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 Inspector's Report March 1974

The Woosehill Inspector's Report four decades on

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


Public Inquiry, Summer 1973


Woodley and Earley

The M4, A329(M) and IDR

The Public Inquiry into planning applications for Woosehill started on 16th July 1973,  and lasted six weeks. The Wokingham Times reported each day's activity.

The Woosehill Planning Inspector's report was published in late March 1974, and the covering letter was addressed to the Clerk of Wokingham Rural District Council, in whose area the main Woosehill development site was located.

Although the Planning Inspector's recommendations should have been incorporated into later Council policy, many of them seem to have 'slipped through the net', either deliberately or by neglect. Each local Council existing in March 1974 would have received a copy of the full report, but strangely, none can now be traced.

A major problem was that Local Government Reorganisation took place on 1st April 1974, just days after the Inspector's report was published. At one level, the old Wokingham Borough Council and Wokingham Rural District Council merged to become 'Wokingham District Council'. Also, the Berkshire County Council changed drastically, gaining Slough but losing the Vale of the White Horse and the old County town of Abingdon; it effectively became the County Council for the M4 Corridor.   

While the full Woosehill Inquiry Report has been lost, the Planning Inspector's Recommendations (contained within the covering letter sent to the Clerk of the WRDC) not only exists, but is available to view at both Wokingham and Reading Local Studies Libraries. It forms Appendix 2 of the Woosehill District Plan. A full transcript of Appendix 2 can be downloaded here. Parts of the transcript have been highlighted where they concern local roads, and two main conclusions can be drawn:

  • The Station Level Crossing was considered to be such a constraint that the Inspector recommended that no major development should be allowed that affected Barkham Road or Bearwood Road. The Inspector had seen all of the current road schemes including the Station Link Road, and recommended: "Particularly it would be wrong to inflict an unrestricted extra volume of traffic on to Barkham Road in view of the level crossing difficulties, which have no foreseeable solution, and the fact that the road is already operating at about its theoretical capacity".
  • The Inspector foresaw problems concerning access to the M4: "With the predominantly east-west axis of vehicular flows, due to the location of major employment centres, I feel that the situation on A329 could become increasingly acute after A329(M) is completed to Amen Corner, particularly as it is proposed to close the link with A321 to the north of the town. It would mean a large proportion of locally generated traffic would have to travel a fair distance to one end or the other of the A329(M) - and mostly along A329 - in order to reach the M4 motorway."

   Local Newspaper reaction to the Woosehill Inquiry Report

The Wokingham Times' reaction on 4th April 1974 was rather superficial. It missed both of the above key conclusions, as can be seen here.However, County Councillor K W Johnson was quoted in the next issue as follows: "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 Bracknell News in early April didn't even mention the Woosehill Inquiry Report. No copies of its sister newspaper, the Wokingham News, now exist, so we don't know if it carried any articles on the subject. However, the Berkshire Mercury put the story on its front page - and noted the Inspector's dire warnings about the Station Level Crossing. 

 Why was the Woosehill Inquiry Report lost?

Normally, key recommendations from a Planning Inspector would be formulated as Planning Polucies. We can't find out why this didn't happen, but it's clear that suppression of major developments along Barkham Road didn't last more than a decade. Why was Elizabeth Park allowed? Why has housing development been allowed on Folly Court when the Woosehill Inspector specifically refused permission on the same site in 1974?

A now-retired Planning Officer had never been made aware of the Woosehill Inspector's recommendations during his tenure on Wokingham District Council. In his view, the evidence would have had a 'material effect' on the Core Strategy of 2005 if it had been presented at the Examination In Public ('EIP').

The Woosehill Inspector's recommendations finally surfaced in 2010, but despite that, Wokingham Borough Council has refused to re-examine the Core Strategy. The 'boxes were all ticked' during the EIP, and so the Core Strategy could proceed without re-checking whether the assumptions about traffic flows were valid.

The Berkshire Mercury of 4th April 1974 had articles on both the Woosehill decision and on the shake-up of Berkshire County Council on its front page.

Berkshire Mercury April 4th 1974

Here is a transcript of the Woosehill article, with the key passage in bold:

“Housing for 7,000 may start in 1976”:

'Housing for 7,000 more people has been sanctioned at Wokingham, and work may start in two years. This follows the Minister's decision to grant planning permission for the residential development of Woosehill.

In his report to the Department of the Environment Mr. P.S. Maynard, the Inspector at the local inquiry, held at Wokingham last year, said that it had been represented that there was no need for further development in the area, as up to 500 houses are presently for sale. In his opinion, the demand for houses is affected by many conditions and this position could rapidly change back to what it was two years ago, when supply could not keep pace with demand.

The town's population had doubled within the last 10 to 12 years and there were strong pleas that it should be given a rest and, with regard to the lack scale growth would have on the town's character and surroundings, further expansion into the countryside should not be allowed.

Mr. Maynard considered that Wokingham was strategically placed in relation to centres of employment and a potentially good communication area, although the commuter rail service to and from London was overcrowded. "It is capable of accepting a further growth, without destroying the character of the town or having a materially detrimental effect on the existing inhabitants, and the site, though large and involving a considerable amount of agricultural land, if developed, would not extend in to the countryside to an unreasonable degree", he states.

Mr. Maynard believes that the development, which has the support of the County Council, would result in a largely self-sufficient area, with adequate facilities which would not prejudice future plans for the town as a whole. There are no infrastructure problems. The first stage of the diversion of sewage to the Wargrave sewage disposal plant should be finished in 1975, in time for the completion of the first houses in Woosehill.

Traffic could be a problem, especially in Barkham Road, where it would be wrong, he said, to inflict an unrestricted extra volume of traffic, in view of the level crossing difficulties, which have no foreseeable solution, and the fact that Barkham Road is already operating to its theoretical capacity.

Reading Road, with the drawback of multiple side roads, is the only highway capable of taking the major part of this volume of traffic and, although the idea of having one main access to serve such a large area is "revolutionary in concept", planning and highway authorities demonstrated that it would be workable and safe.

"As housing associations wish to take part, and the Wokingham Borough Council has been invited to participate in the scheme, this would provide the opportunity to build some much needed rented accommodation within the framework of the overall scheme", he said. "Undoubtedly, proposals, which would increase the population by one third, would have ann effect on the town's facilities, such as schools, shops, car parking and medical services, and would aggravate central area problems. Nevertheless, as the development would be phased over eight years, this would provide time to rectify such defects, including improvements to the local road pattern."

Mr. Maynard suggests that the building of a health clinic, included in the plans for housing, schools and a play area on the site be brought forward, as it would appear to be particularly urgent.

Provision has been made to integrate two schools into the Woosehill scheme, although one will, to a minor degree, intrude into a rural area, but, he pointed out, a school with generous open space about the buildings is suitable for an urban fringe area. There will be a Roman Catholic School, on about three acres of land on the north side of Chestnut Avenue, and a county primary school on about 5.75 acres of land south of Chestnut Avenue.

There are certain conditions to be met before the 363 acres of farmland disappear under tons of bricks and mortar.

(1) Approval of the details of the siting, design and external appearance of the buildings, the means of access and the landscaping of the of the site shall be obtained from the local planning authority.

(2) The development shall be begun on or before March 31st 1979 or the expiration of two years from the final approval of the application.

(3) The development shall be properly phased.

(4) The existing trees shall be retained.

(5) Plans submitted must indicate the position of all the trees on the land and name the species.

Other appeals for residential development of 39 acres at Scots Farm, Chestnut Avenue, and a further 250 houses on open space adjoining Scots Farm, residential development of 50 acres to the east of Bearwood Road and 17.5 acres at Folly Court, Barkham Road, were dismissed.

 Microfilm copies of the Berkshire Mercury are held at Reading Local Studies Library.

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