Ashridge Interchange  

The Ship Inn from London Road, with Peach Street to the left

Market Place and Broad Street from Cockpit PathShute End looking northwards, with The Terrace on the right

   "The Ashridge Interchange Movement ('AIM') is a non-party organisation that exists to promote the
   best possible traffic solution for Wokingham for the least overall environmental impact."

                History - Woosehill Plans Take Shape

Berkshire County Council Minutes:

Ashridge Interchange

Woosehill development

Highways and Transportation sub-committees

Summary of Newspaper Reports, 1968-69

Wokingham Times Articles, 1968-9, by subject:

Bracknell Town

Wokingham Town

Wokingham One-Way System

The Land Commission and Woosehill

Reading Road and Winnersh

Build-up of opposition to Ashridge proposals

Public Inquiry
Week 1

Public Inquiry
Week 2

Public Inquiry
Week 3

Newspaper reports, late 1970

Summary of Newspaper reports, 1971-5

Wokingham Times Articles, 1971-5, by subject:

Wokingham Town

Woosehill

Woosehill
Public Inquiry, Summer 1973

Winnersh

Woodley and Earley

The M4, A329(M) and IDR

The Woosehill Planning Inspector's Report, 1974

The Woosehill Inspector's Report four decades on

 

The Wokingham Times documented the Woosehill controversy from the late 1960s when the Land Commission had put forward the still-rural site for housing, through several planning applications and appeals and on to final approval in the mid-1970s. There was much activity in 1973, starting with a large-scale appeal, as reported in April 1973:

‘Five-day Debate on Wokingham’s Future’:

By Quentin Falk.

The first major battle over Woosehill ended this week after more than five days of heated debate, argument and controversy. A "long-overdue" development, a new town "on the cheap" or a "catastrophe" for Wokingham? These have been three wildly different points of view put forward at the inquiry in the Town Hall which could prelude the building of more than 2,000 houses with a population of 7,000 on the 350 acres at Woosehill.

The inquiry by Environment Ministry Inspector Mr. G. A. Swift got off to a stuttering start last Tuesday week when a county council application for an adjournment was finally turned down after more than two hours of articulate exchanges. The county then pointed out that a consortium plan for the site had been called in by the Ministry and a public inquiry would result. That probe is now scheduled for July 17.

Much to the chagrin of not only Berkshire County Council, but Wokingham Borough Council, Wokingham Society and a number of other amenity and resident groups, who argued vehemently for an adjournment, Mr. Swift allowed four appeals by Mr. Joseph Dobinson and Company to go ahead.

‘Due time’

The appeals were against planning permission refusals on 7.5 acres at Westward Ho estate and 47 acres at Limmerhill estate, and against failure to give decisions on applications for 118 acres at land owned by the Calgary and Edmonton Land Company and 335 acres covering most of the Woosehill site.

Mr. Dobinson said: "The proposed development of Woosehill which has been on the stocks for so many years has greatly affected other planning considerations in Wokingham and it is due time that the matter should be finalised."

The inquiry was told that he was a Calgary and Edmondton shareholder and had support of 75 per cent of the shareholders including former managing director Mr. David Hillman and his wife, who owns 65 per cent of the shares. Mr. David Widdicombe, Q.C. for Dobinson said that the company was in voluntary liquidation and the liquidator could not sell the land to get the company out of liquidation without planning permission being granted.

Mr. Dobinson said that if permission was given only some 20-s5 acres of the land would have to be sold to pay off the company’s debts. The development of the remainder of the company’s land would be carried out by the company. He said that if the release of 335 acres was granted, it would not confirm any of the several comprehensive plans which had been worked out nor would it freeze the development scheme in any particular form. He said: "The grant of outline planning permission will in no way inhibit the county council from granting permission for the development of individual sites, either large or small, or the site as a whole, in accordance with a plan or plans which the county council can lay down".

‘Houses now’

He said his appeal differed "not one jot" from the application made by consortium. "The county council had laid great stress upon the time phasing for the Woosehill development", said Mr. Dobinson. He went on that if the central part of the estate was to be served only by the link from the A329, then the building of roads, sewers and buildings could not start until the link road was constructed.

He said: "This will take some two to three years from today and the major part of the building programme cannot commence until then. Four years from today brings it to April 1977. "The national need is for houses now, not houses in some four to 14 years time".

He accused the county of merely paying "lip service" to regional housing needs. "If I am granted permission on either of the small applications, houses will be erected within a comparatively short time and will be provided in a way which cannot be engineered either under the council’s own developers brief or the consortium plan.

‘No secret’

"Permission for the two small sites will not place any risk at all upon the concept of the whole development as both sites have been planned as part of a whole. Outline permission for the site as a whole, or for that part of the site owned by Calgary will do nothing more than bring forward the day upon which the council’s own declared aims will be fulfilled", he said.

Wokingham Society made no secret of its feelings on the whole affair. Said Mr. Paul Haye, a member of the executive committee, "We object to the entire proposal to develop any part of the Woosehill area". He said that the "prime motive" behind the application "is simply to generate cash. We have 23,000 people now; we have planning consents available for another 4,000 people; we await appeal decisions on a further 7,000 people and now we await the result of the Woosehill appeal, again 7,000 people. These total up to a further 18,000 people being added to an existing population of 23,000 people.

"When does urban development reach ‘desirable limits’?" He said: "We say that Wokingham has had enough. We say that there should be no more doubling up on Wokingham’s population figures, at least until we get a proper plan for the town.

‘Casual’

"We say that we have had enough casual chucking in of houses. We have already played our part in the need for releasing more housing land; pro rata we have absorbed more than Bracknell New Town and we have had enough. A decision to build on Woosehill may now seem expedient, but if the farmland north of Wokingham also goes, that expedience will be seen in its true light, namely a catastrophe. This is a turning point in Wokingham’s future and if we do not grasp it now, if we do not take this opportunity to say enough is enough, if we do not balance the need for proper planning against the demand for houses, Wokingham will be destroyed", he said.

He sat down to a burst of spontaneous applause. Mr. Swift and his assessor, Mr. T. W. G. Hucker must now collate all the information and the big question now is whether there will be a Ministerial decision before July 17. There is also a question mark on whether all the same ground will be covered once again in the summer.

Will – as some people are thinking – a July inquiry never in fact materialise because of a possible early decision on the Dobinson appeals and its logical aftermath?

As it happened, the Inquiry did go ahead, starting on 16th July 1973 and lasting six weeks. The Inspector considered several applications at once, as noted in the Wokingham Times of 25th July:

After a stormy opening last week, Wokingham’s controversial public inquiry into the proposed development at Woosehill has now settled down into a long drawn-out battle of facts, figures and words. The first days have been taken up by the evidence and cross examination of witnesses for the consortium who want to build a “mini-town” across 363 acres of the land. A dual carriageway spine road, 2,300 houses, providing homes for 7,000 people, four new schools, a shopping centre and open spaces are among the master plan for the area.

Witnesses so far have been Mr. Michael Beaman, a chartered surveyor; Mr. John Peacock, an architect; and a civil engineer, Mr. Alan Reed. They have been explaining the background behind the plan, the details of how development would take place and explaining why development should go ahead.

Members of the town’s residents’ associations and the borough council’s lawyer Mr. R. M. K. Gray as well as counsel representing the other applicants have been busy cross-examining them. Reported here are summaries of the days’ evidence from last Wednesday to Tuesday this week.

The newspaper reported each day's activities in some detail, and a transcript of the articles is available here.

On 23rd August, just before the end of the Inquiry, the newspaper reported:

‘Fine House a Victim of Planning Blight’:

By Malcolm Deacon.

The doors are wide open, every window is smashed. The inside and outside are totally wrecked. This is St. Catherine’s Lodge (pictured below) near the church on Bearwood Road, Wokingham. Nearby, Scott’s Farm on the Winnersh boundary has been allowed to go to rack and ruin – after being a viable proposition less than a year ago. And near the Barkham Road there is Folly Court and cottage which make a tragic sight.

These fine buildings have all fallen victims to “planning blight”, the disease which affects buildings in an area scheduled for development. Their only crime is that they are all in the Woosehill area – which could soon be covered with 2,000 houses, schools, a shopping centre and a major roadway.

Winnersh Parish Council Clerk, Mrs. Pam Oliver, hit out at this “disease” when she was giving evidence at the massive inquiry into the Woosehill development plans last week. She told Ministry Inspector Mr. Philip Maynard, the official conducting the inquiry, about St. Catherine’s Lodge: “This house typifies what is happening in this area and. I hope sir, you will have time to inspect it. Do not imagine it has been like this for years.

‘Sacrifice’

“Two years ago, it was a family home, a fine house in pleasant grounds. Now it is nothing, and sooner or later, doubtless the planning applications so strenuously sought will be granted – no doubt as so often on appeal. How many more buildings of character must be sacrificed?” she asked the inquiry. “How much more countryside must be taken? Where will it end?”

Bearwood Road, the superb rhododendron-lined road linking Doles Hill and King Street Lane could also be threatened, claimed Mrs. Oliver. She described the road as “one of the most beautiful in Berkshire”, but she believed it may well have to be used as an access route.

‘Inadequate’

The consortium of landowners has proposed to build a dual carriageway access route on to the A329 Reading Road. But, said Mrs. Oliver, “The Woosehill area is now so large that it seems certain one access point will be inadequate and my parish council must therefore consider where other roads off the site could lead. From every count, Barkham Road, leading as it does to the overloaded level crossing at the station, seems to be ruled out and that leaves us with only one other road to consider – namely Bearwood Road.”

Even forgetting its beauty, said Mrs. Oliver, at the Winnersh end of the road, there was the only recreation ground for the whole parish of 5,000 – one third of them children – and Bearwood Primary School which had some 330 children between the ages of five and 11.

Bearwood Road between the school and the recreation ground was extremely narrow – only 20 feet wide – and it would, if used, have to be widened. This, said Mrs. Oliver, would decrease the size of the only recreation ground in Winnersh and cause “untold” danger and hardship to the children of the primary school.

‘Suffered’

She hoped the Minister would agree that no development should take place in Woosehill until there was an overall plan for Wokingham and the surrounding parishes. “But if it goes ahead it must be a smaller development, suitable for the single access on to the A329 and with the boundaries of development firmly established well below the high ground near Chestnut Avenue – excluding the Scott’s Farm area and the land near Bearwood Road.

“The surrounding land must then be designated Green Belt so the area can really be contained. It is nearly too late for Wokingham, Winnersh and the other surrounding parishes, which for years have suffered from unpleasant sprawl, and ever decreasing amenities”, she told the inquiry. It is nonsense to say ‘people must live somewhere’, and go on building and building without checking on the current situation. There are now hundreds of houses of all prices available in this district – if there is such a need, why do these properties remain empty?

“The time for positive planning is long overdue. My parish council sincerely hopes that now, at last, the Secretary of State for the Environment will live up to his impressive title and allow the many young people in this part of Berkshire to grow up in an are of which they can be proud.”

Photos:

Scot's Farm, off Chestnut Avenue

‘Above: Scot’s Farm – a victim of “planning blight” because it lies in the Woosehill area.’

St. Catherine's Lodge, Bearwood Road, home to members of the Walter family from 1913 to 1958 

‘St. Catherine’s Lodge, Bearwood Road, once a family home, now a derelict ruin.’

Although the Ashridge Interchange wasn't mentioned in the Wokingham Times' reports of the Public Inquiry, the County Council still assumed that Woosehill would require a direct link to the M4 via Ashridge, as this article shows:

6th December 1973:

‘Woosehill Approval could land town with M4 Access’:

By Frank Emery.

Wokingham will have a direct link to the M4 motorway whether it likes it or not if the massive Woosehill development gets the go-ahead. That is the opinion of County Councillor Ken Johnson. And, unless the people of Wokingham can come up with a viable alternative before next June, the town will probably be stuck with the controversial Ashridge Interchange, “the dagger to the heart of Wokingham”, he warned.

The delicate question of an interchange for Wokingham will not be considered by Berkshire County Council until the initial results of a special transport study are made available, probably in June of next year. But Coun. Johnson is convinced that, if the government gives the green light for the 2,250-home Woosehill development, “Ashridge will automatically follow, albeit with some possible re-alignment of its access roads”.

Even without Woosehill the county may still be inclined towards Ashridge if the findings of the transport study are favourable.

‘Inevitable’

Coun. Johnson made it clear that he was against the Ashridge Interchange in its original form, but said a link of some kind was inevitable. Accordingly, he has written to nearly 30 organisations and bodies of people in the town, including the Wokingham Society, which is adamant against any kind of direct link to the M4, and numerous residents’ associations, to sound out opinion on possible alternative routes.

Coun. Johnson has recently had discussions with the county surveyor who has assured him that any feasible alternatives will be fully investigated. “We have got between now and next June to put our heads together and try and find a route that is acceptable to everyone”, he said. “The need for an access in some form or another is proved.”

Coun. Johnson went on to explain that the Woosehill development, if it comes, will mean an extra 7,000 residents. And he predicted that, if no direct link was provided, the already-congested A329 Reading Road and the interchange at Loddon Bridge would be put under a “serious strain”, not only by traffic from Woosehill but also motorists from the Woodley-Earley development area. “It is going to grossly overload the A329 and also exacerbate the position at Loddon Bridge”, he said. “It is essential that the town has its own link”.

The Ashridge scheme was shelved in 1969 following a public inquiry but it was never dropped altogether. And Coun. Johnson fears that the county council might be forced to resurrect it if no feasible alternative is put forward.

So far, reactions to his letter have been mixed. “Most people are still fearful of the original Ashridge scheme and as a result tend to be suspicious of any link road”. The Wokingham Society has not yet replied, but Coun. Johnson is confident he can get the message through – “Don’t get caught napping”.

4th April 1974:

‘Developers win battle of Woosehill’s 363 golden acres’:

By Denise Murphy.

Despite enormous opposition from local residents and organisations, the massive Woosehill development, which plans to house 7,000 people in more than 2,000 dwellings, has been given the go-ahead by the Department of the Environment.

In the Secretary of State’s decision published this week, outline planning permission has been granted to the consortium of owners who want to develop about 363 acres of land, increasing the population of Wokingham by one third.

A second application, submitted by Berkshire County Council, for a Roman Catholic school on about three acres of land at Chestnut Avenue, and for a county primary school on 5.73 acres of land south of Chestnut Avenue have also been allowed.

At the same time five appeals which were also aired at the marathon Woosehill inquiry held in Wokingham last summer, have been dismissed. The largest of these, an appeal by Fairview Estates (Enfield) Limited, to build houses, shops, primary schools, access roads, and private open space on 313.8 acres in the Woosehill planning area, was rejected on the grounds that such a development would overload the existing roads in the area.

A second appeal by Mr. S. J. Phillips for the residential development of 29 acres of land at Scots Farm, Chestnut Avenue, and a third by Hampshire and City Estates to build 250 houses on land adjoining Scots Farm, were both rejected because such development would extend into and damage the countryside.

’50 acres’

An appeal by D. J. Hands for the residential development of some 50 acres of land east of Bearwood Road, Wokingham, was dismissed because it would introduce residential development into "this magnificent area of unspoiled woodland" to the detriment of the rural character of Bearwood Road as a whole.

Finally, P. H. Smith (Reading) Limited’s appeal for permission to develop about 17.5 acres of land at Folly Court, Barkham Road, by building 192 houses was rejected because Folly Court could still be available for "institutional use".

On hearing the news of the Woosehill go-ahead, the Wokingham Society expressed "deep disappointment" at the decision after "unanimous opposition" had been made apparent all through the inquiry.

A spokesman for the society, Mr. Anthony Cross, said he was extremely surprised that the new Secretary of State under the Labour Government had decided to grant permission so quickly on a plan which was "not in tune" with Labour policy. "It is very unfortunate that we should have a whole estate of houses in the £15,000 bracket, at a time when most people cannot even get a mortgage together, let alone afford such high prices", he said. "What is very badly needed is cheaper houses for sale, so that people who need houses can buy them".

‘Worried’

Mr. Cross was also very worried that the Master Plan which was drawn up by the consortium of owners showed only one point of access from the development. "This is very stupid in the view of the Society", he said. "With a proposed 2,000 houses there are likely to be in the region of 4,000 cars. Can you imagine the situation when they are all trying to get out of Woosehill? It would surely produce chaos.".

In the report of Mr. Phillip Maynard, the Government Inspector who held the inquiry, the one main access from the site is referred to as being "perhaps revolutionary in concept".

‘Acceptable’

"Nevertheless, it has been accepted by Berkshire County Council as highway and planning authority and, in my opinion, it has been adequately demonstrated that it would be workable and the safest method of dealing with the flow", the report states.

So a mini-town, which the developers plan to phase over eight years, will spring up less than a mile from Wokingham’s centre. Bounded by Reading Road, Barkham Road and Bearwood Road, the development will have its own shopping centre, school, library and health centre. A lake is proposed to be fed directly from the Emm Brook, and two flood parks for controlling surfaces water discharge, which will be used as open space.

‘Stressed’

Granting planning permission, the Secretary of State stressed that all details of the siting, design and external appearance of the buildings, the means of access, and the landscaping of the site should receive planning approval from Wokingham District Council. A condition was also made that none of existing trees should be felled, lopped or topped without written consent from the council.

Map:

Woosehill Plan Area - Wokingham Times

These are Woosehill’s "Golden Acres" – the green fields and woods will be covered with 2,300 houses, shops, schools and a dual carriageway access road. This is how it will look in a few years according to this plan, drawn up by a consortium of owners of the land and accepted by the inquiry inspector. The area covers 350 acres, and homes for 7,000 are planned at an average density of 10 to the acre.

11th April 1974:

‘Woosehill will cause massive traffic jams’:

By Denise Murphy.

So the decision has been made. The gigantic Woosehill Development, which so many people have struggled and fought to prevent for so long, is now a reality. No longer need close our eyes and try to imagine thousands of little houses on the green acres between Bearwood Road, Barkham Road and Reading Road.

Where sheep and Spring lambs graze on land which gently slopes down to the Emm Brook, all too soon there will be tarmac roads, schools, shopping centres and houses. To be precise, 2,300 houses and flats. In practical terms, that is likely to mean roughly 7,000 extra people using schools, doctors, playing fields and public transport, and perhaps 4,000 more cars taking to the surrounding roads. Or to put it another way, the present population of Wokingham will be increased by approximately one third.

That this will affect the people of Wokingham is putting it mildly, and once the local preservation societies and residents’ associations had recovered from the shock of certainty they were able to assess what the effect will be.

Mrs. F. M. J. Macphail, Wokingham secretary of the Council for the Protection of Rural England who described the Secretary of State’s decision as "monstrous", believes that Wokingham will suffer most from grossly overloaded roads, and an acute shortage of open spaces and play areas.

‘Serious’

"The second point is very serious indeed", she said. "Wokingham is very short of space, well below the ratio of acres per thousand people that we should have. There ought to be 12.14 acres per 1,000, and instead Wokingham has three acres to that number of people." Mrs. Macphail said that she, and probably most people, would not mind if Woosehill’s 363 acres were used to house people who really needed housing. "But these houses are all in the £15,000 bracket – well above the price that people who most need houses can afford to pay. If they were in the region of £7,000 to £8,000 then we would be doing something constructive, and would not mind quite so much that we were to lose our pleasant surroundings", she said.

Wokingham County Councillor K. W. Johnson said "I am extremely disappointed by the Minister’s decision to release the Woosehill area for residential development at this time. I was entirely in agreement with Wokingham Borough Council’s objections voiced at the public inquiry, and I would have thought that the decision would at least have been held over until the preliminary results of the recent Transportation Survey, expected about June this year, are available. In any event, it seems that the decision has been made by the new Minister in indecent haste so soon after taking office.

‘Intolerable’

"We must now try to ensure that provision of the infrastructure (schools, sewage and waste disposal, open space, etc.) necessary to support this development is adequately made with assistance from Central Government to minimise the financial impact upon local residents. In particular, we look to early provision of the Inner Distributor Road (IDR), and County Councillor Lewis Moss and myself are actively pursuing this objective at Shire Hall. In my opinion, the decision also makes the provision of a permanent link onto the A329M inevitable, probably at or near the previously-proposed site of the Ashridge Interchange, with consequent re-organisation of the adjacent local roads to feed into the IDR. Without such provisions the situation in Wokingham will be intolerable long before the development is complete".

The North Woosehill Residents’ Association, whose members live on the north-east edge of the development area, also expressed deep disappointment at the outcome of the inquiry.

‘Extra load’

A spokesman for the association predicted that Wokingham would very soon be "bursting at the seams" with the extra load of people who will move into it. "What we will have to do to protect the town will be to pedestrianise the whole cente, and keep traffic right away", he said. "With so many people using Wokingham, this will be the only answer. Otherwise, the place will get choked with cars, juggernauts and lorries, and nobody will be able to breathe".

This is a scheme which meets with the full approval of the Wokingham Society, whose chairman Mr. Anthony Gross first aired it many months ago. Said Mr. Cross: "Cars and the roads are one of our biggest worries in connection with Woosehill".

‘Ruined’

"The character of Wokingham is already being ruined by an excess of traffic, and with 4,000 extra cars going in and out of the town, the situation will deteriorate very quickly".

All three organisations predict that by the time the development has been completed, the roads will be over-burdened by about 70 per cent, particularly Reading Road, and the two tributary roads Woosehill Lane and Simons Lane, which will have to bear almost the full brunt of the new traffic.

The mini-roundabout which is to be built on Reading Road is the only access from the development has been strongly criticised by opponents to the scheme. Mass traffic jams are expected, and if an accident should block the carriageway at the roundabout, long road blocks would be likely, they say.

‘Schools’

On the other hand, the proviso that Berkshire County Council be allowed to build two new schools in the area has been welcomed by most people. Schools, generally speaking, are surrounded by playing fields, which are preferable as near neighbours to dense housing. Older schoolchildren will have to be absorbed into The Holt School, Forest Boys School and Emmbrook Secondary School, and plans have been made to extend these to cope with the extra numbers.

So undoubtedly Wokingham WILL be stretching at the seams, and whether it will burst, or be able to expand to accommodate the needs of an extra 7,000 people or not depends largely on the local authority.

‘Urgent’

That the town and its surrounding villages, particularly Winnersh, are in urgent need of community facilities, is blatantly apparent now. That much more needs to done to pave the way for a great influx of residents must also be apparent. Only time will tell if the preparations were sufficient.

Thanks are due to Surrey and Berkshire Media, owners of the 'Wokingham Times', for permission to reproduce these articles. Note that microfilm copies of these newspapers can be viewed at Bracknell Library, while those up to the end of 1971 can also be seen at Wokingham Library.

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