Fewer new homes may need to be built in Wokingham Borough if proposed changes to the national planning system go ahead – and residents are urged to have their say while the Government is still consulting.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities wants people’s views on the amendments, which it put forward in December following Wokingham Borough Council’s sustained campaigning for a fairer deal on housing.
The council believes this could significantly help it, and others in a similar position, to significantly reduce the number of homes being imposed and encourages everyone to respond before the deadline of Thursday, 2 March.
The right number for genuinely local need
Like all local planning authorities, the council must calculate future housing need using a standard mathematical formula set by the Government. This currently gives a figure of 781 new homes a year but if the borough sees a higher level, it isn’t allowed to offset this by planning for fewer in future.
Because of accelerated building, Wokingham Borough has taken 1,727 more homes in total than planned for since 2006. The latest Government proposals may let the council take this into account when drawing up its new local plan, reducing the required number of new homes by the same figure.
As it stands, the total requirement over a 15-year period is 11,715 new homes – or 781 a year for 15 years. By accounting for previous over-provision, this could be reduced to about 10,000. The council cautiously welcomes the proposed amendments, though they would have to apply to completions, and not just permissions, to have any benefit.
The proposals also remove the need to add a five per cent "buffer" when annually assessing whether enough homes will realistically be built in the next five years. This currently adds 40 homes a year for five years, so scrapping it effectively removes another 200 homes.
Reason to be hopeful – and now we need your help
Cllr Clive Jones, the leader of Wokingham Borough Council, said: “After many attempts at persuading the Government to adopt a more common sense approach on housing numbers, I'm delighted to see signs that our message may finally have been heard.
“I urge everyone to respond as we're required to have an up-to-date local plan- and our hope is to move forward with one based on a lower housing requirement across the borough.
“This must allow for more affordable homes for our local people, and for the new homes of the future to be suitably adapted to be more energy efficient. We've declared a climate emergency and pledged to do all we can to address it, so we need to start planning now.
“We must protect our important green spaces, ancient woodland and other open spaces for our children, grandchildren and beyond, as well as ensuring that new and existing residents aren't affected by physical and mental health hazards like noise and air pollution.
“Once the Government confirms any changes to national planning policy, we can look at the best way to move forward in line with the new rules, including where and how sites are proposed to be allocated for housing and other uses.”
Lobbying for all kinds of improvements
Cllr Jones has made representations to various Secretaries of State including Michael Gove MP, who currently holds the position, and won support from MPs Sir John Redwood (Wokingham), Theresa May (Maidenhead) and James Sunderland (Bracknell).
In the long-term, the council also wants to see more fundamental changes to the planning system so that need is assessed and planned for on a national and sub-regional scale instead of each council working to a standard formula.
It argues this would respect the unique character and needs of individual areas and help bring more housing to other areas, particularly those outside the South-East, where it is truly needed and communities would benefit from the additional investment.
The council is also committed to getting the most possible benefits from any new housing imposed on the borough and secured £92.3 million in infrastructure contributions from developers in the 2021/22 financial year – a significant increase on the previous year’s figure of £32.6 million.
Please be sure to respond to the Government’s survey before Thursday, 2 March.
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