MORE than £84 million in contributions from developers building new homes in Wokingham borough will have been spent on new roads, schools, green spaces, leisure facilities and other vital services between April 2020 and the end of March this year.
Wokingham Borough Council, which secured the money through legal agreements to offset the impacts of development, invested £40.2 million on these projects over the 2020/21 financial year and expects to have spent another £43.9 million by the end of this one.
This is part of a total investment of almost £1 billion in all community infrastructure, funded by developers, over the course of its Local Plan until 2026. The figure includes about £250 million on roads, £240 million on affordable housing and £100 million towards schools.
Keeping traffic moving and cutting congestion: more than £40 million invested
Over the past two financial years, the council will have invested more than £40 million in major highways projects including £16 million in the North Wokingham Distributor Road.
The scheme, which is almost finished and set to open to traffic in a few months, will relieve congestion in Wokingham town centre by providing an alternative route between Reading Road, west of Old Forest Road, and London Road near Coppid Beech Roundabout.
It will serve homes being built as part of the council's North Wokingham major development, one of four large new communities allocated in its Local Plan. This allows the authority to secure a wealth of infrastructure alongside new housing while ensuring developers foot the bill.
The council is also set to invest £12 million on extending Nine Mile Ride, which should open in the summer to serve the major development at the former Arborfield Garrison.
A further £8.9 million will go towards the South Wokingham Distributor Road, serving new homes in the South Wokingham major development while providing additional relief.
The first phase, joining William Heelas Way with Waterloo Road via a new bridge over the railway, is almost finished, as is design work on the next phase at Finchampstead Road and Molly Millars Lane.
The Shinfield Eastern Relief Road, which has served the authority’s Shinfield Parish major development for several years, received a £2 million investment in funding returned to the University of Reading, which led on building it several years ago.
Another £1.3 million was spent on the Winnersh Relief Road, which opened in May last year, while more than £50,000 went on widening Lower Earley Way to accommodate extra traffic from the project.
Educating the next generation: more than £15 million invested
Meanwhile, more than £9 million has gone to the new St Cecilia’s Church of England Primary School at Matthewsgreen in North Wokingham, which will open as soon as possible. A share of this has gone towards a community centre on the site.
The council also spent £5.2 million on Farley Hill Primary School at Arborfield, which reopened in purpose-built premises last year and is set to expand in September, subject to Government approval, plus more than £1.1 million on a new sixth form building at Addington School in Woodley.
This allowed the latter to accept 50 additional students with special educational needs or disabilities, boosting its total capacity to more than 250, while almost £220,000 went towards improvements at Alder Grove Primary School in Shinfield.
Living, playing and travelling sustainably: more than £9 million invested
Another £5.6 million has gone towards the ongoing regeneration of the Gorse Ride housing estate at Finchampstead, which will see old and outdated homes demolished to make way for new high-quality units with input and support from the community.
The council has allocated more than £3 million towards affordable housing in 2020/21 at locations including Gorse Ride (£1.3 million), Finch Road in Earley (almost £500,000) and Middlefields in Twyford (almost £465,000).
The redevelopment of the former Carnival Pool in Wokingham town, which is being replaced by a state-of-the-art Carnival Hub with swimming pools, a spa, café, fitness studios, a sports and arts performance hall, a library and more, is set to receive £2.8 million.
About £1.5 million was spent on the new School Green community centre at Shinfield, which opened shortly before Christmas, and the same will be spent on the council’s network of greenways, which are eight generally traffic-free routes linking its major developments.
These sustainable travel routes will be open to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as horse riders in certain sections, and are part of a wider investment in green infrastructure across the borough including cycleways, which have received £1.2 million since 2020/21.
The council has invested more than £1 million on parks and open spaces including £313,000 on the destination play area at California Country Park in Finchampstead and almost £130,000 improving Cantley Park in Wokingham town including new flood lights, artificial pitches and another play area.
Our long-standing commitment to building communities
About two-thirds of all money comes from legal agreements struck when planning permission was granted, while the rest comes from a statutory, non-negotiable charge agreed by the Government called the community infrastructure levy (CIL).
Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, said: “The fact that we’ve allocated these impressive sums in the past two years alone shows the extent of our commitment to building strong, well-equipped, cohesive communities and not just new housing.
“We enjoy an enviably high quality of life in Wokingham borough, as proven by numerous lists of the best places to live - including a recent Legatum Institute report which deemed us the nation’s most prosperous area. We’ll do everything in our power to keep it that way.
“Our bold approach of allocating large sites for major new communities continues to deliver countless benefits to residents and we have no intention of deviating from that winning formula.
“This is why we’re proposing a similar approach as part of our Local Plan Update, which we’re now consulting on. It will allow us to meet Government targets and the borough’s growth needs while providing everything people need to enjoy healthy, balanced lives and bring up happy families.
“We urge everyone to have their say so that we can continue to build on our recent successes.”
Other schemes to benefit from developer contributions in recent years include the Arborfield Cross Relief Road, which won a top industry award last autumn for its contributions towards biodiversity thanks to its “green bridge” for wildlife as well as pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. Funding for this also came from the Department for Transport and the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
There is also the Bohunt School in Arborfield, which opened in 2016 and is the borough’s first new secondary in more than 50 years, and Arborfield Green Leisure Centre which opened two years later.
Where the money comes from – and how it adds value
In 2020/21, the council collected £6.6 million in CIL including £3.4 million from an application for 249 homes on land south of Cutbush Lane in Shinfield parish.
It has banked £44.8 million from this from 2016/17 up to April 2021 and, in the same period, has passed on more than £6.8 million to town and parish councils to spend on projects which address the demands imposed by new development.
Meanwhile, the council has received £179 million through legal agreements since 2016, including £26.8 million in 2020/21 with contributions from developments at Keephatch Beech (£8.1 million), the former Matthewsgreen (£5.2 million) and Kentwood (£2.6 million) farms in north Wokingham, plus Church Lane in Shinfield (£4.3 million) and land at Arborfield (£1.8 million).
Over the last two years, the value of homes in Wokingham borough grew faster than any other in Berkshire, with the average rising from £408,822 in March 2020 to £445,488 a year later, an increase of almost nine per cent and far above London’s figure of 3.7 per cent.
To respond to the Local Plan Update consultation and find out more about what’s being proposed, visit our Engage Wokingham Borough platform before 5pm on 24 January.
More from Wokingham Borough Council
Stay connected to the communities around you. Enjoy the latest on the Covid-19 pandemic, general news, updates and highlights straight in your inbox. Subscribe to our Wokingham Borough Connect newsletters now.