LAST week, residents took part in a virtual consultation event to discuss future development in Lower Earley – but the leader of Earley Town Council said it was “a shambles”.
Lower Earley Properties organised the online village hall to hear residents’ feedback on its proposals.
More than 200 people tuned in.
Three weeks ago, the developer revealed plans to submit an application for a multi-million pound development off Meldreth Way, including a Lidl foodstore and a housing estate.
In November last year, it cleared what was formerly Swallows Meadow to prepare the site for future work after purchasing it from the University of Reading.
Cllr Clive Jones, leader of Earley Town Council and ward councillor for Hawkedon, said the consultation was anything but “satisfactory”.
But Andy Jansons, CEO of Lower Earley Properties’ parent company, Jansons Property said it was a success.
What was revealed?
The project leaders outlined their vision for Swallows Meadow, which includes 42 new homes, a landscaped green space, and a new supermarket.
Mr Jansons said a Lidl would provide “choice” to local residents as well as employment opportunities, bringing around 40 full- and part-time jobs and apprenticeships to the area.
According to Mr Jansons, Lidl chose Swallows Meadow as a potential site for a foodstore after identifying Lower Earley as “underprovided” by existing supermarketsm although there is an Asda, an Iceland and an M&S foodstore.
James Mitchell, Lidl’s regional head of property, said: “We are extremely excited about the prospect of opening a new Lidl store in Earley, bringing new jobs to the community.”
The consultation also revealed that Lower Earley Properties hopes to build 42 new homes off Meldreth Way.
These would be a mixture of one- and two-bed apartments and two-, three-, and four-bed houses. At least 40% would be considered affordable housing, and the developer said they would be built to match the look and feel of nearby houses.
The estate would also provide charging points for electric vehicles, and come with new pedestrian and cycle links.
Mr Jansons said if approved, the development would also create hundreds of construction jobs by employing local workers to build the estate.
Lower Earley Properties has not yet submitted a planning application, but is having pre-application talks with Wokingham Borough Council planning officers.
Why has the consultation been criticised?
Cllr Jones said the virtual village hall event failed to address residents’ concerns about safeguarding the former green space.
Swallows Meadow was an area known for its woodland walks before it was cleared last year.
“We don’t want to know that they’re providing the right number of parking spaces or homes that are in keeping with the rest of the area,” the councillor said. “We want them to restore the area to what it once was.”
Last November, Lower Earley Properties cleared scrub and vegetation at Swallows Meadow to prepare the site. According to the project team, most of this was “low quality”.
At the consultation, they revealed plans to remove a further 38 trees on site and plant 123 new trees, all hailing from a specialist nursery.
However, Cllr Jones believes the former trees were perfectly fine and it was unnecessary to clear them in the first place.
“They could have got rid of some of the undergrowth to maybe improve the quality of the trees, but with it being a stone’s throw away from so many local people we don’t really want them to do anything,” he said.
“We don’t want development on this green space because we want it to be protected.”
According to Mr Jansons, Lower Earley Properties undertook “all legal due diligence” when clearing the site last year, and reiterated that it is not public land.
Wokingham Borough Council has since confirmed there is no Public Right of Way through the site.
When will the planning application be submitted?
Following the consultation, Cllr Jones said he will continue to encourage residents to voice their opinions on the development.
Nearly 900 people have now signed the petition launched by Wokingham Liberal Democrats to protest against the plans.
“We will continue to oppose this,” Cllr Jones added. “And we hope to get as many residents as possible to oppose the planning application when it comes in.”
Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, said the council is aware of “strong public views” about the proposal and encourages residents to use the consultation to make their opinions known.
“At the moment, no planning application has been submitted to the council, but if and when one is submitted, local residents will be consulted and given the opportunity to submit their views prior to a decision being made,” he said.
“It may be able to help shape an application if one comes forward.”
Lower Earley Properties said it will use feedback from the consultation process to submit a Statement of Community Involvement alongside the application later this year.
“We received lots of feedback, which we will be reviewing over the coming weeks as we finalise our plans and submit a planning application,” Mr Jansons said.
To watch the Virtual Village Hall, visit: lowerearleyplans.co.uk
To view Wokingham Liberal Democrats’ petition, visit: www.wokinghamlibdems.org.uk/meadow