Partners across Western Berkshire have joined forces to submit an Expression of Interest (EoI) for government funding for a potential garden settlement on the borders of Reading, West Berkshire and Wokingham Borough.
The EoI is in parallel (and without prejudice) to the strategic planning process that will decide how the homes, transport, schools, shops, health, sports and community facilities and other infrastructure needed in the West of Berkshire should be provided over the next 20 years.
A final decision on how the housing should be provided will be made at a public examination, scheduled for May 2019. If successful, the EoI could secure around £250million forward funding for vital infrastructure (such as improved M4 junction, dual carriageway on the A33, a possible new railway station in the settlement) as well as funding for the technical investigations and planning required for such a large scale development. It would also include wider government support for the project such as brokerage with key organisations that the partners would need to work with should a decision be taken to explored a garden settlement further and ‘special planning powers’ to resist inappropriate development elsewhere.
However, the possibility of a Grazeley Garden Settlement (which could provide more than 15,000 homes in total – about 10,000 in Wokingham Borough) is only one of the options for providing the homes and infrastructure necessary in the area that is being considered. Other options include:
- A small number of large developments (similar to the current Strategic Development Locations currently being built in Wokingham Borough) in places such as the Twyford area, the Arborfield/ Shinfield border or the Wokingham town / Hurst border, or;
- A more diffused approach with a large number of small developments, infilling existing housing areas across the Wokingham Borough, affecting almost all towns and villages and effectively removing any gaps between some villages and towns.
Leader of Wokingham Borough Council Cllr Keith Baker said: "Between now and May 2019 residents will continue to be extensively consulted on all aspects of the draft Local Plan Update and, where appropriate, amendments will be made to the plan. Similar open and accountable processes are taking place in Reading, West Berkshire and Bracknell.
“It is important that people understand the situation we are in. The choice we are facing is not: lots of homes in a garden settlement or nothing – the choice is: lots of homes in a garden settlement or lots of homes somewhere else including SDL locations. The houses are coming and we must plan for them the best we can in order to protect what is most important in the region and to ensure the homes are accompanied by the right schools, parks and public green spaces, transport links, health centres, sport centres and pitches and other community facilities necessary to maintain our high quality of life.
"There are advantages and disadvantages of seeking to provide all the housing we have to provide in a single location and we need to understand and weigh up those pros and cons. By submitting the garden settlement EoI we are trying to keep all our options open, because without government support and funding, it would be extremely difficult to deliver a successful new development on the scale envisaged in the Grazeley area; particularly if we wished to implement the key infrastructure first.
"The EoI does not commit us or any of our partners to supporting development in the Grazeley area, but if it were successful, it would allow us to explore a potentially attractive option alongside the others.
"We have had to submit an expression of interest for this funding now because the deadlines set by central government and were quite tight. We did not wish to pass up the opportunity and so we submitted an initial expression of interest earlier in the year."