A TALE OF TWO VILLAGES
THE CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT (SOME PARTS) OF RURAL WOKINGHAM
In 2017, John Halsall, who has since become the leader of Wokingham Council, founded a group called: The Campaign to Protect Rural Wokingham (www.cprwok.co.uk)
The catalyst for the group’s formation was a plan for 3,500 homes in Ruscombe. Although these were proposed to be on Green Belt land, the campaign rightly also addressed wider considerations around preserving Wokingham’s valuable green space and ensuring that the rural character of areas was not lost. A leaflet to local residents in December 2017, from and signed by John Halsall, had the following aims in bold on its header:
“Campaign to protect Wokingham’s Green Belt, prime agricultural land & green spaces between settlements, and to provide the right homes in the right places”
The group’s Facebook page also showcases an interesting history of views and opinions. In a post on 2nd September 2017, John made the comment that:
“If the Borough accepts the proposition, some five to six thousand houses will be built in Wargrave, Ruscombe, Twyford and Charvil with the majority being built in Ruscombe. This is extremely popular with some Wokingham Councillors, who vainly believe that it will save their Wards from development. This will detrimentally affect the lives of everyone who lives in the Northern Parishes.”
As well as being the current leader of the Council, John is also the Councillor for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe. Well done indeed for sticking up for the interests of his local residents! Roll the clock forward and we have a post from 2nd June 2019 when he was elected leader of the Council where he said that being elected leader of the council:
“…gives life to many of the projects which we have been campaigning so hard for so long including Protecting the Green Belt and Countryside…”
Usefully, John’s campaign website at the time set out several key issues around the Ruscombe proposals and its views on development more generally.
They are set out below on the left, with our comparison to Hall Farm as a site on the right:
CPRW 2018 website
Hall Farm 2021
In Ruscombe, Berkeley Homes and owners Haines Hill are acting in concert and therefore are presenting the Borough with an opportunity of a big site with one developer. It is an easy and lazy option for the Borough to promote and it is being smiled upon.
Reading University are presenting the Borough with one big site. It is an easy and lazy option for the Borough to promote and is being smiled upon.
WHY ARE YOU CAMPAIGNING TO PRESERVE PRIME AGRICULTURAL LAND AND GREEN SPACES BETWEEN SETTLEMENTS?
As well as the Green Belt there are other key pieces of land which help to preserve the area’s rural history and prevent the towns and villages from merging into each other. Farming is still important here. Allowing the type of ribbon development along the A4 which we’ve seen joining Bracknell to Wokingham would completely change the environment for residents, and we’d become a suburb of Reading/Maidenhead (and possibly eventually London).
Hall Farm is a perfect example of the non-Green Belt “prime agricultural land” referred to back in 2018 as something not to build on.
Developing it would destroy “the area’s rural history” and lead to “towns and villages…merging into each other”
The proposed Hall Farm development “would completely change the environment for residents”
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN LOCALLY IF THE RUSCOMBE SITE WENT AHEAD?
Population in the Twyford area would double by 2036. The effect of this will be massive congestion of services and roads leading to a marked deterioration in the quality of life. You will also lose all your green belt and green spaces between settlements.
The impact of the proposed Hall Farm development would be “massive congestion of services and roads leading to a marked deterioration in the quality of life. You will also lose all your…green spaces between settlements”
WHERE SHOULD NEW HOMES BE BUILT?
The Government white paper on housing said that we should build on brownfield sites – and this doesn’t literally mean only unused space. Every urban settlement has old industrial buildings, warehouses, shops and residential buildings, which are ripe for redevelopment. This has been happening in London since time began without tearing up parks or green spaces. (Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are sacrosanct and not under threat, so why are we threatening our green spaces and Green Belt?)
We in Wokingham have not had to think in terms of redevelopment as there has been a huge stock of green fields, but green fields are finite. The Borough Council and planners have been lazy and given developers opportunities which they have now become used to. We have even built barriers to redevelopment in our Borough Design Guide with conceptualising every home as a house with a yard and a front door. This is no longer a sustainable model due to pricing.
We agree – Wokingham’s “green fields are finite”
Hall Farm would be another example of a profit-hungry landowner being given an opportunity by a Borough Council and planners being lazy.
It also isn’t a brownfield site (clue in the name)
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN’S OBJECTIVES FOR FUTURE HOUSING?
Our Future Plan for Wokingham promotes a new way of thinking where the needs of local residents come first, genuinely affordable homes (which an individual on a median income or below can afford to rent or buy) are built in urban areas near shops, services and public transport which will also help to regenerate our town centres through the people who live there.
Our principles are:
Hall Farm is not an urban area!
Perhaps the intention is to turn it into one and then have the excuse that people can walk or cycle to jobs in the other commercial developments planned nearby?
Whatever the “modelling” says, any new housing will inevitably attract more cars and cause more congestion as people will largely not walk or cycle to work, but will instead drive.
Given these read across identical features, surely the Campaign to Protect Rural Wokingham would be swinging into action right now to also oppose Reading University’s Hall Farm plans? Local residents would be coordinated, petitions set up, experienced planning Barristers consulted…just like the campaign John founded and led in Ruscombe in 2018 - right?
Sorry to disappoint… Far from opposing Hall Farm, Wokingham Council, led by the very same John Halsall, is actively PROMOTING it! He thinks it’s a great idea. In a Wokingham Paper article on 11th November he was on the record as saying that Hall Farm was being put forward:
“for a variety of cogent reasons, and it dovetails nicely with the investment we are putting into jobs in that area”
A cynic may say that the stark difference in approach and attitude may be because Hall Farm isn’t anywhere near the North of the Borough…
A final Campaign to Protect Rural Wokingham quote: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”
· Arborfield has already taken thousands of new homes in recent years with the Garrison development (that still isn’t finished)
· Shinfield has also taken hundreds of new homes and been adversely changed forever
· Traffic in the area is already almost at breaking point, despite the new roads that have been built.
SAYING THOUSANDS OF HALL FARM HOUSES IS SUSTAINABLE AND APPROPRIATE BY SIMPLY CALLING IT A “GARDEN VILLAGE” IS INSULTING, AND THE U-TURN FROM FORMER GREEN SPACE CAMPAIGNER JOHN HALSALL IS ASTONISHING.
LET WOKINGHAM COUNCIL KNOW HOW YOU FEEL – WRITE TO THEM
JOIN AND HELP SOLVE – Facebook “SOLVE Hall Farm” / www.green4grow.org
IF WE DON’T FIGHT NOW THE RURAL CHARACTER OF THE AREA WILL BE LOST FOREVER
Written by Oliver Jones, a resident of Arborfield