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Housing top concern in Wokingham!

We have been pointing out for three years now that housing is a major concern for Wokingham voters, now the BBC have picked up on it and run it as a major news story. I did a similar story on the green4grow home page around a week ago. I have tried to be even handed, honest and fair in my comments, but I thought it worth sharing some personal thoughts on how I came to my decision about who to vote for.

First, Clive Jones. I have met him several times and on a personal level he seems likeable enough. However, my personal experience is he has not delivered on his commitments on three occasions;


1)      He stood with us on a picket line at the University of Reading. He was keen to be in the front row of any photo opportunities but has not since stuck to the message we were delivering that day; “Say NO to 4,500 houses at Hall Farm”. Since that day we have not seen or heard him publicly mention Hall Farm as a development site for new houses, anywhere, or at any time.


2)      We (SOLVE Hall Farm) wanted to meet with him to discuss the housing numbers back when he was leader of the Council. In the end he was ill on the day, and we met Lindsay Ferris and Adrian Betteridge instead. However, I did have a phone conversation with Clive in which he assured me that Ashridge was his preferred option. Clearly this has been quietly dropped as the Wokingham Lib Dems, now under the leadership of Stephen Conway, are very much in favour of building houses at Hall Farm. Sadly, they are not yet ready to tell us this, presumably expecting big wins in Wokingham’s Elections before they can risk the political hit of being honest with voters?


3)      Then there was our petition. I have heard the “predetermination” argument again and again, but frankly, it does not convince me. In fact, this argument is an insult to the Councillors who run our Borough, insinuating that they have closed minds and cannot consider planning matters with openness to the issues. Recent planning decisions may in fact lead me to concur that bias exists, as we have had several recent decisions by the Planning Committee that might indicate bias (in favour of development in the “countryside” and outside settlement limits I might add) but that was not in a debate by full council. So, despite being told we would get a debate, we did not, and our campaign was misled for a third time.


I am not personally convinced by the Party-Political process; I would prefer to see a system of proportional representation where voting for minority groups or even independents would give voters better representation. (It will be interesting to hear how the debate on these possible changes progresses if Labour should win big tomorrow). Meanwhile we are where we are, essentially a two-party system delivering a governing party and an opposition party. The Lib Dems in Wokingham are very clear that it is a two-horse race between themselves and the Conservatives, but this is pure conjecture as the constituency boundaries changed this year and we have no way of knowing whether the projected Labour “landslide” predicted nationally will translate into major gains in Wokingham.


I have already cast my vote; I have a postal vote, and in the end I went with my personal impressions of the candidates. Lucy Demery (Conservative candidate for Wokingham) spent several hours with the social group I run at Arborfield Village Hall. She listened to our concerns and came across as articulate, intelligent and above all else, interested in our views.


UPDATED: 08.20. 03/07/24: Pauline Jorgensen (Conservative Candidate for Early and Woodley) speaks out against Hall Farm development, as reported today in the Reading Chronicle:


Cllr Jorgensen said: "I am keen to protect our remaining countryside and the green belt by resisting Labour and Liberal Democrat centralised housing targets and focussing development on brownfield land.

“Conservatives have opposed development at Hall Farm unlike Lib Dems and Labour who are poised to concrete over our countryside, and fundamentally change the character of our area and what makes it such a special place to live.”


Anyone living in the Early and Woodley constituency should take note: The proposed Local Plan (details shared by University of Reading but not yet made public) currently includes a bridge over the M4 delivering many thousands more cars FROM the Hall Farm development onto Meldreth Avenue junction of the B3270 Lower Earley Way. IS THIS WHAT RESIDENTS WANT?


Photo courtesy of Jan Heard.

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Paul Stevens
Paul Stevens
Jul 04

Here you go: https://wokingham.today/from-the-chamber-residents-need-to-be-heard-on-planning/

By Cllr Wayne Smith

"We’ve been arguing for some time that Wokingham Borough Council’s Liberal Democrat-led administration’s approach to planning is fuelled by dithering, broken promises, and dismissal of residents’ views. Their recent decision to prevent debate on a petition around development at Hall Farm is just the latest example of a leadership determined to plough on, regardless of what the public thinks.

In December last year, the SOLVE Hall Farm campaign group handed in a petition to the leader of the vouncil, signed by 1,800 residents, saying no to significant development at the Hall Farm site.

Under the Council’s constitution, there should now be a debate by councillors on how to respond to it".

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Paul Stevens
Paul Stevens
Jul 04

Wayne Smith did make some public comments supporting our position at the time of our petition, not sure I can find a link now but will look ;-) Pauline Jorgensen has been supportive over the past year and now Lucy Demery has made it very clear she does not consider Hall Farm to be the right place for building a major new “strategic” housing development. Personally I am a political pragmatist. I care less about what was said in the past and more about where we look to be going. It is true, I may have been fooled again, but what real choice do I have?

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'Conservatives have opposed development at Hall Farm', says Pauline Jorgensen. Which Conservatives, when and where? They didn't oppose Hall Farm in their local election manifesto. The Tories can't have it both ways. If they accepted the Council legal officer's fake 'predetermination' story, they had to keep stumm, and not oppose Hall Farm. But if they didn't accept that story, and knew they were legally entitled to speak out, where and when did they do so? Does anyone know?

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