Pictured above are supporters of SOLVE Hall Farm at the Shinfield Road entrance to the University of Reading campus where we went to deliver our "Alternative vision for Hall Farm" on Saturday April 30th 2022. What a long time ago that feels like now.
Since then we have had the local elections, leading to a change in leadership at Wokingham Borough Council from the Conservatives led by John Halsall to a "Wokingham Borough Partnership" that includes Labour and Independent Councillors led by Clive Jones and the Liberal Democrats.
Clive Jones can be seen in the photo above in the pink shirt. Other local politicians were also in attendance, including Gary Cowan, Jim Frewin and Anthony Pollock. We took our ideas to one of the Pro Vice Chancellors at the University, Domink Zaum.
This initial presentation was followed up on 7th July when some of the SOLVE Hall Farm group met with representatives from the University to discuss the proposals in a bit more detail. I would love to report that the University had taken on board our ideas in full and that Hall Farm was about to be turned into an organic community farm, restaurant, local heritage and history site, major rewilding project, holistic health centre, circular economy hub, multi-faith ceremony site, green burial site and a significant contributor to the Loddon Long Distance greenway.
Sadly, this is not the case. More can be read in this Blog post but the outcome from the meeting was essentially: "We need to build 4,500 houses at Hall Farm because only that scale of development will pay for the required infrastructure, we need the money as part of our responsibility to our students and the local environment will just have to take a back seat while we get on with it".
We were trying to make the point that selling the farm for houses was a very short term view, and that keeping the farm and diversifying it as outlined above was not only better for the community and for the environment, it could also be very good for the University, but that seemed to get a bit lost in translation.
Instead there was a lot of talk about a proposed new "Eco-Valley", with beavers reintroduced, the lost tributaries of the Loddon rediscovered and Flux Towers monitoring the rapid restoration of our fragile ecosphere. Similar to what we were suggesting only bigger, better and with 4,500 houses attached.
Clearly we need to return to the University and try to be more persuasive, but that will have to wait until the new academic year now. We were offered a walk and talk through parts of the proposed "Eco-Valley" which we gladly accepted, and I hope to be able to extend the invitation to all our members (watch this space).
Meanwhile, let us return our attention to the politicians. Clive Jones has yet to make clear his intentions, beyond being photographed holding one of our placards. Can Wokingham Borough Council be persuaded to look at other, potentially less difficult sites to develop?
The next meeting of the Wokingham Borough Executive is to be held on Thursday 28th July, starting at 7.00 p.m. in the Council Chamber at Shute End. Public questions can be submitted here. Or you can turn up in person and make your presence felt from the public gallery. I hope to see you there ;-)
An introduction to the issues
Some of the reasons why Save Our Loddon Valley Environment at Hall Farm (SOLVE Hall Farm) object to this development are shown below:
Hall Farm is a Greenfield site. This development would inevitably lead to destruction of ancient hedgerows and the cutting down of veteran trees with subsequent loss of habitat and biodiversity.
There is virtually no infrastructure on site. Roads, sewage and power etc will need to be put in.
The distance from major shopping centres and easy access to the M4 is likely to encourage even more private car use.
Other sites that could be used for housing are being ignored despite having better access to infrastructure.
This proposal will remove the remaining separation between major settlements at Shinfield Arborfield and Winnersh.
Arborfield and Shinfield both have Neighbourhood Plans that are supposed to help guide development and which this proposal chooses to ignore.
97% of housing over the past 10 years has been in the South of the Borough. Only 3% is in the North.
There is no local need for these houses, the existing provision at the Garrison SDL was considered by the Arborfield and Barkham Neighbourhood Plan to be sufficient until 2036. More people, more cars and more pressure on Schools and medical services will result if this proposal goes ahead.
The Climate Emergency is likely to make flooding worse yet much of this site is flood plain. The act of building will make the flooding worse (from water run off when previously absorbent green fields get built on). Some of this site is below a Category A Dam at Bearwood Lake.
Contrary to claims by WBC that Green Belt cannot be built on, it can. You do have to make a special case for it, but it can be done.
The promised infrastructure at the Garrison SDL has still not been delivered, 5 years after the houses were built. Why should we believe this proposal will be any better?
Jobs are cited as being part of the deal but the exemplar Studios at Shinfield have already been given the go ahead, without any need for additional houses.
More houses in the South East benefits nobody more than the developers. More "affordable" housing could be built elsewhere in the country. This is about putting profits before people.
Post Brexit Britain needs to grow more food and import less. This is good quality farm land that should be used for food.
Hall Farm is full of local heritage: Listed buildings, the ruins of a 13th Century Church, an old mill, and possibly the remains of an Anglo Saxon settlement. These need to be preserved.
The richness of the biodiversity on the site is incalculable. The Loddon Valley here has been largely undisturbed for many hundreds of years. It has to be protected.
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