"WE believe this is the wrong thing to do" — that's the message from pro-countryside campaigners calling on the council to drop plans to build 4,000 homes on 240 hectares of open green space.

Jealott’s Hill in Warfield could be developed throughout the coming decades if agro-chemical company Syngenta’s proposals are given the go-ahead in the next few years.

Despite a delay in the development of Bracknell Forest Council’s (BFC) local plan due to the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners protesting against the plans are not letting the controversial proposal go under the radar.

READ MORE: Local authority lays bare its objection to Jealott's Hill homes plan

Ahead of a review of the local plan in November, campaign group Save Jealott’s Hill (SJH) is calling for BFC to drop the policy (known as ‘LP7’ in technical terms) from its draft submission for a number of reasons.

Richard Stok, secretary of SJH, told the News: “If you look at the local plan as it was developed and as it is now, LP7 is a bit like a carbuncle.

“It’s been bolted on. If you took LP7 away, you then have a local plan that looks like a good local plan.

“LP7 is like a sore thumb. Our message to BFC is please withdraw LP7 from the local plan, submit that and don’t spend too much money on it because the rules of the game are about to change.”

“You can’t make new green belt”

The “rules” Mr Stok refers to are the reforms to England’s planning system outlined by the government’s white paper.

Under these new directions, land will be split into three categories — ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protection’.

Government officials are hoping the laws will speed up housebuilding in both ‘growth’ and ‘renewal’ areas.

READ MORE: Campaign launched against plans to build 4,000 homes in Warfield

This could mean a greater emphasis on housebuilding on brownfield sites rather than areas of ‘protected’ green belt, such as Jealott’s Hill.

Richard added: “This is going to become a local election issue where we can hold our potential elected representatives to account by asking them if they believe we should be sacrificing 750 acres of green belt, or if they believe we should be protecting the green belt and focusing on the brownfield sites which are going to emerge once that policy becomes law?

“Why on earth would you want to encroach on the green belt? You can’t make new green belt!

“The whole prioritisation of land is going to change.”

Numbers, numbers, numbers

SJH campaigners argue the planning reforms point should be considered alongside the number of houses BFC is required to build by the government in the next 16 years.

While this figure could change because of the government’s planning overhaul, by March 2019 Bracknell Forest Council had found sites for all but 1,877 of the 10,455 homes it needs to build by 2036.

The introduction of 18 new sites allocated for housebuilding as outlined in the draft local plan revised growth strategy, published in September 2019, indicated land for an extra 2,028 homes had been identified.

READ MORE: What Bracknell Forest's parishes say about plans for 4,000 homes in Warfield

This means a surplus of 151 homes above the government-imposed requirement without the inclusion of Jealott’s Hill, which is not one of the 18 new sites.

Campaigners argue that given the council has a sufficient land supply up to 2036, the Jealott’s Hill proposal is not needed.

But Cllr Chris Turrell, BFC’s planning boss, hit back.

He told the News: “Land supply for housing is just one factor in producing a local plan, along with meeting economic need.

“The proposal for Jealott’s Hill would span further into the future than 2036 and would help meet both employment and affordable housing needs for a longer period of time.”


Should the Jealott’s Hill proposal go ahead, 1,200 of the 4,000 homes would be built by 2036, with the remainder built by 2049.

Around 35 per cent of these homes would be ‘affordable’ by the time of completion.

But Richard Stok believes the council is being disingenuous when it boasts about providing around 1,400 ‘affordable’ homes at the site.

He said: “By the time those houses are going to be built, those are going to be £350,000 houses by the time we get to 2040. I suspect there won’t be many people in Bracknell who can afford to buy or rent that.

READ MORE: Opposition to plans for 4,000 homes in Warfield hots up

“I think it’s disingenuous to suggest houses on a prime piece of green belt are going to be affordable.”

Cllr Turrell said the affordable homes provided at Jealott’s Hill will need to meet the government’s definition at the time the plan is adopted, meaning the type of homes offered would be a mix between shared ownership and rented homes, which will “reflect demand in Bracknell Forest.”

Space to grow?

Save Jealott’s Hill’s qualms with the proposal not only lie with the development of the greenbelt to build these homes but also with Syngenta’s insistence it needs this land to be developed in order to build a new Science and Innovation Park at the site.

As set out in the BFC draft local plan, the Park would be based around the 25-hectare facility currently operated by Syngenta.

READ MORE: Bracknell Forest local plan progress delayed due to coronavirus pandemic

SJH campaigners dispute the need to develop the greenbelt if the Park can be built within Jealott’s Hill’s brownfield space.

In a previous article by the News, Syngenta responded to suggestions it had enough wealth behind it to build its new Park without needing to build 4,000 homes too by claiming the new campus “will require hundreds of millions in investment to succeed.”

In a statement given to the News last month, they added: “Without full use of the site footprint in this way the project is not viable against other international locations where Syngenta already undertakes its research and development activity.”

Commitment issues

Despite Syngenta’s desire to develop Jealott’s Hill to facilitate its research activity, SJH campaigners are worried the agro-chemicals giant has not made a commitment to staying in Bracknell Forest even if its homes plans are approved.

Richard Stok said: “Over the years the site has been there, hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested.

“The real issue is, are they going to continue to invest in that site long-term or are they going to look at what the business case is for [developing its research activities at] three or four other sites around the world and make a decision based on that?

“If permission is given to make this developable land, then there’s nothing to stop Syngenta saying ‘thank you very much, there’s a better business case in Germany or China, we’re going to invest there.

READ MORE: Bracknell Forest local plan could be delayed again

“‘Sorry Bracknell, we’re going to sell the land to developers.’

“With no commitment, why would anybody try to get the greenbelt changed?”

Syngenta was contacted for comment about its commitment to staying in the borough.

A spokesperson said: “As stated previously in putting forward the development proposals Syngenta aims to continue its investment and work at Jealott’s Hill into the future.”

“There is a lot of local public opinion”

These issues combined — the lack of need for housing up to 2036 and the space already available for Syngenta to develop its business park amongst other issues — culminate in SJH’s determination there are no ‘exceptional circumstances’ to justify building homes in the greenbelt.

Aside from planning issues, the campaigners’ biggest grievance, however, is the level of public engagement both the council and Syngenta have undertaken.

Following the publication of the draft local plan revised growth strategy last year, a consultation saw more than 300 residents leave comments against the Jealott’s Hill proposals.

A petition set up against the plan has been signed by almost 5,000 people.

In January, a public meeting about the proposals was attended by more than 200 concerned residents from Warfield and the surrounding areas. No one from BFC or Syngenta attended, despite being invited.

Mr Stok feels the strength of feeling against the plan has not been sufficiently embraced by BFC or Syngenta.

He told the News: “It would appear that Bracknell Forest and by implication, Syngenta, want to sit behind what is going to be a very legal process, whereby we have to write in after the submission version of the local plan and we then have to go to the public inquiry that’s likely to follow on from that.

“There is a lot of local public opinion on this, but the public doesn’t seem to have the opportunity to engage with authority trying to set this rather strange policy in place.

“What we would like to see is a proper public engagement where those people who have concerns are given the opportunity to ask questions both of our elected representatives on BFC and Syngenta.”

But Cllr Turrell said residents will get another opportunity to spell out their thoughts through another consultation.

He said: “We have already run extensive consultation on the draft local plan with over 1,000 comments received from residents and the general public.

READ MORE: Campaigners clash with Syngenta over suggestions chemicals company already has financial backing to build new park

“The council is currently working on a final version of the plan and once agreed, there will be a further round of consultation in which interested parties, including residents, can make comments.

“The plan and comments will then be submitted to an independent planning inspector for a full and thorough examination.

“Interested parties will then be invited to sessions with the inspector to put forward their views on the plan, this is the same process that all local plans within England go through.

“At this time no formal decision on the contents of a final version of the plan has been made.”

A Syngenta spokesperson said the agro-chemicals company wrote to all local parish councils in March following up on previous engagement.

Their letter to the parishes read: “We are interested to understand areas of concern at an early stage in order to seek to address these and work to co-create the new Jealott’s Hill development to ensure it delivers positive economic, social and environmental benefits for all.”

The spokesperson said Syngenta has also asked all local MPs to forward any correspondence they have received from constituents to them if there are concerns that can be addressed.

Syngenta says to date, it has not received any correspondence or requests to engage via this route.

They also said their website (www.jealottshill.com) has a ‘contact us’ section where residents can get in touch with Syngenta.

The spokesperson added: “We have had no requests directly from any campaign group at present but continue to be open and would welcome the engagement.”

“Drop it”

While Save Jealott’s Hill campaigners have been busy preparing their forthcoming arguments during the pandemic, the greenbelt has offered respite throughout six months in lockdown.

Richard, who has lived in Warfield for more than 30 years and who lives around four miles away from Jealott’s Hill, said: “The pandemic has emphasised the need for the greenbelt, it’s emphasised the need for a space the public can use in times of trouble, particularly when we are constrained as to where we can go.

“It’s made a massive difference.

“When I moved here, there were 750 dwellings. There’s something like 4,000 dwellings now. We don’t want to see a continuation of houses, houses, houses.

“We believe this is the wrong thing to do.

“Drop it, and focus on what is otherwise what looks to be quite a good local plan.”