Later this week the council will consider an updated housing strategy for the borough, which if approved, will set the strategic direction for housing to 2024.
The housing strategy is a framework document which will set the overall strategic direction for housing in the borough, with other strategies and policies linked to it, such as the homelessness and rough sleeping strategy and the Local Plan which sets out how much development, including housing, is required and where it should go. The draft housing strategy was consulted on at the end of last year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in huge changes to the way we live and work. As a result, the strategy looks at the need for housing in the borough to ensure that it builds the right homes in the right places, improves the quality of homes and ensures new communities are socially inclusive. Underpinning the strategy is an ambitious action plan that will be reviewed and updated annually.
Housing plays a huge role in the health and environmental and economic well-being of all Wokingham borough residents. Housing has become a defining economic and social issue with the average price of a home in the borough almost double that of the national average. Poor quality housing can have a significant impact on residents’ health and wellbeing.
Cllr John Kaiser, executive member for finance and housing said: “Housing is a fundamental right and our aspiration is for everyone in the borough to have a safe, stable and comfortable home. Housing plays a huge role in the health and well-being of all our residents and is about more than just bricks and mortar; housing is about people and communities and this it at the heart of the housing strategy.
“The pandemic has shone a light on the economic and housing issues in our borough as well as across the country, and we need to set our sights wider than just delivering more affordable housing. We want to work with private landlords to improve standards in the private rental sector.
“We want to improve the design and quality of homes in light of people working from home, with access to outdoor green space so important for the mental and physical health and well-being of us all. And of course, we want to increase our housing provision for our vulnerable residents.”
Wokingham Borough Council has seen some of the highest numbers of affordable homes of all local authorities in England in recent years due to its planning requirement for developers to provide up to 50% of their new housing developments as affordable housing. The borough has seen over 1,300 affordable new homes added to its housing stock in the last three and a half years and has another 2,000 coming in the future, giving more residents an affordable rent or the opportunity to part own their own homes through the council’s shared ownership schemes.
The council has also adopted an ambitious Housing 1-4-5 + 100 Challenge which will see the council lead on the development of 1,000 new homes over the next four years with an average 5% return on investment, providing a mix of private and affordable homes. The +100 reflects an additional challenge identified as part of the current work around developing a new local plan that includes the council leading on the development of 100 new homes per year, predominantly on land that has previously been developed (known as ‘brownfield’ land).
The housing strategy will help the council address the challenge to manage the need for new housing in the borough while protecting the quality of the environment and the sustainability of existing communities; to understand and mitigate the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the borough’s housing needs; to accommodate a growing older population with long term care needs; to tackle health issues and social isolation, as well as poverty and unemployment; and to tackle climate change and ensure house building in the borough is as environmentally sustainable as possible.
Recent housing successes of the council include the following:
- Completion of 1,453 affordable homes since April 2017, which is one of the highest number of affordable homes by a local authority in England.
- Delivery of a £12million housing development called Phoenix Avenue in the Norreys Community, Wokingham and an independent living development for older people in Woodley called Fosters.
- Delivery of an affordable rented scheme for key workers in Wokingham town centre.
- Completion of a supported housing scheme for young people in Reading Road.
- Temporary accommodation created for vulnerable adults at Foxwood and Broadway House.
- Delivery of a range of support services to enable vulnerable adults to live more independently, including support for mental health, support for carers and help and advice as needed.
- Helping people access private rented housing, through schemes such as the Rent in Advance/ Deposit Loan Scheme.
- Helping 43 residents to set up their own business through the “Strive” enterprise programme. Read more about the strive programme on the Enterprise Cube website.
A decision will be made on the housing strategy by the council’s executive on Thursday 25 March 2021.
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