Wokingham Borough Council’s decision-making executive has approved a £630,000 ‘fighting fund’ to help it defend its planning decisions against speculative developers’ appeals to the Planning Inspectorate.
The council is facing an increasing number of speculative planning applications for developments in unsustainable locations, on land not allocated for development. Although these applications are being refused by the council, developers can appeal to the national Planning Inspectorate against the locally-made decision.
Wokingham Borough Council knows it will have to defend at appeal a number of its decisions in coming months including: its refusal of 216 homes on land east of Finchampstead Road (application number 190286) and its refusal of 118 homes on land north of Nine Mile Ride in Finchampstead (181685). Other appeals coming up include land south of Cutbush Lane in Shinfield.
There has not yet been an appeal lodged against the Cemex decision at Bridge Farm earlier this year but the applicant has until 23 February 2020 to do so.
“We have been robust in refusing planning applications when it is the right thing to do, but we can’t be complacent. Developers have the right of appeal and, when they do, decisions are made by a nationally appointed planning inspectors after legal arguments,” said Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement.
“We cannot change the law, but we can make sure our legal arguments are as strong as possible and this fighting fund will help us do that. In total, we have appeals already set that could mean more than 600 homes and we know there will be more to come. That is why this fighting fund is so important.”
One of the key reasons the Wokingham Borough is prey to speculative planning applications, in unsustainable areas outside those allocated for new homes, is because the council’s long-term strategy (the Local Plan) to provide the homes required is coming to its end and needs to be extended. The council is working on this new plan and has carried out large scale public consultation in recent years to guide it and is due to consult again early in the new year before a final plan is put forward.
“The need to make progress on our Local Plan and the need to allocate extra funds to defending our current planning policies are linked. The fighting fund will help us in the short term and the Local Plan will safeguard us in the longer term,” said Cllr Smith.
“We know our residents don’t want the sort of housing target central government is pushing for, but we also know we must continue to ensure our Local Plan is up-to-date or we will be vulnerable to more and more proposed development in unplanned and unsustainable locations. We are working on a strategic vision that squares that circle and will be able to publicise it later this autumn.”