WORK is finally set to begin on a 1,500-home estate in Wantage described as 'one of the most significant housing projects in the South East'.

London housing developer St Modwen used the phrase this week as it announced it signed a deal with landowners to become the lead developer.

The company, which describes itself as 'the UK’s leading regeneration specialist', said it would now be building 'up to half the homes' at the 227-acre Crab Hill with its own housebuilding arm St Modwen Homes.

The rest of the 'development plots' will be 'awarded in tranches and sold to other housebuilders for building out', it said.

Plans first emerged for the estate on the northern edge of town in 2012 when it was 'promoted' for the owners by London property firm Lands Improvement Holdings.

It is now included in Vale of White Horse District Council's Local Plan for development in the area up to 2031 as a key strategic housing site to help boost employment at the 'Science Vale' campuses of Harwell, Culham and Milton Park.

St Modwen has now submitted detailed designs for its first 150 homes in the estate, next to Wantage and Grove Cricket Club in Charlton.

However the piecemeal approach to building will worry housing campaigners who have long warned that such a method can mean responsibility for legally-required financial contributions towards new schools, roads, leisure facilities and social care is more thinly-spread, and no single company can be asked for the full amount.

Julie Mabberley, manager of the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group for sustainable development, said: "The advantage of this approach is that the estate won't all look the same.

"The disadvantage is who is paying the S106? Sometimes the primary developer will pay the S106 to ensure the infrastructure is in place then ask for money back from the subsidiary developers, but we don't know if St Modwen will do that."

Just last month we revealed that Bellway Homes, which is building 133 homes in Grove, is nine months overdue on one of these so-called S106 payments, which amounted to £535,000 towards local schools.

When the Vale granted outline planning permission for the Crab Hill estate in 2015, it specifically approved plans that included a new primary school, a neighbourhood centre including pub/ restaurant and shops, sports pitches, employment space and 'community amenities' set around a central park.

St Modwen said this week that it would 'implement the infrastructure works associated with this extensive project'.

Although it did not specify, 'infrastructure' in this case could simply mean roads to access the houses and basic sewer works.

Because the various S106 payments are only required after a certain number of homes have been built or occupied, the responsibility for forking out cash for the school and other 'community facilities' mentioned above may well fall to whichever housebuilders take those tranches.

It is also S106 payments which will be needed to build the new 'Wantage Eastern Link Road' around the whole estate, connecting the A338 to the A417, and without which commuters from the new estate will have to cram onto already congested town centre roads.

St Modwen estimated this week that the whole Crab Hill estate would take up to 15 years to build in total.

Residential director Guy Gusterson said: "Crab Hill is one of the South-East’s most significant strategic housing projects.

"Due to the location, scale and the inherent qualities of the site it represents a great opportunity to develop a high quality, mixed-use scheme that lends itself perfectly to St. Modwen’s ability to sympathetically regenerate sites in order to create new communities that enhance both the environment and the local and broader economy."

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