“The fear of mass housing development has been hanging over the majority of our communities like a Sword of Damocles for too long; at last, we may have a way to remove it for them,” said John Halsall, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, of the draft Local Plan Update to be unveiled on 15 January.
“If it is approved and supported by government funding, we would be able to produce a Local Plan that meets a need for good homes in the borough, including genuinely affordable ones, while safeguarding our quality of life, protecting our green belt and relieving many of our villages from the fear of inappropriate development,” he said.
The council’s draft Local Plan Update, which is set to be discussed at the extraordinary executive on the 15th and if approved public consultation on it launched in February, would put protection of countryside and the environment at the heart of its strategic vision for the future. This new strategic direction follows the council’s declaration of a climate emergency and the overwhelming public opposition to the government imposed housing target - which could have been more than 900 homes per year.
The draft Local Plan would include:
Local Plans set out the land to be protected from development across the borough and, under Wokingham’s, these ‘no-go’ areas for development would include all land designated as green belt as well as the overwhelming majority of the 300-plus sites developers have been eyeing-up across the borough.
- A lower housing target for the borough than would have been enforced by the government’s standard methodology
- No house building on the green belt
- A new Garden Town at Grazeley designed and built to cutting-edge environmental standards with sustainable transport links into Reading and massive upfront investment in facilities such as schools and community, sporting and health facilities
- An enhanced commitment to resist random development outside of the few areas allocated for new communities
- Protection of local green space
- Provision of genuinely affordable housing
“This could be a new dawn for Wokingham Borough with a commitment to a fully-fledged Garden Town where people will be able to live the sort of environmentally-aware, sustainable lifestyles that are becoming the 21st Century ideal,” said Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement.
“This is an ambitious vision. If approved and funded as we are proposing, Grazeley Garden Town would have the sort of upfront investment in infrastructure that is normally only dreamed of in the UK – we are talking about getting things like the transport systems, schools, health hubs and community and sporting facilities built ahead of the housing.
“We are also proposing homes that are designed to protect the environment, provided within communities designed for sustainable lifestyles. People living in a future Grazeley Garden Town would have the jobs and ‘big city’ buzz of Reading to the north and the natural beauty of West Berkshire and our borough to the west and east – a set-up that matches the original vision of garden towns perfectly.”
With Grazeley able to provide a large number of the additional housing that is needed across the borough in the years up to 2036, and potentially to the mid-2050s, the borough council would be better able to resist potential housing sites elsewhere that have been put forward by developers. There would still need to be some smaller scale growth in towns and villages where agreed locally, but most of the 300-plus potential sites put forward as part of the Local Plan process would be rejected.