Wokingham Borough Council’s ongoing partnership work to ensure future housing development is well-planned and accompanied by the necessary investment in schools, transport, community, sporting and health facilities has received a boost.
Last September, in partnership with West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council, Wokingham Borough Council submitted a £300million funding bid for infrastructure to support a potential garden settlement at Grazeley, onthe borders of Reading, West Berkshire and Wokingham Borough. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has now approved the bid to go on to the shortlist for successful applications.
The bid was submitted in parallel (and without prejudice) to the strategic planning process that will decide how the homes, transport, schools, shops, health, sports and community facilities and other infrastructure needed in Wokingham Borough should be provided over the next 20 years (*see note to editors below). A final decision on how the housing for this strategic plan (known as the Local Plan Update) will be made at a public examination, scheduled for May 2019.
Wokingham Borough Council’s executive member for strategic planning and transport and deputy leader Cllr David Lee said: “The first thing to point out is that, while this is potentially important news, nothing has been decided yet in terms of the housing number we will be obliged to provide up to 2036. We do not have a final figure from the Government (because they are still deciding the method by which this will be set) and we certainly do not yet know where we will allow homes to be built - because we are still working on and consulting over our Local Plan Update.
“The importance of this bid is that, if the Local Plan Update – after all the consultation still to be done on it – points to Grazeley as the right location for large-scale housing, we will need massive infrastructure investment to make it work. That is why we have asked for such a large sum; so we would be ready, if necessary, to plan and deliver infrastructure early in any development.”
The funding bid was submitted on the basis of 15,000 homes in a Garden Settlement in Grazeley, which is the maximum currently envisaged, and the calculation that, if that number of homes were built, there would need to be a £750million investment in infrastructure. This could include improved M4 junction, dual carriageway on the A33, a possible new railway station in the settlement, as well as the schools, community, sporting and health facilities that would be required. The shortfall between the bid and the total needed would come from the developers.
Cllr Lee said: “It makes sense to bid for the maximum that might be required so that we are able to plan for that scenario. Of course, the Local Plan Update may not allocate homes to Grazeley or may allocate significantly fewer and, in that case, we would scale down the funding required appropriately.”
Cllr Tony Page, lead member for strategic environment, planning and transport and deputy leader, at Reading Borough Council, said: “We welcome this announcement as the need for additional housing, and in particular affordable housing, in the south east is without dispute. However this level of new housing growth is simply not deliverable without the right infrastructure – such as schools, health, community facilities, and sustainable public transport – being in place in advance of the first houses being occupied.
” It is also essential every local authority involved is given adequate resources for staffing, which would be ring-fenced funding to help deliver a project of this complexity, scale and size.”
Gary Lugg, West Berkshire Council’s head of planning said: “This is an ambitious bid with the potential to deliver much-needed housing in the area. This housing can only be delivered if the infrastructure is in place to support. Communities are built on more than houses – it is the schools and doctors surgeries residents will use and the transport network they will use to get around.
“This bid will help us put that infrastructure in place but there is still a long way to go and it is just one option for delivering new houses in the area. Final decisions will be made in the coming years through our own Local Plan.
*For details of the Wokingham Borough Council’s Local Plan Update please visit our Local Plan Update website page.