May the Fourth be with you!
In January, WBC accepted our petition but refused to hold a debate in council on what we were asking for. Clive Jones, the Council Leader, notified us that this would be against WBC's constitution. We asked him to explain which clause of the constitution would be infringed. No reply was forthcoming, possibly because there is no such clause?
In February we met Clive Jones and Lindsay Ferris, seeking answers to questions we had about our petition and planning matters. We asked in particular:-
why we were not given the same opportunity to present our case to councillors as developers were given.
whether council officers had made a recommendation following the public’s responses to the LPU consultation.
what commitments the Council Leader and the Head of the Planning Committee were prepared to make to satisfy our group that Hall Farm would not be going to development.
In March we announced our intention to put up Independent candidates in the May local elections. We did this because our efforts to get the Lib Dem administration to answer our questions were getting nowhere. The fear of a legal challenge to the LPU was greater than the fear of losing thousands of votes in May?
So we had yet another meeting with them, this time as Wokingham Lib Dems and not as local authority members, and once again the issue of a possible legal challenge to the LPU was raised. A possible compromise that didn't mention Hall Farm by name was then arrived at. It should make clear that they are opposed to building on greenfield sites, and that if housing targets set by the government allow, they will reduce proposed housing development in the areas that received the greatest opposition in the consultation. (No mention of Hall Farm and predicated upon a big IF!) We will have to wait and see if this commitment makes it into the Lib Dem election campaign materials.
Meanwhile, we have since learned that the Lib Dems, contrary to assurances given to the Independent Group in January, will be putting up a candidate in Shinfield South, against Independent councillor Jim Frewin. But the straw that broke the back of the fragile "Partnership" was Lib Dem campaigners making threatening noises about how it would be in Jim’s best interests if he DID NOT STAND FOR ELECTION. This is what has prompted the recently reported collapse of the “Wokingham Borough Partnership” Clearly Jim Frewin will continue as a candidate for Shinfield South on May 4th and we urge all our supporters in that ward to give him their full support.
Finally, a recent planning decision may have some relevance to our campaign. A planning application for 200 houses in Hurst was rejected by WBC, but the developers went to appeal. Last month the Planning Inspectorate dismissed their appeal. One of the main reasons given for this dismissal was that the Council has in the last few years oversupplied on new houses, so the current housing Core Strategy is on target to be achieved by 2026.
So why on earth do we need another 4,500 houses at Hall Farm?
Independent councillors are still the best way forward if you are opposed to more houses. Remember it was a Conservative Administration that came up with the "Loddon Valley Garden Village" plan and a Liberal Democrat administration that then sat on the fence for a year, and have only just realised what a vote loser it is for them!
What do SOLVE Hall Farm stand for?
Hall Farm is a Greenfield site. As such it is representative of many other sites across the Borough where developers are looking to build houses. Does YOUR ward have unwanted development threatened? Do you feel like you are involved in the decision making, or do you feel left out?
There is virtually no existing infrastructure on the proposed Hall Farm site. Roads, sewage, power, communication and transport infrastructure will all need to be put in, costing millions and taking decades adding noise, dust, traffic and disruption to our neighbourhood. So why not make the developers build the infrastructure before you build the houses?
The distance from major shopping centres and easy access to the M4 is likely to encourage even more private car use. A recent Planning Application refusal for 200 houses at Hurst was upheld by the Independent Inspector at appeal, mainly because of the unsustainability of the site in providing alternatives to travel by car. So if you must build, build next to public transport hubs.
Building 4,500 houses at Hall Farm will remove the remaining separation between major settlements at Shinfield, Sindlesham, Arborfield and Winnersh. Retain the separation between settlements. Again, if you must build, build next to existing settlements, or better still on Brownfield sites.
Arborfield and Barkham have a joint Neighbourhood Plan, Shinfield has its own. They are supposed to help guide development in those areas but are being studiously ignored in the latest Local Plan Update. We would insist that developers should respect Neighbourhood Plans. Where they do not yet exist we would encourage local communities to create them.
Most of the housing development has been in the South of the Borough. Virtually none of it is in the North. SOLVE Hall Farm believe that no matter where we live we are ALL entitled to clean air and green space.
The climate emergency is likely to make flooding worse yet much of the Hall Farm site is flood plain. The act of building will make the flooding worse (from excess water run off when previously absorbent green fields get built on). We need to stop building on flood plain.
The environment trumps all other concerns. We have to learn to live within our means and without waste. Biodiversity, conservation, local production and local consumption should be our aim.
SOLVE Hall Farm say YES to fresh air, exercise, locally grown, organic food, and soil full of healthy life sustaining nutrients. Our farms and green fields could and should be used for growing food.
Anti-social behaviour is becoming endemic in our society, particularly among the young. We have to provide ways for young people to engage with our community in positive and constructive ways. Working outdoors with plants and animals is shown to be good for managing behaviour issues. It also helps with other social ills such as isolation, depression and lack of exercise. Our outdoor spaces are our greatest resource and we should not be concreting over them.
We need more Councillors who are prepared to think and act with Independence.
Because Independence Matters!
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