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Time to get off the fence regarding the Local Plan!

Updated: Jun 26

Updated 26/06/24

Word is leaking out about the long-awaited Local Plan for Wokingham Borough and it looks like it will be even worse than we anticipated! Not only are the house numbers back up to 4,500 at Hall Farm, but several other sites in the South Wokingham area are also in the frame for several hundred more houses. (So if you live in Barkham do not presume thousands of houses at Hall Farm takes hundreds of houses at Barham Square out of the picture!)

It is clear that the Lib Dems are waiting for the General Election to be over before dropping the full details, but when Stephen Conway announces “unpalatable choices” Wokingham Borough Council “have to make” he means get ready to be thrown under the car if you are unfortunate enough to live in the South of the Borough because NO WAY are any houses being built in the North of the Borough.

The Lib Dems say the Conservatives are “irresponsible” to oppose what they previously supported, and that they have offered no alternative to the “one large settlement” that will deliver the infrastructure required to support the houses. But is it not irresponsible to build on a flood plain when climate change makes predicting future flood risk highly problematic?

According to the latest missive from the Lib Dems I have only two choices in Wokingham; to vote Lib Dem or to vote Conservative. “In places like ours voting Labour will keep the Tories in power”. But if I vote Lib Dem I get 4,500 houses built on fields with no transport links and thousands more cars on roads without even a footpath, never mind a cycle lane! Is that what I want?

Last time I met the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Wokingham; Clive Jones, he assured me the preferred option for building the houses we need was at Ashridge. See below for the outline proposal from Ashridge Wokingham Ltd. Note, this is next to major transport infrastructure, and away from flood plain and green belt. It has also been updated and re-submitted to Wokingham Borough Councillors. I strongly recommend you take a look at the revised proposal, linked to above.

Is it true therefore that there is “no alternative” to Hall Farm?  (As claimed by Stephen Conway in his “From the Council Leadership” column in Wokingham Today” on June 13th). It certainly looks like a viable alternative to me, but then what do I know? I cannot even get the question of where to build the houses Wokingham needs debated in Council ☹ Despite collecting thousands of signatures on a valid petition! (Electronic signatures HERE, additional signatures added manually).

At a recent “Community Forum” Robert Van de Noort claimed the balance books for the University of Reading were in a “very healthy condition". Are they? Or is it more a case of they will be, if they can just sell off Hall Farm to developers, courtesy of support from their strategic business partners at Wokingham Borough Council?

Housing development is highly conspicuous by its absence from the plethora of literature being pumped out by Wokingham Lib Dems. Not a single mention of the biggest, most contentious issue facing Wokingham residents. Compare and contrast this with Wokingham Conservatives.

On Friday 21st June I met the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Wokingham, Lucy Demery. She has made it very clear she does not consider Hall Farm to be the right place for building a major new “strategic” housing development. She spent two hours with members of the Arborfield Social Club and she struck me as someone who a) Listens very carefully and b) Wants to make a real difference to our community. The cutting below is taken from Lucy's campaign flyer.

We asked Lucy for an “on the record" quote regarding her position on housing development, particularly as it relates to Hall Farm. Here is what she said:

“I grew up in a country park and believe in the importance of access to nature for community wellbeing, floodplain protection and wildlife protection. I support local community action groups such as SOLVE that oppose Lib Dem and Labour plans for overdevelopment on our remaining countryside, without appropriate infrastructure — including the 4,000+ homes proposed for Hall Farm. I support a brownfield-first approach to building new homes, to relieve pressure on our precious countryside”.

We have previously quoted Pauline Jorgensen (Leader of Wokingham Conservatives and Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Early and Woodley) as someone who is now prepared to take a clear stand AGAINST building houses at Hall Farm. This week in Wokingham Today she is making her position clear once again.

“Development is a hot topic on the doorstep and in my inbox. Residents are rightly concerned about the potential loss of greenspaces, like Hall Farm, and our semi-rural character.”

“In October 2022, five months into the Liberal Democrats’ leadership of the Council, officers warned “The Council no longer has a five-year housing land supply and so an increase in appeals for speculative housing development is expected.”

Many people across the entire country have strong concerns regarding planning, but the debacle regarding planning in Wokingham is highlighted in this Planning Committee meeting held on Wednesday 12th June. We have seen some autocratic, undemocratic, and biased planning decisions previously, but this one is exceptional, even for the current administration.

The video of the meeting is HERE (fast forward to around 2.41.15 for the start of the discussion) but the essence of the problem is the way the meeting was chaired. First, members of the public were prevented from speaking, but worse, the meeting was "mismanaged" to the point that one person was excluded from the vote. This left the vote hung, requiring the final outcome to be decided by the Chairs’ casting vote. The outcome was the housing development was given approval. Lately there have been far too many examples of dodgy planning decisions working in favour of Wokingham Planning Officers.

Then there is one last thing before I go. I am getting messages on my Facebook account telling me that linking to this website goes against "Community Standards". (See messages below).

I do not believe pointing out to readers that Stephen Conway was "mistaken" when he said the Local Plan could not now be changed is an incitement to violence or hatred. I suspect my account is being hacked in some way to make it difficult for me to operate.

If I find out my social media account is being interfered with I shall be taking it VERY, VERY personally.

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