Local planning in Wokingham Borough reached a significant milestone last week (22 April) when the council adopted the Arborfield and Barkham Neighbourhood Plan. This is the second adopted neighbourhood plan in the borough and will be used to help determine planning applications within Arborfield and Newland and Barkham parishes up to 2036.
Arborfield and Newland and Barkham Parish Councils jointly prepared the neighbourhood plan which began in 2014 when the Parishes were formally designated a neighbourhood plan area. Significant work was undertaken by the neighbourhood plan steering group, including running workshops, surveys and meetings, to develop a vision, objectives and policies, which culminated in a draft plan for consultation with local residents.
Feedback on the draft plan was incorporated and a revised plan submitted to Wokingham Borough Council in May 2019. The council held a six-week consultation on the plan, prior to it being assessed by an independent examiner in September. The examiner’s report recommended several changes, which the council and parishes agreed to incorporate. The council held a referendum on 6 February 2020.
All people living in Arborfield and Newland and Barkham Parishes who are registered to vote in local elections were entitled to vote in the referendum. If more than 50 per cent of people voting in the referendum support a plan, the local planning authority is required to adopt it as part of its development plan.
The Arborfield and Barkham Neighbourhood Plan was overwhelmingly supported, with 94 per cent voting ‘Yes’.
The plan contains a number of policies including respecting the character and appearance of the countryside, biodiversity net gain, identification of local public open spaces and natural assets to be conserved and enhanced, affordable housing for local key workers and developer engagement with local communities on the design of development.
Mark Picken, parish chairman and Jim Murphy, planning committee chairman for Arborfield and Newland Parish Council, said “This neighbourhood plan provides important policies that will be instrumental in helping Arborfield & Barkham parishes protect, sustain and influence the future design and development of our communities and, we are delighted with the support that the community has shown in voting to adopt it. We are also grateful to all of those who have given their time and knowledge to help create it.”
Pam Stubbs, chairman Barkham Parish Council said “We were delighted when our residents and those in Arborfield & Newland Parish gave an overwhelming endorsement to the joint neighbourhood plan. It is the result of tremendous work and enthusiasm from many contributors led by a committee chaired by former BPC vice-chairman, Laurence Heath."
“Barkham in particular, has been the subject of rapid housing development as some 80% of the Arborfield Strategic Development Location is within the parish boundaries. We backed the petition against developing Barkham Square, adjacent to the SDL, which attracted 4,000 signatures."
“The policies in the neighbourhood plan give us reassurance that the wishes of residents will have real force in planning decisions made by Wokingham Borough Council and by the Planning Inspectorate if any planning application goes to appeal.”
Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, said “Neighbourhood planning is an important way for communities to develop a vision for their local area and shape the growth within it.
“While national and local strategic policies have to be followed, the hard work put into the Arborfield and Barkham Neighbourhood Plan will allow the local community to have more say on what the area will look like now and in years to come. The group should be proud of the plan they have put together, which has been strongly endorsed by local residents.”