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Levelling up Wokingham

Wokingham’s Conservative Member of Parliament, Sir John Redwood, made a speech recently that has significant relevance to our campaign against the seemingly endless tide of housing and other development swamping our ever-diminishing Wokingham countryside. So much of it is relevant to our campaign to stop the imposition of thousands more houses onto the overcrowded South Wokingham Parishes it is worthwhile, I think, to reproduce a fair chunk of it as part of this post.


Should you wish to read the entire text of the speech you can find it by clicking on this link:


 

“First, I wish to address the question of housing supply in the national planning policy framework, amendment 44 and others. I support the Government in rejecting the Lords amendments—in most cases, those amendments make the Bill worse—but we need greater clarity from the Government about how the national planning policy framework and the definition of needs in any national intervention relate to what is done locally. The Minister has been a clear advocate of more devolved power, and the one power my local community would like is more power to decide how many houses we can fit in and where they could be built. That is not clear yet, and I look forward to further clarification and further documentation.

 

I am pleased that the five-year supply of land calculation has been amended, because that was causing considerable trouble. Wokingham Borough Council was more than hitting the five-year target, but we were constantly told by inspectors that we were not, because they calculated the numbers in a different, and we thought rather perverse, way. We never got any credit for greatly outperforming the average that we were meant to be building under the local plan, with all the difficulties that were being created by people living on many building sites in the local area.

  

I am keen that we get a better balance in where new housing is built not so much because of the impact that I see of too much housing being put up in a hurry in my area, but because I think that more of that investment should go to places that want levelling-up moneys and that need a better balance of development. Those places could do with a lot of the private investment that all too often comes to parts of the country that do not qualify for levelling-up money.

 

Every time I get a new housing estate in Wokingham, I have to go to a Minister and say, “We need a new primary school.” After we have had half a dozen new housing estates, as we regularly do, I have to go and say, “We need a new secondary school.” Those are big ticket items, and that is big public sector investment that has to go to a part of the country that does not need to be levelled up. More difficult is trying to get money for roads, because we have this strange idea that we can put as many housing estates as we like into a place like Wokingham and magically our existing road network will take it when people buy those houses and practically all of them have cars; well, it cannot. We then need bypasses, extra road capacity or extra train capacity. We need the utilities to put in more water and electricity capacity, otherwise we have the embarrassment that we have lovely new houses, but it is difficult to hitch them up to a grid that works. There are great pressures and huge amounts of consequential investment from the new housing that comes into a congested area of the country that does not qualify for levelling up.

 

I urge all parties to do a little more thinking about how we level up areas and to ask why it is that so many people wish to visit huge amounts of private sector housing investment in places that are levelled up, while starving the rest of the country of it, when it is often the motor of the levelling up that they seek”. My emphasis in bold.


How does this compare to the currently held view of our “wannabe” M.P. Clive Jones? A quick look at his web pages followed by a search regarding any comments on housing reveal the following insights.

“Clive is fighting over-development in Wokingham. He is working to ensure local people have the final say, so we get houses that meet the needs of local residents”.

Er, that’s it? Nothing else on housing? Where shall we go to have our “final say”?

Here? https://engage.wokingham.gov.uk/en-GB/folders/developing-a-vision-for-wokingham-borough  But sadly, there is nothing in this “consultation” about housing specifically. If you want to make a comment about the overdevelopment of the Borough, you can, but only under the catch all heading of “Any Other Comments”.

 

I suggest you can draw your own conclusions about the true ambition of the current authority in Wokingham from a few recent planning developments.

 

Or what about this as an insight as to how the Wokingham Liberal Democrat administration is working? https://engage.wokingham.gov.uk/en-GB/projects/meet-the-borough-vision-partners

 

The University of Reading, prime mover behind selling over 550 Hectares of farmland to housing developers as part of Wokingham Borough Councils Local Plan Update, for a reputed £500,000,000, are listed as “Borough Vision Partners”!  Which begs the question, what exactly is in this vision?

 

When do we, the people who suffer from the rampant overdevelopment inflicted upon us in the form of dangerous, overcrowded roads, longer doctor waiting lists, children bussed miles across the Borough to find a school place, fields disappearing, trees cut down, pollution increased, when do we get a say in all this?

 

What about the next round of National and Local Elections coming to a polling booth near you in 2024?


IMAGE: The "Avenue of Trees" at Hall Farm. This valued local heritage, specifically mentioned in the Arborfield and Newland Local Plan would be cut in half by the access road to the proposed "Loddon Valley Garden Village". Photo courtesy of David Turner.

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