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Hall Farm is back in the Media (that is NOT new).

The attendance at the University of Reading by SOLVE Hall Farm members last weekend has been reported in “Wokingham Today”. (This IS new. We have not previously tried an actual physical "Demonstration" and it seemed to go well). The Newspaper report quotes a spokesperson for the University as saying: “The University welcomes the views of our neighbours and we are grateful for their hard work in putting forward a range of ideas. We look forward to discussing these ideas with members of the group in more detail, in addition to further opportunities for engagement between the University and members of the local community.” This is terrific news, and I am extremely grateful for the time given us on the day by the Pro Vice Chancellor, Dominik Zaum, and look forward to this future meeting as a really positive way forward.


Interestingly in the same edition of "Wokinghgam Today" is a column written by the University of Readings’ Vice Chancellor Robert Van De Noort. In it he talks about the progress UoR are making against a series of global goals set by the United Nations, known as Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

It concludes: “Of course, we are nothing without the community we exist within. Our students, our researchers and our partners learn much from being part of our local community. And like any relationship, we benefit from understanding and accommodating each other’s needs. If we can get that right, that’s real impact”.


You can find out more about the 17 SDGs here: https://www.globalgoals.org/ But I find SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) particularly apposite in the context of Hall Farm. It includes, for example, “affordable and sustainable transport systems”, “protect the worlds cultural and natural heritage” and “provide access to safe and inclusive green and public spaces” as 3 of its 10 targets. Real long term sustainable thinking then, very much in line with what SOLVE Hall Farm are trying to achieve?


This follows on from a number of interviews with local politicians and residents on the Radio Berkshire Andrew Peach show that took place on the eve of the Local Elections. (You can hear the full show here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0c056b8 or use the timeline slider to fast forward).


Over the course of the show a number of interviews took place with residents from across the Borough. Among these, Jan Heard from Carters Hill (Hall Farm resident) is on at around 3.07.00 with John Halsall (Conservative), Clive Jones (Liberal Democrat) and Andy Croy (Labour) then having a bit of a debate around the issue of housing in general and Hall Farm in particular.


John Halsall tries to blame it all on National Government and once again gives his “I don’t want to lose so much as one single blade of grass”, “large sites work best for delivering infrastructure” and “Ruscombe is in the Green Belt” mantra an outing. He is totally opaque about what it is that makes Hall Farm so “deliverable” and gives no reasons whatsoever for rejecting building at Ashridge.


I chip in with an email question around 3.10.00 asking about some of the heritage value on the site but the answer from John Halsall again blames the Government and this time it is (apparently) also the fault of the Landowners for offering to sell the land. (Take note Robert Van De Noort this could severely damage the sustainability of your reputation!)


The question “Peachey” does NOT ask is: How does 750 houses a year (Quoted in the interview by JH for a viable Local Plan) become the 4,500 houses needed at Hall Farm? 4,500/750 = 6 years housing supply, taking us to 2018. The Plan is supposed to take us to 2038 which is 16 years. That is a big discrepancy, is it not? Or have I missed something?


Then there is the vexed question of do we even NEED to build 4,500 houses? According to some (like Gary Cowan, Independent, sadly not on the show) we only need around 2,000 houses for a viable Plan. 2,000 houses over 16 years is only 125 houses per year, which is 1/6 of the housing numbers JH is quoting. Sadly, Peachey does not drill down into the numbers, but somebody definitely needs to because something here does not add up. (Possibly me?)


At around 3.14.00 Clive Jones is asked to specify where he would build the houses and suggests the Liberal Democrats would look again at Ashridge and Ruscombe, whereas Andy Croy makes the point that “other locations” should be looked at and gets in the argument about no development happening in the North of the Borough. JH then gets in his “green belt cannot be built on” response to accusations of building only in the South of the Borough. Andy Croy goes for a knockout with “We need a Council willing to move away from building in the overcrowded South East” and the debate moves on to the issue of local employment.


By the time you read this the Polling for the Local Elections will be close to closing and soon we will know who had the best argument, or possibly just the best bluster?


Meanwhile places like Pakistan are becoming uninhabitable due to climate change, our vital ecosystems are breaking down due to pollution, our pollinators are becoming extinct due to habitat loss and these beautiful fields, trees and hedgerows are STILL under threat, due to developers looking for a fast buck.


Not news at all then.


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