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From the council leadership, fiction not facts?

Cllr Stephen Conway writes in Wokingham Today on Thursday May 16th;

"A great deal of misinformation circulated during the recent elections about the Local Plan, the set of documents establishing the framework for development planning for the 15 years following its adoption".

He says there needs to be more honesty. He then goes on to make claims about what is, and is not possible. So, starting with the statement above; Hall Farm as proposed in the Local Plan will take 30 years, not 15 years to deliver!


Given that the current administration do not have a majority now, and may not have a majority in even 5 years time, never mind 30 years time, why are they making plans that go 15 years beyond the legal requirement and way beyond any reasonable expectation of staying in power?

Then there are a host of other "misunderstandings" made in Cllr Conway's piece picked up by our ex Arborfield Independent Councillor Gary Cowan. He has shared this with SOLVE Hall Farm and also with Wokingham Today for possible publication next week on their letters page. I quote it here in full:

"I despair when I read the Lib Dem Leader of the Council mentions the local plan, facts not fiction, and then he continues with the Lib Dem fiction on housing. The Government sets the numbers but its the Council who decide where they go in a planned 15 year plan. Nothing more nothing less. 


The biggest falsehood is when he adds that to remove a site requires the agreement of the landowners. Not so at all, and there are many cases where, at the pre-final draft stage (REG 18) councils have taken sites proposed for development out of their local plan.


In 2019, York Council removed a site from their local plan, following concerns about the impact on nearby Strensall Common, a special area of conservation.


Also in 2019, New Forest Council removed the Strawberry Fields site as recommended by the sustainability appraisal of their draft local plan.


In 2021 Charnwood Borough Council removed a site at Leconfield from its local plan, due to the site’s ecological importance.


In 2018, Middlesbrough Council removed a site in the Bluebell Beck area of Acklam from their local plan, after significant campaigning from local residents, local councillors and the local MP. 


In other words, other Councils  listened to what local people were telling them! Sadly not Lib Dem Wokingham. 


Likewise in Oswestry: after objections raised in a public consultation, the Council removed a historic and ecologically important parkland site adjacent to Trefonen Road. Likewise in Swindon, where 350 houses to be built on a golf course were taken out following a successful campaign by residents.


Another reason found for removing a site is flood risk, which is why Lichfield council withdrew sites in Shenstone, in line with the NPPF’s approach to flood risk management. 


Tonbridge and and Malling Council removed land East of Hermitage Lane, Aylesford, from the Local Plan on grounds of retaining a buffer between settlements.


The truth seems to be that other planning authority councils can find a whole variety of reasons why a site can be removed at the draft stage from a local development plan.


Then how about the Loddon Valley/Hall Farm site? It’s a green space that’s a significant amenity for residents. It acts as a substantial rural buffer between settlements. There are concerns about sustainability of development on the site and finally here is a long-term serious flood risk. 


Come on Lib Dems tell the truth and stop misleading residents you still have time to be honest".

I was also disappointed to see that although Wokingham Today sent a photographer to Gary Cowan's retirement celebration at the refurbished Arborfield Pavilion they failed to publish any photographs or even mention it in the last two editions since it took place on the May 6th Bank Holiday. Let me correct that omission now. Happy retirement Gary!


Gary is pictured here with a sculpture and maquette dedicated to his wife, Katie, presented by Arborfield and Newland Parish Council to him in recognition of his 27 years of selfless dedication to the parishioner's of Arborfield. The sculpture will be displayed in Arborfield Park as soon as a permanent fixing for it can be established.

Contrast Gary's "I always put residents first" attitude to the view attributed to Adrian Betteridge, our new Lib Dem Councillor for the enlarged Arborfield and Barkham ward when he met Parish representatives: He is aware of the issues surrounding Hall Farm but feels that the party line overrides residents’ views.

So that's all clear then: The Party view is more important than the view of residents, even when the party view is as wide of the truth as represented by Cllr Conway above.

Paul Stevens

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