FOR many people, Wokingham’s rural parishes are a picture-postcard piece of England.
Its quaint villages and rolling green fields are home to a close knit community of families and farmers who have lived there for generations.
But a leaked document reveals Wokingham Borough Council has a future vision that would, in the words of one local, “completely devastate” three local areas.
Almost 20,000 new houses could be built in Twyford and Ruscombe, Barkham Square and Grazeley along with a massive infrastructure which would include new roads, schools and railway stations.
Council bosses say they are merely exploring options and no firm decisions have been taken.
But Jane Holmes, one of those campaigning against the plans, has called on the council to rule out building on greenbelt and agricultural land.
“I am very worried,” she told The Wokingham Paper.
“We have been told before there are no plans to build on the green belt or agricultural land, but that is not enough. We need the leader of Wokingham Borough Council and the lead of strategic planning to give a guarantee that there will be no building allowed on these areas.
“Without that assurance, we cannot be certain.”
Documents sent to The Wokingham Paper reveal the council is seeking to appoint consultants to “deliver a strategic framework masterplan for the three sites. It will include integrated transport assessments as well as phasing and infrastructure delivery plans”.
In a statement, Wokingham Borough Council leader Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor said: “We are required by law to accept extra housing and it is our job is to plan for it as best we can.”
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The council said that responses it has received cited the need for early implementation of infrastructure alongside the legally-required housing, and it is taking steps to ensure the early planning required to support this is in place.
But opponents have poured scorn on the council’s statement.
Jane Holmes added: “We are going to fight this and we promise a very strong campaign.
“I don’t want to give away too much at this stage, but we have a very high and prominent level of support. We are determined.”
Cllr John Halsall who represents Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe said huge housing developments were “not the answer”.
“This is the wrong sort of housing. Building massive developments would obliterate a village like Ruscombe,” he stressed.
“We need houses for local people on the average wage who could simply not afford the high rents or prices of these kind of developments.
“At least a third of new housing should be priced around £500 per month and others for sale at a price that people on the average salary can afford to buy.
“Building massive developments would ruin the character of the area. We can solve the problem if we apply different solutions.”
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Cllr Gary Cowan, the independent Borough Councillor for Arborfield at Wokingham Borough Council, also criticised the plans.
“By commissioning master planning work in Grazeley, Twyford and Barkham Square and the significant cost that entails to be paid of course by you the council tax payer says it all,” he claimed.
“Master planners are not there to deter development but to find ways to make it work: Campaign to Protect Rural Wokingham.”
He poured scorn on the borough’s plans, adding: “Say goodbye to the existing open spaces, greenbelt, green fields and farmland and welcome gridlocked roads as the cement mixer concretes over everything.
“Say hello to meaningless public consultation, meaningless meeting with community representatives. We are all just lobby fodder for this outrageous 20-year-old Conservative-run council whose mantra is secrecy and ‘do as we say’, not what residents want.
“Roll on local elections next May and the following May.”
Seven parish council and the seven Ward members of the Northern Parishes have sent a letter to Wokingham Borough Council and to Maidenhead MP Theresa May in which they outline major reasons why the plans should be rejected.
They include fears over flooding, the use of green belt land and a lack of transport and social infrastructure.
The letter states: “The Northern Parishes are therefore united in requesting you to take into account the above serious concerns during the ongoing assessment following the Local Plan Update Call for Sites, and to provide the necessary support to prevent the character of this area from being irretrievably harmed.”
Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor said she understood local concerns adding no decisions had yet been made, but the work on these major sites is necessary because they have issues such as multiple land ownership as well as the need to consider different parcels of land concurrently.
And the council will be submitting an Expression of Interest for a grant of up to £250million from the Government’s £2.3billion Housing Infrastructure Fund. If successful, this funding could help the early delivery of road, rail and other projects that would be needed if major development is to take place in the borough.
Cllr Haitham Taylor added: “Deciding where we can and cannot accept development is a long process and final decisions will not be made until 2019 when the new Local Plan will be adopted.
“There has been speculation about issues such as greenbelt but it is vital at this stage that residents recognise nothing has been decided and there will be a lot more public consultation to come.
“For these larger sites that have been submitted it is necessary to have a closer look at what might be possible before a decision is taken on them – that is why we are commissioning this work and exploring forward funding options which mitigate the impact on our residents.
“We are also seeking the Government funding at this early stage because the message we always get from our residents is that they want good quality infrastructure built early during housing developments. We fully agree with that, which is why we are seeking the multi-million pound infrastructure funding from Central Government now.”
And despite the requirement to build the extra housing, the council added that it was doing what it could to mitigate the impact.
Deputy leader of the council Cllr David Lee said: “We are continuing to lobby the Government for more support against speculative developers who submit inappropriate planning applications in unsustainable locations.
“Those developers force us to defend our position (and incur significant costs) at appeals despite the fact that we are accommodating an unprecedented volume of new homes.
“I want residents to understand that we are fighting to protect them from excessive inappropriately located housing applications on land that is not allocated for homes and that we are calling on Government to back us in this.”
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