In the June edition of the Parish Magazine, we said we would provide an update on the HELAA (Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment) this month.
What is the HELAA?
The HELAA is West Berkshire Council’s (WBC) assessment of potential development sites across West Berkshire, including our Parish, and is a key element of WBC’s Local Plan Review; the Local Plan is looking at wider development needs for West Berkshire and how best to meet them, through to 2036.
What’s happened to date?
In February, a number of Cold Ash Parish Councillor’s attended WBC’s Thatcham and Newbury consultation workshops, to informally discuss the sites that had been identified in the HELAA. The aim of the workshops was to share the current thinking on the viability of sites within our parish and neighbouring parishes/districts, and to provide an opportunity for us to feed in information on local issues, preferences for sites, and community aspirations. WBC committed to take these into account, alongside its own criteria.
In order to assess the sites in an objective way WBC has its own criteria, that has four measures:
- Suitability – any constraints and opportunities
- Availability – focusing on assessing any impediments to making the site available for development
- Achievability – whether the site is considered achievable; where there is a reasonable prospect that it will be developed at a particular point in time. This is essentially a judgement about the economic viability of a site, and the capacity of the developer to complete and let or sell the development over a certain period
- Deliverability – essentially whether and to what degree the site is going to deliver housing supply during the period of the Local Plan
On what basis did Cold Ash Parish Council respond?
Following the initial consultation, the first draft of the HELAA assessment was published and Cold Ash Parish Council was given the opportunity to provide written comments. These were drafted by the NDP Steering Committee and reviewed by the full Parish Council, prior to sending a response; this was done in March. Our response was informed by a set of Site Assessment Criteria that we are in the process of developing, which are in turn informed by our Village Design Statement (VDS) and work done on our NDP to date, which included the results of the polling of parishioners in our 2019 NDP survey.
The essence of our response was:
- that, in general, we were pleased that there are only a few sites in the Parish identified by the HELAA and that most of these are not considered developable within the timescale of the Local Plan. This is particularly pertinent as Ashmore Green and Cold Ash villages (65% of our parish population) have seen considerable development and infill and have reached the limit of their linear development, especially given the limited capabilities of the current roads;
- that there is little support for any sites of five or more dwellings in the village settlements, within the parish, as these would not comply with emerging NDP policies and also do not align with feedback received from the 2019 NDP survey;
- we continue to highlight the intense pressure (not least increased traffic) that is likely to be placed on the parish (and in particular Cold Ash village itself) from the potentially large increase in housing to the south east of the parish, in Thatcham; therefore we have stressed that we believe that our parish should only be allocated the very minimal possible target of new dwellings in the Local Plan;
- we have looked into the settlement boundaries, which has included on-the-ground inspection of some of the more accessible boundaries, and that our review has concluded that there should be no change to the current settlement boundaries in Ashmore Green and Cold Ash. We believe that the current boundaries accurately and adequately reflect the need to preserve a sensible gradation from built-up areas into the surrounding countryside, protecting wildlife, landscape and views. Furthermore, the existing settlement boundaries play an essential role in maintaining the separateness of identity of the individual settlements of Ashmore Green and Cold Ash, both from each other and from the urban setting of Thatcham, which is very important to parishioners and a core principle in our NDP.
For more information and to view the HELAA sites go to: https://info.westberks.gov.uk/helaa
What happens next?
We, the Cold Ash Parish Council, through the NDP Steering Group, will continue to work with West Berkshire Council both proactively, by regularly sharing local concerns, issues, preferences and aspirations, and reactively, through responding to Local Plan updates. This work will continue to run in parallel with the development of our Neighbourhood Development Plan which, if accepted via a referendum of parishioners, will give the parish council much more control and influence over the siting and nature of developments within the parish (note: the number of new dwellings will continue to be decided by WBC). A key element of the NDP work is the ongoing development and testing of our Site Assessment Criteria for the parish. This will be essential in ensuring that any future responses are both objective and reflect the preferences and aspirations of you, our parishioners. We will provide more information on this in a future article.
It is important that our work with, and feedback to, West Berkshire Council is fully informed by the views of you, our parishioners. So please pass any views you have on this, or any other NDP related subject, to the NDP Steering Group by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cllr Ivor McArdle
Cold Ash NDP Communications Lead