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The consultation with Wokingham Borough Council has now ended, after only two "live" public meetings, and a couple of online meetings where opportunities to ask questions were, frankly, very limited. The online consultation itself was also very opaque, with obscure language, obtuse questions and every effort made it seems to discourage residents from responding.
Since then we have seen a change of leadership in Wokingham, with housing numbers a major consideration in the way people voted in the local elections. The Lib Dem partnership with Labour and Independent Councillors is still holding together, but how much longer can it last?
We are all still waiting for the Revised Local Plan Update we were originally told would be published for autumn 2022. As to when it might be expected given the recent political turmoil in Wokingham, we did get an answer of sorts when SOLVE Hall Farm member Andy Bailey asked Lindsay Ferris the following questions at the Council meeting of 22nd September:
Q: Can Executive member for Planning give an update on next phase of the LPU, including approximate dates?
A: A New cross party member working group has been established to consider options on how we might best plan for development going forward. The working group has recently been briefed on the main issues raised by respondents to previous consultations and continues to be briefed on any new technical evidence as it emerges. The new group is currently in the process of familiarising themselves with larger scale promotions across the borough. This will involve visiting each area and receiving a presentation from promoters as to their vision. Work will then continue to review the options. The programme for submitting the new local plan will be highly influenced by whether a further consultation is required before proceeding to confirm the strategy we wish to submit for examination. A further consultation is most likely should the decision be to vary significantly from the strategy previously consulted on. I do not, however, expect to be in a position to confirm the detailed programme until early next year.
Q: Does this administration support building houses beyond the plan period?
A: This is a very controversial question. I think there’s a very important announcement from one of the interim Secretary of State for Levelling Up
and he raised the issue about flood resilience and, in particular, flood resilience needed to be taken account of during the whole duration of a planning development and I find it very difficult to be able to consider the planning and flooding arrangements for a site close to a river, or any river for that matter, which takes us 20 years into the future.
Short answer?: Don't hold your breath as we wont be publishing the revised LPU this side of Christmas, and in all probability, given the sensitivity of the issues, not until after the next set of Local Elections in May 2023!
Other Authorities such as Dacorum in Hertfordshire started their Local Plan Update at the same time as Wokingham and you can view the results HERE. Compare this with the Wokingham Local Plan Update HERE.
SOLVE Hall Farm continue to object to the imposition of 4,500 houses on an area that has already borne the brunt of Wokingham's housing need.
There are better sites for the houses that Wokingham needs, for example at Twyford or Ashridge where transport links are better and the damage to the local heritage and biodiversity is far less drastic. Working together we CAN stop this madness!