Wokingham Borough Council is keeping up pressure on the Government to reduce the number of new homes that the borough is being forced to take - and to reform national planning rules to put more power in local hands.
Leader of the council Cllr Clive Jones, Chief Executive Susan Parsonage and other council representatives met the former prime minister and MP for Maidenhead Theresa May to seek her support for the council’s call for a planning system that works for local communities.
Cllr Jones said: “It was a very productive meeting and we found a lot of common ground, which was very encouraging. We agreed on the need to get a Local Plan in place as soon as we can and that we would act together to persuade civil servants and ministers that the planning system needs to change. In particular, we agreed on the need for over-delivery of housing in the past to be taken into account when setting housing targets – in other words, the fact that a lot of housing has been built here recently, means less should be built in future.
“About 3,000 more homes are being provided under the current local plan than were originally included – so the new local plan should take those into account and the housing target be reduced by 3,000.”
Cllr Jones has also written to Greg Clark MP, who is responsible for the system as the Government’s new housing minister, urging him to honour his predecessor Michael Gove’s commitment to visit the borough and discuss this urgent issue in person. Mr Gove promised to visit when he met Cllr Jones at the Local Government Association’s annual conference in Harrogate a few weeks ago, but has since been replaced.
Theresa May said: 'I was pleased to meet with Cllr Clive Jones to discuss this hugely important issue. I worked with the previous council to consistently press Wokingham Borough's case for planning reform and I look forward to working with the current council to do the same and to get a Local Plan in place. I have also raised the issue with the housing minister, Greg Clark and encouraged him to meet representatives of the Council to hear the issues direct from them.'
A positive vision – not just opposing all development
The council wants reforms 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, particularly through providing housing which is genuinely affordable and supported by quality infrastructure like schools, community centres and cycling and walking routes.
‘We can’t take the pressure of this many new homes’
Cllr Jones has also discussed the issue with Wokingham’s MP Sir John Redwood, who went on to raise it in the House of Commons, and Bracknell MP James Sunderland
In his letter to Mr Clark, Cllr Jones says the Government should stop allocating homes based on a standard mathematical formula and instead write a strategy that considers where in the country they are actually needed. He says the current system, based on statistics like existing housing levels and predicted growth, just reinforces the concentration of homes on London and the South East, which get swamped while other parts of the country miss out.
He told Mr Clark: ““The scale and distribution of house building must be strategically planned by Government if the quality of life... is to be safeguarded and ambitions for clean growth and the transition to zero carbon are to be achieved.
“We need a more sensible approach which reflects the levelling up agenda and is grounded in an understanding of reality. This is not about reinventing regional planning but bringing together a new and potentially stronger collaboration.”
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