Wokingham Borough is under constant pressure from developers wanting to build more and more houses no matter whether or not the land is suitable and allocated for housing – and recent planning appeal decisions are forcing the council to consider how it can defend its policy of ensuring that development is coordinated and directed to the right places.
Despite having allocated a lot of land available for new homes (as it has to do to meet central government requirements) and providing massive infrastructure investment under its current planning strategy *, the borough council is still continually fighting appeals against avaricious applications for developments that are outside these allocated areas.
Most of these are applications are refused and most appeals are successfully defended by the borough council, but a number of disappointing decisions by planning inspectors have led to the council to review what additional short term actions it can take to put it in the best place to defend its decisions
In some cases, inspectors have ruled that Wokingham Borough does not have enough land on which housing is either currently being built, or where housing will be built on during the next five years. This is technically known as having a ‘Five Year Housing Land Supply’, which is a central government requirement for all local authorities under the National Planning Policy Framework (please see the government's webpages for more details).
The council’s current planning strategy allocated a small number of sites as a reserve supply to be used should the supply of available land fall. Although the borough council’s assessments show that it has a Five Year Housing Land Supply, it will continue to be challenged at appeal by developers desperate to undermine the council’s defence. Therefore the council’s decision making executive will consider releasing the reserve sites and an additional site which forms part of another allocation to boost supply when it meets on Thursday July 27.
The extra housing land that could be released has already been assessed as being suitable when originally allocated.
Wokingham Borough Council deputy leader Cllr David Lee said: “We have been extremely disappointed by some Inspectors’ decisions and I am sure local people would agree with us that enough land has been allocated for housing at the moment and that houses are certainly being built fast enough in the borough. But the national planning system is stacked massively in favour of development and planning inspectors have the power to make these rulings.
“If we bury our heads in the sand and ignore this issue and just carry on with the allocated land as it is now – which is the easy option – we would end up with something close to a planning free-for-all. Instead we’re considering the difficult, but correct, route of releasing our reserve sites to boost the land supply in the short terms, helping our defence against unplanned, unsustainable development.
“We are also lobbying Central Government to draw attention to the fact that we are being penalised for doing the right thing.”
In additional top releasing the reserved sites for housing, Wokingham Borough Council is in the process of producing a new Local Plan that will set where development can and cannot take place up to 2036.
* The Local Plan allocated land for about 13,000 new homes in the borough for the period up to 2026. The majority of these are being built in the four major development areas know as Strategic Development Location at Arborfield Garrison, Shinfield area, North Wokingham and South Wokingham