Tuesday, 09 March 2021

Decision nears on plan for 260 homes at golf course

Decision nears on plan for 260 homes at golf course

PLANS for 260 homes at a golf club have finally been submitted.

Reading Golf Club, off Kidmore End Road, Emmer Green, is working with developer Fairfax to deliver “family and affordable houses”.

The planning application made to Reading Borough Council says the development would include a new medical centre and public green space. 

The club says the scheme is crucial to its survival as it is at risk of insolvency due to declining membership and rising maintenance costs.

It has agreed to merge with Caversham Heath Golf Club in Mapledurham by March next year.

But the plans are opposed by residents, local campaign groups and Reading East MP Matt Rodda, who say it will cause more congestion, put pressure on local services and spoil a greenfield site.

About a third of the 109 acres of land has already been earmarked for 90 to 120 homes by the council and is included in its local plan.

The other two-thirds of the course is in South Oxfordshire and has not been included in the district council’s local plan.

Fairfax says: “As close to one third of the available land is already deemed suitable for residential use and the balance is bounded on several sides by existing residential use, it seems wholly reasonable to propose much-needed housing.

“In recent years, Reading has seen the construction of a large number of flats in and around the town centre but there has not been a commensurate increase in the number of new, family-sized residences.

“These proposals show that a predominantly housing-led scheme can be delivered, complete with affordable units and a healthcare facility, without having undue impact on the site’s immediate neighbours or the wider area.”

Faifax says more than 65 per cent of the club’s land in Reading borough would be retained as green space and about 30 per cent would be designated as open or play space, with cycle paths and footpaths connecting to South Oxfordshire.

Part of the land within South Oxfordshire would become a country park with new cycle and walking links from Kidmore End Road.

Mr Rodda said the local plan had identified almost enough brownfield land for the expected housing need in Reading borough until 2036.

“This is against a whole series of national policies,” he said. “Building on green spaces leaves brownfield sites undeveloped and takes away valuable green space. It is a tragedy that the developer can’t see that.

“It is part of a bigger set of choices — do we redevelop brownfield sites or suburban land that is far away from public transport and leading to more car journeys?

“This site will be a test case and I am concerned that the developer will try to apply on the South Oxfordshire side. This would see a huge amount of extra development, which wouldn’t be supported by adequate infrastructure, and take away valuable green land.

“I’m very concerned about this and am going to do whatever I can to oppose this development.

“A lot of people will be affected by the noise and the levels of pollution that will come from this.

“If there are 260 extra homes on the edge of Reading, imagine where all those extra cars are going to go, especially during rush hour.”

Campaign group Keep Emmer Green says the development would be “unsustainable” and “overload” local infrastructure.

Ian Morgan, of Highdown Hill, who is a member of the group, said: “Traffic congestion on the local road network and through the bottlenecks of Caversham and the Thames bridges would be exacerbated.

“Long queues of traffic are already commonplace on the main roads leading into Caversham at peak times. This affects not only the major routes, such as Peppard Road and Woodcote Road, but also causes traffic to spill over into adjoining local roads.

“This creates safety issues for cyclists and children on their way to school, spreads pollution and delays buses. Air quality readings at particular junctions show queuing traffic is causing safety limits to be exceeded.

“There are few, if any, options to increase road capacity through Caversham. While a third Thames bridge has long been spoken of, it is questionable if it would help solve traffic congestion in Caversham unless a by-pass around Emmer Green and Caversham into South Oxfordshire is also provided.”

A report by Caversham GLOBE, a local environmental group, says that three areas in Caversham consistently exceed the annual legal limit for levels of nitrogen dioxide and three others are borderline.

Gary Stangoe, general manager of Reading Golf Club, said it would not have survived were it not for the partnership with Fairfax.

He said: “This was something we started on nearly four years ago when the industry was in massive decline and this is about the future of both Reading and Caversham Heath. Both golf clubs were losing six-figure sums. We consulted with our members and 83 per cent of them supported the move because they understood the long-term challenge the club was facing and the difficulty of survival.

“The funds from the developer have ensured that we can provide a quality facility for the community and will subsidise our operations for 12 months. Without that partnership, it is highly unlikely we would have survived to this stage.”

He said the new club, which would be known as The Caversham, would hopefully be financially sustainable with a worldwide reputation.

It would have a new academy course and practice range and the clubhouse would be extended.

Mr Stangoe said: “This is a very emotional subject for us. We are trying to create a long-term future for golf in the area and save jobs.

“We want to leave a responsible legacy. This is private land and has been that way for more than 110 years but this proposal would open up land to the public.

“We understand the concerns people may have but we also believe there are a number of benefits. We know there is a housing shortage.”

The club opened up the course to the public during the corornavirus lockdown so there was somewhere new to walk.

Mr Stangoe said that since golf was allowed to resume there had been a slight increase in the number of people taking up the sport.

However, a survey of private golf clubs in the UK found 37 per cent were having cash flow problems.

The council is asking the public for their views, which must be submitted by September 11.

Mr Rodda is also conducting an online survey at mattroddamp.com/

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