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Sandleford – A Personal View

Saturday 31st March 2012
Article posted on 4 March 2012 Leave a Comment

Sandleford – a personal view

A view from an opponent to the building of 2000 homes on greenfield land

 I have to be honest, I am a late convert to the cause of Sandleford.  When I read about it in the papers, as the latest twist in the tale unfolded throughout the late naughties, I wasn’t really sure where it was.  In any event it was always written about in terms of coming bottom in the appraisal of potential development sites and more latterly as a reserve site so it wasn’t really anything to concern me.  Nor did it occur to me in evening sorties with Paul Cowan and others to the Swan and our stumbling back in the pitch black that the land we were going over was the potential site for 2,000 homes.  As I said I was a late convert.

When I did finally discover what was being proposed, my anger was mainly directed at West Berkshire Council and the inadequacy of their consultation process.  With other sites such as Theale and Pincent Hill councillors and MPs had gone around canvassing opinion.  Yet our councillors and Council had done nothing to make us aware of what was going on here and this seemed to me very wrong.  Sandleford was incidental to the argument.

Then as I delved into the myriad of council documents on the proposal I was struck by the lunacy of what they were suggesting.  One can argue the merits of restricting the flow of the A339 by reducing it to a single lane each way through town, but to do this and then stick 2,000 homes on one end? (in fact 4,000 if you include the Racecourse and infill developments!).  All this without an alternative eastern route around town?  But again Sandleford was incidental.

It was easy to get excited about the environmental impact of the proposals, of all the new car journeys as people travel to work, go shopping or visit the town centre.  How this would affect travelling along Monks Lane and the impact of 2000 new homes on Wash Common a community currently of some 1300 homes.  Again Sandleford itself was in the background to all this.

You see until the age of 18 I was brought up on the edge of Dartmoor with easy access to some of the most stunning coastlines in the world.  My adult education was at York where I regularly went to the North York Moors hang gliding and I worked for four years at the foot of the Yorkshire Dales.  As such Sandleford as a piece of countryside struck me as unexceptional.

However something happened when I was doing the umpteenth interview for our campaign this time for Meridian News.  As we stood there waiting for the equipment to be set up and agreeing who was going to say what, I saw a couple of hares racing across the field.  This was swiftly followed by a couple of sky larks launching themselves high into the sky with their distinctive high pitched song.

I followed this up with a walk to areas where I am probably not permitted  and saw the marsh area below the rugby club where a couple of Munjtac deer bounded off.  As one walks south across the arable farmland there is pasture with cattle grazing.  On the south side you come to the Enborne river meandering, depressingly low for this time of year, through woodland – it must be stunning in the spring.  By this time it was dusk and as I returned, skirting around the woodland that is managed for shooting, small bats had started flying out of the woods on their night-time forays.

Finally I got it.  This had nothing to do with man and whether a single development site for 2,000 homes is the right way forward, or whether or not the proposals made sense, or would somehow inconvenience us.  No this is about an area of countryside that in spite of being right on our doorstep and clearly shaped by our activities, is remarkably unspoilt for the very reason that the majority of us are not able to trample all over it.  As a result we are rewarded with the occasional glimpse of the current inhabitants as they go about their daily lives.  Long may they continue to thrive and at long last I am a convert and understand what it is I am fighting for.

On the 31st March from 11am to 4:30pm there will be an exhibition of paintings for the 40th anniversary edition of Watership Down at St Georges Church with guided walks to Sandleford – do join us.

Peter Norman – www.saynotosandleford.org.uk

 St George’s Church is not a member of the ‘say no to Sandleford’ campaign,
but is delighted to host this event.

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