An unpopular plan to build an 81-home housing estate on the edge of a 'unique' village has been refused planning permission – despite recommendations that it should be approved.

Many Swallowfield residents came to see councillors decide the fate of their village at Wokingham Borough Council on Wednesday, January 10. So much so that staff had to open an extra room for them.

Council planning officers had recommended that councillors on the planning committee approve the proposals by developer Croudace Homes. But villagers argued that local schools and doctors surgeries were already over capacity.

Jeremy Bayliss from Swallowfield told councillors the plans would ‘irreversibly damage the village,’ and that the harm it would cause would outweigh the benefits of providing new homes.

READ MORE: Crunch time for plan to build 81 homes in Swallowfield

He said: “Swallowfield is special – it is unique in this part of the borough. The other villages have all been developed out of being villages, such as Shinfield.

“The proposal would result in a massive increase – some 42 per cent – in the size of the village. This would be wholly inappropriate and with its attendant activities it would severely damage the ambiance and character of the village. It would do nothing to conserve and enhance it.”

Council planning officers agreed that the plan would harm the countryside, and be far larger than is suitable for Swallowfield – meaning it was against the Wokingham Borough’s planning policies.

But they said they had to recommend it be approved anyway because the council doesn’t yet have a plan to deliver space for new housing over the next five years.

Government planning policy says that not having this can tip the balance in favour of housing applications unless the harms outweigh the benefits.

Chris Robert from the Boyer Planning consultancy said the new homes – including 33 to be reserved as ‘affordable’ – would benefit Wokingham Borough. He said: “I think that’s significant in a village that isn’t furnished with a great stock of existing social housing, affordable housing.

“There are according to the council’s evidence 2,419 people on its housing waiting list, so affordable housing is an important benefit.”

But councillors on the planning committee argued that as new residents would have to travel long distances to get to the nearest supermarkets or available schools, the location couldn’t sustain such a large development.

They argued that this, combined with the harm to the countryside and the impact on the village, outweighed the benefits. Eight of the committee’s councillors voted against the plans, with one abstaining.