Housing minister Michael Gove has agreed to discuss local housing targets with Wokingham Borough Council, which believes they are too high and is campaigning to reduce them, following its successful calls for a meeting on the issue.
Mr Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, accepted the authority’s invitation after he met its leader Cllr Clive Jones and other representatives at the Local Government Association’s recent annual conference in Harrogate.
Cllr Jones had previously written to Mr Gove to request the meeting and lobbied local MPs - including Wokingham’s MP Sir John Redwood, who later raised the issue of housing targets in the House of Commons - to back his calls.
A fairer target to meet local need
The council wants reforms to the planning system so that the borough, which must currently find room for 781 new homes every year, is allowed to accept a lower number which it feels is fairer, more sustainable and based on actual local need.
It says there is clear opposition to the current figure, which it believes is arbitrary and puts too much pressure on local amenities and the environment, and it adds that moving some development away from the South-East would better help to level up the country.
The council also wants to give communities more power to shape where they live for the better.
'Mission accomplished - step one'
Cllr Jones said: “My first act when I became leader of the borough council was to write to Michael Gove asking for a meeting about our housing targets and housing policy in general. We now have that meeting agreed - so step one of the mission is accomplished.
“The next step will be convincing Mr Gove that the borough should not be forced to take so much housing in the future, and that the whole system needs to be reformed.
“We have positive ideas about reform and are not simply anti-housing: we want more social and affordable homes that people can genuinely afford and that meet local needs. We also want to make sure that any new homes come with the proper services, infrastructure and facilities – we can’t be left with more housing without more school places and doctors.”
Keeping future growth sustainable
On the day of the agreement with Mr Gove, newly-released 2021 Census figures showed that the borough’s population has risen by about 15 per cent since 2011 – the largest increase in Berkshire and among the country’s biggest increases against a national average of 6.6 per cent.
Cllr Lindsay Ferris, executive member for planning and local plan, said: “These census figures come as no surprise to us – they just confirm that a huge number of people have come to the borough because of a substantial amount of development.
“We can’t take another increase of that magnitude and even a smaller increase in population needs to come with a corresponding increase in infrastructure. Those points are perfectly clear to us and we hope they will be to the Government as we continue our discussions with them.”
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