Once again WBC are promoting their vision of "the best way to ensure that the borough grows in a sustainable way while meeting Government targets for building new homes". We are supposed to believe "if we refused to build any or even some (of these houses), we would lose our planning powers and new homes would come anyway, but in inappropriate places and without the right infrastructure or affordable elements". They seem to want to give the impression that a) Building on our green fields should be welcomed and b) We have no choice. Never mind that some of the land they propose to build on is not currently for sale, or that some of it was once a landfill site, or that "removing pollution from the air to improve air quality and tackle the climate emergency" is a commitment requiring more than just words?
Let me try to put forward an alternative to 4,500 (or more?) houses being built on what are currently good quality agricultural fields, ancient woodland and locally valued heritage assets. The main landowner (who is prepared to sell to WBC for development) is the University of Reading, and their core values are "a genuine love of learning; creating new knowledge; embracing and celebrating diversity of people and ideas; and caring for our environment".
First, let me point out that the "Family Silver" can only be sold once. The University of Reading (UoR) have already sold vast tracts of land around Shinfield for development as housing, a Science Park, a Media Hub and storage for the British Museum. Might I suggest that in light of the above commitment the land at Hall Farm be used for education and caring for the environment? Even if the land is no longer required for teaching why not invest in it? Listed here are a few initial ideas for using this land as an investment in the future, feedback welcome via the comments section ;-)
1) Reading is a nascent City in the year of the Queens Platinum Jubilee. What better way to celebrate than to create a "Queen Elizabeth Park" along the Loddon valley? Difficulty paying for it? Why not ask for sponsors? I am sure many local businesses would be happy to see their name attached to such a worthwhile and historic enterprise.
2) Rising sea levels are flooding many areas around the world where the land is currently less than 5 metres above mean sea level. Houses that can cope with these changes seems to me to be a worthy design task for students of Environmental Engineering. The rich developed counties surely owe it to these poorer countries to help, don’t they? After all it was our industrial activity that led to the climate changes that is causing the rise in sea levels.
3) The site runs alongside the M4 for about 5 miles. Transport is a major contributor to greenhouse gases so how about investigating an alternative to the Motorway that is sustainable, modelled to run alongside it? Could it for example be human powered? Could it bring visitors to the QE2 Park, proposed above, from Windsor, or from Heathrow airport to the new Shinfield Studios? Zero friction “Magnetic Levitation” could make muscle power capable of speeds as good as a car, without the pollution. But who is doing the research?
4) A community Farm has been mentioned before but can it also be made into a centre for learning about more sustainable farming methods such as permaculture, silviculture, aquaponics, hydroponics, polycultures and integrated pest management? UoR students together with Reading Schools and interested locals could get involved in growing healthy alternatives to imports and supermarkets. Maybe we could all buy shares in a farming cooperative, or just have better access to good quality organic food grown locally?
5) Crops such as hemp, or even medicinal cannabis could be grown here. The Hall Farm site has very few points of public access at the moment and it could easily be made more secure if required. Hemp has great value in a wide variety of products including: rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation, and biofuel. Although cannabis is still illegal it seems that many people are finding a medical benefit from it. Recently, there has been growing interest in looking at real world accounts of these people and reporting on how medical cannabis has helped them. Again, some good post graduate research potential here? (Seriously!)
6) Reading has a growing art scene, particularly now that Banksy has taken an interest in helping turning the old Reading Goal into an Art Centre. Could part of this site be a Sculpture Park? Here is a quote I found from Yorkshire Sculpture Park; "YSP makes a fantastic contribution to the cultural, educational and social life of Yorkshire and beyond, and in a normal year we contribute £11.5m to the regional economy". In other words investing in our cultural heritage could be a long term net gain.
7) Enterprise is already a developing part of this area with Shinfield Studios now having received planning permission for 18 new purpose-built sound stages. The Thames Valley Science Park is also now open for business, but where is the opportunity for small start-ups? How about a community hub offering access to some of the new technology currently unaffordable to home hobbyists? Things like 3D printing or laser cutting that might one day lead to new product innovation and inventions?
As for the Government Housing Targets mentioned above, not even the Government believe in them anymore.