Last month, Wokingham Borough Council asked residents to speak out about the government’s proposals to double the number of homes built in the borough each year, by emailing their MP and the Secretary of State for housing. Many of you did and last week saw Theresa May, MP for the northern parts of the borough and James Sunderland, MP for the southeastern parts of the borough speak out against the government’s proposed changes to the planning system.
Leader of the council John Halsall worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the government’s proposals, working with the LibDems and Independents within the council to gain cross-party support, and contacting council leaders and MPs in other areas where the housing numbers are also set to increase dramatically.
John Halsall said, “It was great to have Theresa May leading the charge when the proposals were debated in parliament last week. I like to think that was in large part down to Wokingham residents contacting her to tell her ‘Enough is enough’. We have seen over 10,000 new homes built in the borough in the last 10 year and we just can’t start doubling that every 10 years going forward.
“One of the things Theresa said was really important: she said that Wokingham has worked very hard to deliver its previous housing targets but that we are now being punished with a doubling of our target, whereas other councils who have failed to build their fair share of housing over the past decade are now being rewarded by having their housing targets cut.”
The Commons was debating a motion to think again about the proposed reforms which would not only double the housing target for Wokingham borough, but would also potentially allow developers to build up to 50 homes without providing any affordable housing.
Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement said, “Wokingham Borough is a great place to live – we are consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the country. And developers know that, so they all want to build here. By carefully planning new development we’ve been able to force developers to stump up for the infrastructure necessary for all these new houses, and that includes affordable housing.
“The strategic new developments in Wokingham borough have all included 35% affordable homes – that means that for every 20 new homes built, 7 of them are affordable. That is a real benefit to our residents, as we all know this is an expensive place to live. The government’s planning reforms threaten all of that – they want us to build twice as many new homes, and are making it harder for us to ensure all the necessary infrastructure is paid for by the developer as well as reducing our ability to secure the affordable housing that our residents need.”
Cllr Lindsay Ferris, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrats, said: “This is such an important issue for the borough. I can’t blame people for wanting to move here – Wokingham borough really is a wonderful place to live – but these proposals go too far and would spoil what makes this place so special. These proposals would result in us losing local influence on planning decisions. We stand united to fight against these changes and support the continued action of this council and our MPs.”
The council will continue to lobby government to rethink its proposals, including the changes to the housing numbers and some of the key pieces to the proposed reforms which would cause lasting harm to Wokingham borough. The council will consider its response to the government’s planning reform proposals at an Independent Executive Member Decision on 27 October.