A controversial project to build 2,500 homes and three schools in Thatcham is expected to begin in 2024.

West Berkshire Council has earmarked 170 hectares of land in north east Thatcham for this ambitious development in its new Local Plan for 2020 to 2037, which was recently scrutinised by people during an eight-week public consultation.

The council is hoping the detailed plan, which sets planning policies and reveals which sites can be built on, will be signed off by the government by 2023.

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It would pave the way for developers to obtain planning permission for developments in Thatcham and begin construction in 2024.

The council wants half the homes to be built by 2037 and it states that two primary schools, a secondary school, a local centre with shops and a new country park will be needed.

Developers would be required to ensure the new homes are energy efficient and 40 per cent of them are affordable.

More than 2,500 people have signed a petition that claims this project should be scrapped because it will put “excessive strain” on local roads and other infrastructure.

Bryan Lyttle, the council’s planning policy manager, said: “I understand people’s concerns about transport.

“But this is a plan for the future. It’s not a plan for now.

“There will be mitigation measures that traffic engineers can put in place to sort those issues out.”

He also said there will be “on-site renewable energy” and pavements and cycleways will be improved to encourage more people to walk or cycle.

Full-fibre broadband will be installed to allow more people to work from home instead of commuting by car, he added.

The council’s new Local Plan aims to ensure that up to 9,775 homes can be built across West Berkshire over the next 16 years.

According to the plan, the largest project will take place in north east Thatcham and another 1,500 homes and a new primary school can be constructed just south of Newbury, in Sandleford Park.

The draft plan has earmarked several other sites for major housing developments, including the Kennet Centre in Newbury (250 homes) and land just off Greenham Road (up to 255 homes).

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However, the document states that several projects are not due to be completed by 2037, so “sites for a further 1,661 dwellings need to be found” if the council is going to hit its 9,775 home target.

Almost half (44 per cent) of the people in West Berkshire already live in the Thatcham or Newbury urban areas, but the council said a number of constraints prevent developers from building on other parts of the district, which is over 700 square kilometres.

Almost 75 per cent of land in West Berkshire is protected, because it is part of The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and many other areas are either at risk of flooding or don’t have the infrastructure to support major developments.