Wokingham chief calls for planning rules to be changed
The head of Wokingham Borough Council has written to Michael Gove expressing concerns about planning and rule changes that could result in housing development in undesirable locations.
Mr. Gove is the Secretary of State for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, which is the government department responsible for keeping his campaign pledge to build 300,000 homes a year.
This week, Wokingham Borough Council chief John Halsall wrote a letter to Mr Gove expressing concerns about the number of homes council is being asked to approve and called for a change in the way housing housing goals are calculated.
Cllr Halsall (Tory, Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe) particularly expressed frustration with “speculative development” where developers are asking to build houses on land that has not been allocated for development with the local council plan.
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His letter reads: “The national planning policy has lost sight of the big picture of the supply of building land and created an industry of speculation and unnecessary challenges.
“Too many decisions are made based on a mathematical position at any one time, rather than considering whether there is a real problem that needs to be solved.
“Leaving aside concerns about the extent of development required at this time, the relentless call for speculative developments is the greatest concern of our residents.
“This involved a substantial commitment of council resources to defend the skirmishes around a few dozen new unplanned homes rather than the vanguard containing over 10,000 new homes managed in our four main development allocations over the course of from our last plan period.
“It makes no sense and requires a leveling of priorities.”
He later argued that instead of spending money on appeals, council money would be better invested in providing affordable housing and infrastructure like major new road projects.
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Elsewhere in the letter, Cllr Halsall argued that residents of the Borough of Wokingham believe that there has been enough home construction in the area.
Cllr Halsall wrote: “Residents overwhelmingly feel that our housing delivery has been sufficient, which it has been, but should slow down and take a break. ”
He also highlighted the broad housing goals that Wokingham Borough Council has been asked to endorse year after year.
In 2019/20, the council was invited to approve plans for 1,555 housing units. The following year, in 2020/21, it was asked to approve plans for 1,129 housing units.
Cllr Halsall pointed out that he had succeeded in reducing the housing target to 786 units per year.
He went on to say that the Borough of Wokingham had already exceeded its housing targets and that high targets could mean more “speculative developments” in areas that were not allocated for development in the local council plan.
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Cllr Halsall wrote: “The level of construction has meant that our pot of sites with an exceptional building permit has of course gone down.
“This means that without recognition of past oversupply, our land supply position is now tight, opening the door to speculative and unplanned development despite already needed delivery of what was required. ”
Finally, he called for the method of calculating the number of new housing to be built in the municipalities to be reformed.
You can read the letter in full here.
Cllr Halsall’s appeals to Mr Gove come as council is currently undertaking a consultation on updating its local plan, which outlines the scope of development in the Borough of Wokingham, which would see 3,968 houses built during the term life of the plan until 2038.
You can respond to the consultation on the Engage Wokingham website.
People have until 5 p.m. on January 24 to respond to the consultation.