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Building communities the Wokingham borough way

Building communities the Wokingham borough way

14 December 2021
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Image of new houses in South Wokingham

We’ve learned from experience that spreading new homes across hundreds of smaller sites can result in poor quality housing, with little or no infrastructure improvements or affordable housing for local people.


To combat this, our current Local Plan took the bold step of managing growth by allocating land strategically for major new housing developments instead of building more extensively across the borough, often in back gardens.


The document, which runs from 2010 to 2026, is set to provide thousands of high-quality new homes at the former Arborfield Garrison, in North and South Wokingham and the area around Shinfield, Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross.


This has allowed us to plan new infrastructure alongside such as new roads, schools, and open spaces, as well as delivering a greater number of affordable homes.

By doing so, we’re proud to be building strong, well-connected, cohesive communities equipped with a rich variety of services and amenities - and we're proposing the same winning formula in our revised growth strategy, which we're now seeking your views on.


A solid start for future generations

Our carefully considered approach has so far provided a new secondary school and three of seven planned new primaries including Farley Hill Primary School at Arborfield Green North, which opened in September 2021.

This will eventually have space for more than 600 pupils while a nearby plot is reserved for a second primary school yet to come. 


Construction was funded by developer contributions as part of our major new communities programme, which includes investment of almost £100million in new schools and extensions to existing ones.


The launch of Farley Hill follows the opening of the £32.5 million Bohunt secondary school at Arborfield in 2016 as well as Floreat Montague Park Primary School in South Wokingham in the same year and Alder Grove Primary School at Shinfield in 2020.


Another should follow next year in Matthewsgreen, North Wokingham, with others set to open at Spencers Wood and a second location in South Wokingham.


Keeping traffic in our borough moving

The major new developments will also provide £250million in new roads including the Observer Way at Arborfield, which recently won an award for its “green” bridge that helps wildlife navigate the surrounding countryside.


The 2.3km bypass, which diverts traffic around the villages of Arborfield and Arborfield Cross, was funded by developers, the Department for Transport and the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).


In September 2021, it was honoured by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association for including biodiversity measures.


Our Shinfield Eastern Relief Road was completed in 2017 and has kept traffic in that community moving as the population has increased, while the extension of Nine Mile Ride at Arborfield is expected to finish by summer next year.


More recently we widened Barkham Bridge from a single lane to two, addressing a long-standing bottleneck, and this was partly funded by developer contributions as well as the LEP.


More in store to fight congestion and climate change 

Construction of the North and South Wokingham distributor roads, which will serve new housing in those major development areas, is also under way. These will divert traffic around the centre of Wokingham by providing bypasses through the northern and southern edges of the town.


While building these roads, we’re tackling congestion across the network by installing intelligent transportation systems including smart traffic lights, funded by £250,000 from the Department for Transport, and variable electronic message signs.


We’re investing in public transport through developer-funded bus subsidies and our My Journey initiative as well as park and ride schemes at Mereoak, Thames Valley Park, Winnersh station and Coppid Beech. A new link road in Wokingham town, built in partnership with Network Rail, improved access to the railway station.


Meanwhile, we're making improvements to the cycle network, footpaths and bridleways including our 20-mile network of eight greenways linking key destinations in the borough, the first of which has been completed with a second now in progress.


Making our borough a great place to live and work 

Other recent benefits from major development include new destination play areas in Wokingham town centre, which came alongside a major refurbishment of Market Place, and at Finchampstead Baptist Church.


A third play area opened at California County Park in Finchampstead in April and a fourth is now under construction at Cantley Park in North Wokingham.


A new café has opened at the former changing rooms in Cantley Park, as has the new £2.4million activity centre and café at Dinton Pastures near Winnersh, which is the borough's first net zero carbon building. 


As well as hosting activities on the water, it boasts an indoor climbing wall with mechanisms to allow guests to climb safely by themselves.


We’ve created employment growth at the Thames Valley Science Park at Shinfield, where we recently granted planning permission for 18 film and television stages to host major international productions at Shinfield Studios’ and the University of Reading’s Creative Media Hub. This is part of the latter’s Cine Valley project, which includes a live TV studio.


The British Museum is building its Archaeological Research Collection, an archive facility for its ancient and historic artefacts, at Shinfield and this will enrich the area’s cultural and academic life.


Investing in your and your children’s future 

We'll be providing 110 hectares of new public open space, play areas and parks, the equivalent of about 150 football pitches, with another 130 hectares to come totalling £170million. There will be about 40 new children's play parks and more than 12 acres of allotments with at least 400 plots.


We’re also set to provide £11million in community facilities including a new community centre which recently opened in Shinfield, next to the parish hall. Four others are lined up for Montague Park, Matthewsgreen, Arborfield and South Wokingham.


The local plan will provide £240million in affordable housing and £45million in sports facilities, including the new sports hall and gyms at Ryeish Green, Shinfield and Arborfield and the upcoming outdoor sports hub at Gray's Farm in South Wokingham.


All of this forms part of an investment package worth almost £1billion in total while, to date, parishes across the borough have received more than £8million in statutory contributions from developers.


A proven approach to building strong communities 

Our approach is backed up by a recent finding that Wokingham borough is the most prosperous part of the UK to live in. The Legatum Institute, a social, economic and political research organisation which issued that report, adds that it was second best for residents’ health in 2020/21 while the Office for National Statistics named the borough the nation’s healthiest area in that time.


Over the same period, ONS figures show the value of homes in Wokingham borough grew faster than any other in Berkshire, with the average figure rising from £408,822 in March 2020 to £445,488 a year later, an increase of just under nine per cent and near the national average of 10.2 per cent. This far outstripped London’s figure of 3.7 per cent.


In summary, we recognise the importance of providing our residents with so much more than a place to live. Our strategic vision ensures we build the right number of new homes in the right places, and with all the infrastructure that a vibrant, thriving community needs.


Staying local and living life to the full

John Halsall, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, said: “We do not wish to build houses in the quantities proposed in the borough. We regret any blade of grass lost.


“Our natural growth is way below the figure that we have been given by the Government, which we would build as affordable or social homes. We have very few brownfield (previously developed) sites.


“We understand that new housing is an emotive subject, but we cannot simply refuse to take any more as the consequences could be disastrous, leading to the wrong kind being built in the wrong places without the necessary infrastructure and losing control of the process.


“We’ve achieved so much with our current Local Plan and want to build on those successes, which have made our borough a shining example of how to plan for the future.


“Our revised growth strategy, which will feed into our updated Local Plan, follows the same proven model to ensure that future generations continue to enjoy the benefits which we’ve ushered in over the past decade or so.


“We now propose building additional new homes in suitable and sustainable locations, and in a way that leaves residents fully supported by a wealth of services.


“I urge everyone to respond to our consultation before it closes to make sure that our future plans continue to reflect their own hopes and aspirations.”


Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, added: “By building enough high-quality housing to meet demand from local residents, young people growing up the borough can stay and eventually bring up their own families in the area where their roots lie.

“We’re proud to be making that possible but, of course, we entirely understand that residents need so much more than just a roof over their heads.


“By setting aside land for housing in a large-scale, strategic way, we can provide all the services and amenities that communities require to live full and meaningful lives, both at work and in their leisure time.”


Help us to continue meeting your needs 

The revised growth strategy we're proposing will ensure that residents’ and business’ needs are still planned for in a joined-up way. Everyone is urged to have their say in the consultation to help us improve our approach.

 

This no longer includes a new town of about 15,000 homes at Grazeley, as we consulted on last year, as it is no longer achievable following an extension of the emergency planning zone around AWE Burghfield to include that area.

 

Instead, we’re suggesting an alternative which again reflects residents’ preferences, as expressed in previous consultations, for well-planned major new communities which allow suitable infrastructure to be provided.

 

This includes a new garden village of about 4,500 homes on land south of the M4, between Shinfield, Arborfield and Sindlesham, of which at least 2,200 would be built by 2038.

 

We also propose about 800 homes in our existing South Wokingham major development and smaller allocations elsewhere, including generous amounts of local green space.

 

To find out more about our consultation, which runs until January 24, visit Engage Wokingham.


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