastructure including pedestrian and vehicle access, car parking and footpath network and landscaping.
Applicant: Mr and Mrs Pike
The Committee considered a report about this application, set out in agenda pages 39 to 88.
The Committee were advised that there were updates within the supplementary planning agenda. However, the Committee were advised verbally on the night that the comments from Wokingham Town Council, contained on agenda page 46, were incorrect and related to a previous application at the site. Page 87 contained the correct response from Wokingham Town Council.
Tony Delliston, resident, commented on the application. Tony stated that the current footpath on the northern boundary was 0.6m wide, and a lot of removal of vegetation would have to occur to facilitate the path being made 2m wide. An alternative path was suggested in Tony’s comments on the application, which would not have required the removal of trees. Tony was of the opinion that his suggestion should have been progressed and used. Tony felt that as this was not an application for a SANG, fencing may not be needed at all on site. Tony stated that barbeques should not be permitted on site, as the Fire Service were often required to attend fires as a result of barbeques. Tony commented that the applicant was a Wokingham Borough Council supplier, which could arise to a conflict of interest. As such, Tony felt that the comments made by the environmental health officer should be disregarded, and instead an independent noise assessment report should be commissioned.
Nicola Greenwood, BHS Access and Bridleways Officer, commented on the application. Nicola stated that the RG40, RG41, RG2 and RG6 postcodes covered the area in and the around Barkham and Wokingham parishes.
Nicola added that the new postcode figures provided by DEFRA dated April 2021 showed a 25% increase in horse ownership in these postcodes with a new total of 1,548 horses. These horses brought in excess of £8.5million per annum to the local economy, almost £3 million more than 9 years ago. Nicola attributed this increase in horse ownership to the large number of new houses that have been built in this area of Borough. Nicola stated that Foxhill had been enjoyed by horse riders for over 50 years. Nicola was of the opinion that in order to retain and increase rural job and business opportunities, off road horse rider access, close to where these people lived, needed to be increased and not decreased. Nicola asked that should this application be approved, access between Bearwood Road and Limmerhill Road be retained for horse rider use to ensure that riders who kept their horses in Limmerhill Road were not forced onto Barkham Road to get to the Coombes. Nicola concluded by asking that a circular bridleway be placed around the outside of the proposed site for recreational horse rider and cyclist use.
Emily Ford, agent, spoke in support of the application. Emily stated that the proposals sought full planning permission for 14.7 hectares of woodland to become informal recreational land. Emily added that the proposal would regularise public use of the land whilst including new accessible recreational routes of up to 2.3km for use throughout the year. Emily stated that trees and protected species had been considered carefully throughout the preparation of this application. Emily added that the site would have five access points with kissing gates, and the site would have eighteen car parking spaces including three disabled spaces. The car park would be well screened and would also include cycle parking facilities. Emily concluded by stating that invasive vegetative species would be removed from the site, the overall proposals would increase the biodiversity on site, and if approved the proposals would allow public access to the site in a formal manner.
Tim Lloyd, Friends of Foxhill, spoke in support of the application. Tim stated that the residents of Woosehill had used this site for decades as a recreation space, many of whom had not realised that the site was privately owned. Tim added that the guarantee of public access was appreciated, as the site was well used. Tim asked that conditions be amended to facilitate meaningful consultation with the local community when detailed plans were being prepared, to alleviate concerns including potential flooding, wildlife conservation, and footpath layout.
Sarah Kerr, Ward Member, commented on the application. Sarah stated that the site was privately owned and had been enjoyed by the community or many years as a recreation space. Sarah asked that it be conditioned that the Friends of Foxhill be consulted on the detailed design stage, as a previous alternative footpath was suggested by the group and subsequently rejected for this scheme. Sarah asked that conditions regarding access to the site be updated to reflect that construction of the car park would facilitate new users, and existing users should not be denied access during construction of the car park. Sarah asked that a condition be added that dealt with the public right of way officer’s request for a larger version of the kissing gates being added to allow for all sizes of motorised wheelchairs. Sarah asked that the Committee add a condition that removed the need for fencing on the northern boundary where residential fencing was already in situ, and access had been available for a considerable time. Sarah asked that the Committee add a condition which required suitable and safe walking and cycling infrastructure along Bearwood Road from Sindlesham to ensure the sustainability of the proposals. Sarah stated that there had already been a number of issues regarding woodland fires as a result of barbeques, and asked that a condition be added which banned their use on site. Sarah noted that the applicant owned the adjacent scrapyard, and asked that a condition be added which would require the applicant to install noise mitigation measures at the adjacent scrapyard site. Sarah was of the opinion that cyclists should not be prohibited to use the space, and asked that the Committee condition cycling to be allowed on site. Sarah asked that clarification regarding secure cycle storage be provided, as it was currently suggested to be situated solely in the proposed car parking. As many cyclists would access the site from a variety of entrances, Sarah asked that cycle storage be provided at all of the entrances to allow cyclists to store their bicycle safely if they then chose to walk the site.
Stefan Fludger, case officer, clarified a number of the points mentioned by the speakers. Stefan stated that the footpath along the northern boundary had been assessed largely in relation to Kent Close. This footpath was close to the existing footpath and there was not much of a level difference. Stefan confirmed that the closest path to a residential property was 12m away. Stefan commented that there would be removal of rhododendron on site, and there would be a considerable amount of vegetative screening on the edge of the site, and officers were content that would be no significant overlooking from the pathways. Stefan stated that the majority of the site would include post and rail type fencing, and the only substantive fencing would be adjacent to the WBC owned land which adjoined the open space, which went around the whole site apart from between it and the adjacent WBC owned land. Officers felt that the inclusion of these fencing proposals were not seen as harmful. Stefan confirmed that there had been no objection raised by Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service. Stefan stated that the noise related to the adjacent scrapyard was not considered to prevent the use of the site as an open space, and the environmental health officer had raised no objections. Relating to use of the site by horse riders and cyclists, Stefan stated that the increase of accessibility of the site via hard surfaces outweighed the negatives of not allowing access for horse riders or cyclists. Stefan stated that a number of issues would be resolved via conditions, including tree surveys, the final routing of the footpaths, and ecology surveys. Justin Turvey, Operational Manager – Development Management, stated that the Chairman could request that some conditions were agreed in consultation with the Chair and another nominated Member. Stefan Fludger commented that the proposed kissing gates met British standards and allowed all but the largest motorised mobility vehicles access. Regarding the access to the site by neighbours on the northern boundary, Stefan stated that neighbours had built up direct access from their gardens directly in to the site over time, and in planning terms these neighbours had no rights to this access and officers felt there were no grounds to refuse this application based on loss of access from these properties. Stefan stated that there were no footpaths to Sindlesham, but this mirrored the current situation, and the fact that the highway was outside of the application meant that officers felt that this lack of access would not warrant a reason for refusal as there was good access from other areas including the Woosehill area. Stefan confirmed that this application could not be used to mitigate the noise at the adjacent scrapyard. Stefan added that no officers had objected to the proposed bicycle storage in the car park as users would need to get off of their bicycles to move through the kissing gates.
Chris Bowring queried whether amending elements of the scheme, such as larger kissing gates, would be a permissible amendment. Justin Turvey stated that Members could make a change such as this, and Members would need to consider whether the changes would be necessary and whether they would meet the planning conditions tests.
Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey queried whether there would be sufficient access for emergency vehicles such as fire engines in and out of the site, queried whether the access from Simon’s Lane would be made permanent, queried whether any electric vehicle charging bays would be provided on site, queried whether this could be a precursor for a future housing application, queried why horse riders were now considered an issue whereas in the past they were not, and queried who would be responsible for maintenance of the site. Stefan Fludger clarified that the car park gate would be large enough to accommodate emergency vehicle access. Stefan clarified that Simon’s Lane did not provide access to this part of Foxhill. Relating to electric vehicle charging, Stefan stated that there was no provision on site, and Highways officers had not recommended that any be provided. Stefan clarified that this was not an application for a SANG, and it was not related to any current housing application. Stefan stated that whilst horse riders would lose access to the site, the improvements in terms of making the site accessible to disabled users, or users using pushchairs, outweighed these negatives. In addition, some of the footpaths were relatively narrow and could create a conflict between horse riders and pedestrians. Stefan confirmed that the maintenance of the site would be the responsibility of the applicant, although this could change in the future.
Carl Doran queried what changes had been made to the car parking compared to the previously refused application, queried whether the Bearwood Road’s 40MPH section could be extended as it could be quite dangerous, queried how the driving of the 20m wide pathways be managed and monitored, and queried how any future SANG assessment would be considered. Stefan Fludger stated that the car park was proposed to be in the same location, however the previous application lacked details relating to the strategy for removal of vegetation and trees, which was much more detailed within this application. Highways officers had not raised any objections related to the speed limit on the Bearwood Road, and it did not warrant a reason for refusal. Stefan commented that half of the site was classed as ancient woodland, and there was conflicting advice received. Natural England had not objected to the proposals, however the Woodland Trust had. Tree and ecology officers felt that the surfacing of the pathways would mitigate many of the issues involving people straying from pathways. Stefan stated that should the site be considered for a SANG at some point in the future, his understanding was that the current footfall of the site at that time would be assessed to ensure suitable capacity of the site.
Chris Bowring queried whether the removal or trees would be considerable, or un-substantial. Stefan Fludger confirmed that only a small number of trees were proposed to be removed. The number of trees to be removed would be determined after the removal of rhododendron, to allow the footpaths to be routed around the trees thereby minimising the amount which would be required to be removed.
Andrew Mickleburgh queried what would happen should the site not be finished or maintained, queried whether any modelling had been carried out relating to increased footfall on site in terms of additional noise or litter which could affect neighbouring amenity, queried whether there was any parking standard for this type of use as there was a concern that should on-site parking spaces not be sufficient this could cause issues on the already busy Bearwood Road, and queried whether there would be adequate conditions and safeguards to ensure a high standard on maintenance on site. Stefan Fludger stated that the site was privately owned, and the applicant could decide not to finish the development and close the site to public use. Stefan confirmed that there had been no modelling related to increased footfall, however environmental health officers had raised no objections, and the site had been informally used as an open space for some time with pathways in a similar layout to what was proposed. Stefan stated that the highways officer had considered 18 car parking spaces to be acceptable for this site to be used as an informal recreational space. Relating to maintenance of the site, as the site was privately owned no maintenance plan relating to maintenance of the footpaths or car park surfacing had been submitted, however a long term maintenance plan relating to biodiversity and creating a biodiversity net-gain would be submitted.
Andrew Mickleburgh queried whether a maintenance plan for the upkeep of the site could be conditioned. Justin Turvey stated that this would be a reasonable condition.
Pauline Jorgensen queried whether making a decision to restrict cyclist and horse rider access for this application could prejudice a decision to allow those use types if a future application was submitted, for example for SANG use. Mary Severin, Borough Solicitor, confirmed that a decision relating to this tonight would not prejudice allowing the use in a future application.
Stephen Conway stated that Members had to assess the application as presented. Stephen added that neighbours may be able to challenge the loss of access to the site from their gardens outside of the planning process, should they wish. Stephen queried whether the proposed kissing gates would allow all wheelchair and mobility vehicles access to the site, and suggested that the routing of the paths be agreed in consultation with the Chairman and a local Ward Member. Stefan Fludger stated that the kissing gates would allow access for all but the largest mobility vehicle users, which complied with British standards. Stefan added that Members could condition larger kissing gates to be installed, if they felt that this met the planning tests. Justin Turvey stated that pathway routing could be agree in consultation with the Chairman, and another Member.
Angus Ross welcomed the principle of the proposals. Angus stated that the Royal Borough Fire and Rescue Service had no submitted a no-objection comments, but instead had issued no comment.
Andrew Mickleburgh proposed that a maintenance plan for the site be conditioned. This was seconded by Stephen Conway, carried, and added to the list of conditions.
Stephen Conway asked that it be minuted that the path routing condition be determined via the Chairman, in consultation with the Committee and a local Ward Member.
Angus Ross proposed an informative, asking that WBC continue to search for safe pedestrian access from Sindlesham to the proposed car park. This was seconded by Chris Bowring, carried, and added to the list of informatives.
Stephen Conway proposed that the condition relating to the kissing gates be revised, to allow use the gates by all mobility vehicles, including the largest sizes of these vehicles. This was seconded by Andrew Mickleburgh, carried, and the condition subsequently revised.
Pauline Jorgensen took no part in the vote, as she had missed part of the officer presentation.
RESOLVED That application number 203539 be approved, subject to conditions as set out in agenda pages 40 to 44, additional condition related to the requirement of a maintenance plan as resolved by the Committee, additional informative related to the continued search for safe access to the car park from Sindlesham as resolved by the Committee, and revised condition related to wider kissing gates to allow mobility vehicles of all sizes access to the site as resolved by the Committee.