A question of balance

After years in the making, the referendum on the Englefield Green Village Neighbourhood Plan takes place tomorrow, Wednesday, 13th December.

Everyone that has read this 89 page document will, we are sure, appreciate the amount of time and effort that has gone into it and recognise the value of the vision and aims that it seeks to achieve.

Our regular readers will be well aware though, that we are concerned about the growth of Royal Holloway insofar as how the consequences of that growth affect residents and the overall fabric of the communities of both Egham and Englefield Green.  Long-term residents will recall the objections expressed when Royal Holloway devised its Masterplan which was subsequently approved by Runnymede Borough Council in 2015.  All of the objections raised by residents at that time – an increase in antisocial behaviour, increase in HMOs and lack of parking – have become a reality and so we are worried now that, given the damage already caused by growth, this proposed Neighbourhood Plan “recognises the strategic importance of the campus and the ongoing need for growth.”

Further, several of the facts relating to that growth have changed since this Neighbourhood Plan was written.

Firstly, although Runnymede Borough Council’s Local Plan does indeed state that the college hopes to increase student numbers to 12,000 by 2031, this was written before the Local Plan was adopted in 2020.  More recently though, the college has now produced a revised strategy document which sets itself a new target of “modestly” increasing student numbers to 15,000 by 2029-30: an increase of 25%!

The college had raised some expectations that many of these new students would be accommodated by the Rusham Park student village to be built on the old Procter and Gamble site at the bottom of Prune Hill.  Initially, the plans were to provide 2,000 study bedrooms but this was then scaled back to 1,400.  However, in the November meeting of the Royal Holloway and Runnymede Consultative group, the college announced that development of Rusham Park had been “paused” while the college reflected on “external challenges”.

The future of Kingswood as student accommodation is also now in question.  Currently accommodating approximately 400 students, this site, as the proposed Neighbourhood Plan sets out, could be developed for housing and the college already indicates on its website that Kingswood will be unavailable until further notice for “renovation work”.  All of this, of course, will place further pressure on any remaining sources of student accommodation and this will almost certainly include more HMOs.

Tomorrow’s referendum is on the question:

“Do you want Runnymede Borough Council to use the Englefield Green Village Neighbourhood Plan to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?”

So, if the council considers more applications for HMOs, and the Neighbourhood Plan recognises the ongoing need for growth, could this help the Council in deciding to approve such applications?

The Neighbourhood Plan’s recognition of an ongoing need for growth of the university is, of course, just one aspect of the plan’s content and it does have some excellent visions for the village.  However, experience has shown us that Royal Holloway growth has, arguably, caused more damage to the fabric of the communities of both Egham and Englefield Green than any other single local enterprise.

In deciding which way to vote in tomorrow’s referendum then, Englefield Green residents must weigh up the potential benefits of some excellent planning and design visions such cycle ways, speed control measures, recognition of the village’s historic character, and support for local businesses against the known consequences of further growth in the university at a time when there seems little alternative to accommodating that growth other than in more HMOs. Either way, it’s imperative to use your vote as there are some important issues at stake here with some long term consequences.