The SOLVE group tried again earlier in March to have a constructive dialogue with Wokingham LibDem leaders, this time in their own office. The February meeting failed, as it was held in the Council building. That allowed them to say they couldn't discuss political issues. In particular, they couldn’t discuss with us what stance they’d take in the May elections regarding the Loddon Valley/Hall Farm housing proposal (4,500 houses).
Four of us (Paul, Richard, Colin and Christine) met Wokingham LibDem Chair Adrian Betteridge. Council Leader Clive Jones was unfortunately unwell, but Planning Committee Chair Lindsey Ferris attended instead.
We requested them to include in the LibDem manifesto a commitment to withdraw the proposal from the local plan. They declined to do so.
First, they tried to tell us that taking a site out of a draft local plan was a difficult thing to do. Then the story changed. They said if the government reduces required housing numbers significantly, they will take out the three sites receiving the most objections in the local plan consultation. So, contrary to what they said at first, perhaps it isn't so difficult to remove the site from a local plan. But how would we know?
As usual, it's no good asking WBC what the real position is, on anything to do with planning. You always have to look at what other councils actually do, to get an idea of what’s possible.
An internet search I carried out produced plenty of cases where, at the pre-final draft stage (REG 18), councils have taken sites proposed for development out of their local plan. Reasons were found in each case.
In 2019, York Council removed a site from their local plan, following concerns about the impact on nearby Strensall Common, a special area of conservation (above left).
Also in 2019, New Forest Council removed the Strawberry Fields (East Boldre) site (above right), as recommended by the sustainability appraisal of their draft local plan.
In 2021 Charnwood Borough Council removed a site at Leconfield (below left) from its local plan, due to the site’s ecological importance. They cited NPPF §100 (2018 version) which sets out the measures of ‘local significance’ as to why a Local Green Space is special to the community.
Does there have to be a reason to do with the National Planning Policy Framework, before a site can be removed from a draft plan?
It seems not. In 2018, Middlesbrough Council removed a site in the Bluebell Beck area of Acklam (above right) from their local plan, after significant campaigning from local residents, local councillors and the local MP.
In other words, they listened to what local people were telling them!
Likewise in Oswestry: after objections raised in a public consultation, the Council removed a historic and ecologically important parkland site adjacent to Trefonen Road. Likewise in Swindon, where 350 houses to be built on a golf course were taken out following a successful campaign by residents.
Another reason found for removing a site is flood risk, which is why Lichfield council withdrew sites in Shenstone, in line with the NPPF’s approach to flood risk management.
Tonbridge and and Malling Council removed land East of Hermitage Lane, Aylesford, from the Local Plan on grounds of retaining a buffer between settlements.
The truth seems to be that other planning authority councils can find a whole variety of reasons why a site can be removed at the draft stage from a local development plan.
Then how about the Loddon Valley/Hall Farm site?
It’s a green space that’s a significant amenity for residents
It acts as a substantial rural buffer between settlements
There are concerns about sustainability of development on the site
There is a long-term serious flood risk
So don’t let any LibDems try to tell you it would be hard to take the proposal out of WBC’s local plan: If they won't do that, it’ll be because they don't want to.