The leader of Wokingham Borough Council has secured an audience with the Government as he continues to press for a reduction in the number of new homes that the area is being forced to take every year.
Cllr Clive Jones has been invited to take part in a round-table discussion on possible reforms to the national planning system by Lucy Frazer MP, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning. The news comes just weeks after Cllr Jones wrote to Michael Gove MP to congratulate him on his recent reappointment as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing.
He urged Mr Gove, whom he met at the Local Government Association’s annual conference in Harrogate in June, to honour his previous commitment to visit the borough and discuss the matter in person. Mr Gove was replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle in July but has since returned to the post.
Cllr Jones said: “I'm delighted that our voice is being heard loud and clear in Westminster and look forward to the meeting with Mrs Frazer, which is a real sign of progress and we’re thankful that our very real concerns are being taken seriously.
“Despite Mr Gove’s unexpected departure last summer, we were undeterred and persisted in building support for our campaign at a local level, which we're pleased to note has crossed the political divide because its fundamental importance is recognised by everyone.
“However, we will not become complacent and will continue to press our case so that we can defend and preserve our quality of life for future generations – but without allowing our communities to be overrun by excessive and inappropriate levels of development.”
A fair deal for the borough – and everywhere else
At the moment, local authorities have to calculate their future housing need based on a standard mathematical formula set by the Government - and while the council is by no means against new housing, it believes this results in far too high a figure for this area.
That means instead of getting the right number of houses to meet genuine local demand, along with developer-funded infrastructure like schools, roads and green spaces, it risks being swamped by too many homes and with too few essential services.
Cllr Jones says overhauling the system to assess every council’s need on a national scale would be fairer for everyone because it would give a boost to areas, particularly those outside the South-East, that need more new housing and aren't getting enough.
His campaign has been supported by Wokingham MP Sir John Redwood, former Prime Minister and Maidenhead MP Theresa May and Bracknell's MP James Sunderland, all of whom have met Cllr Jones and agreed that change is needed if "levelling up" is to be achieved.
Keeping growth at a sustainable level
In his letter to Mr Gove, Cllr Jones says future housing numbers must be "grounded in reality" and the system must recognise when councils provide more homes than required over a given time, allowing them to take fewer in future.
This isn't the case now - even though about 3,000 more homes have been provided beyond those required by the Government’s standard mathematical formula since it was introduced in 2018. As it stands, the formula requires Wokingham borough must find space for a minimum of 781 new homes a year.
The 2021 Census showed that the borough's population has risen by about 15 per cent since 2011, the second largest increase in South East England and among the biggest increases in the country. The national average increase was 6.6 per cent.
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This shows large numbers of people are moving here because of the high volume of new development - a trend we cannot afford to sustain as the council sets out to tackle the climate emergency and do all it can to protect the natural environment.
Recognising what local residents truly need
Cllr Jones told Mr Gove: “I have been encouraged by statements made by Prime Minister [Rishi] Sunak on the commitment to redistributing wealth across the UK - in essence levelling up.
“Developing a set of planning policies that work for all places is challenging and certainly not achievable by a simple mathematical or formulaic approach as is currently the case.
“Places are diverse, requiring the Government's planning policies to be grounded in reality and take full account of what is achievable at the local level and the impacts that would result on communities and the environment. It is also essential that economic investment is spread more evenly across the country, to bring opportunities to all communities.
“We do not see the solution as simply passing the issue of housing need and requirements to local authorities... instead there should be a national spatial plan for England, led by the Government but developed in partnership with local authorities.”
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