Two very different schemes, heading into the appeal process this week, illustrate one of the problems of the system.

Great Wolf Resorts wants to invest £200 million and create 600 jobs in Bicester by building a family leisure park, its first outside North America. But residents bombarded Cherwell District Councillors with objections and the members found a host of reasons to refuse when it came to committee in March.

More recently, S2 Estates planned a block of flats in Caversham Road, Reading, but this was refused against officers’ recommendation, on the grounds of its height and the loss of a heritage asset, namely a former malthouse which was awkwardly converted to a shop in the 1970s.

Although the latter was decided at an online meeting, both decisions were made under pressure from locals.

Given what has happened since March, the Bicester residents might be well-advised to be careful what they wish for. Those 600 jobs could soon be much-needed, especially by the young.

Meanwhile, at the Reading scheme, the real loss was that of a long-standing independent retailer, Drews the Ironmongers which had existed in the town for 87 years. The building, which Drews moved to from Friar Street in the 1970s, is at best unremarkable. No one complained when Drews converted it to its current look. Yet a sudden love for this building has emerged and councillors adopted that cause.

Local decision making sounds great but who puts the case for the bigger picture, such as the jobs created by these developments, not least those in construction?

It’s also worth noting the outcome of a housing scheme at a site known as Bug’s Bottom which dominated the news in the 1980s and 1990s in Reading. Residents fought the most extensive and vociferous battle for more than a decade.

They eventually lost and the homes were built. The story that didn’t make the news was that one of the first to move into the scheme was one of the leading campaigners against it.

© Thames Tap No 231 (powered by

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