Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Residents urged to oppose development in green belt

RESIDENTS of Wargrave are being urged to support a campaign against plans to build thousands of new homes on green belt land.

The Campaign to Protect Local Wokingham has been formed in response to concerns about the borough council’s local plan, which earmarks land for possible development.

It is supported by borough councillors including Wargrave’s John Halsall and Charvil’s Emma Hobbs and by about 2,000 residents.

The campaigners want to protect green belt and agricultural land and the “green space” between settlements.

More than 200 sites, including seven in Wargrave and five in Charvil, are being considered for inclusion in the plan, which will propose where new housing, business and leisure developments should go over the next 20 years.

Three larger developments are proposed in Twyford and Ruscombe, Grazeley and Barkham Square.

More than 1,200 people, including scores from Wargrave, attended two public meetings in Twyford last week to discuss the campaign.

Councillor Halsall said: “We are already overcrowded and the infrastructure can’t cope now, that’s the problem.

“If the borough council accepts the proposal, the size of the Twyford area will double in 20 years and the loss of green belt will affect quality of life.

“It will be a large car park for most of the day, affecting Charvil, Wargrave and Sonning. We can find a lot of space to build homes on brownfield sites, it’s not necessary for every new house to be built on a greenfield site.

“It’s inevitable there will be some development but we can beat some of the objectives.”

Cllr Halsall urged residents to join the campaign and said it also needed donations to pay for materials and legal support.

He also called on people to write to Maidenhead MP Theresa May, the Prime Minister, and sign protest petitions which will be sent to the council.

Cllr Halsall said: “The campaign is non-political with cross-party support and encompasses all the parish councils from the northern parishes.

“If you have skills that you feel can help us, let us know. We are looking for web skills, deliverers, box-rattlers and money but, most of all, we are looking for support.

“We need a massive response to this consultation and to discover from our legal team what is appropriate in planning terms.

“We need money to pay for campaign materials and the best legal representation we can get. When the consultation occurs we need to be able to respond in force and in planning terms.

“By demonstrating strong support we can encourage other councillors to join us. We can win this campaign but it will require real commitment and effort to do so.” Councillor Hobbs said: “As councillors, we fully accept that development, in a small way, has to be done.

“Our main fight is that we need to build houses for the younger generation to be able to live here.

“None of us is against development, what we are against is the amount they want to put in this area.”

At a meeting of Wargrave Parish Council on Monday, Cllr Halsall asked for support for the campaign.

He claimed the borough council was already preparing to approve new housing in Twyford and Ruscombe, Grazeley and Barkham Square despite the proposed sites not having been put out to public consultation yet.

Cllr Halsall said: “The fact the borough is spending serious money to decide how to do this means we have a serious issue. If the principle of green belt being eroded starts in Ruscombe then the next lot will be here.

“My colleagues are spending a lot of time lobbying at Westminster but I’m not sure that’s a good use of time. Personally, I would find it absolutely impossible to vote for such a plan.”

Wargrave parish clerk Stephen Hedges said: “The parish council has always been a strong advocate of protecting the green belt and the green wedge.”

Councillors agreed to hold a working party meeting on planning on Monday when they will decide whether to back the campaign.

In January, the parish council raised concerns about proposed developments in a letter to Mrs May, written jointly with Charvil, Sonning, Remenham, Ruscombe, Twyford and Hurst parish councils.

The councils criticised the number of proposed sites that are in the green belt as well as the impact of development on infrastructure and services such as roads, schools, hospitals and GP surgeries.

The letter said: “Wokingham borough is characterised by a series of villages and market towns surrounded by countryside and because of this it is an attractive place to live in and visit.

“The volume of additional housing suggested would severely impact this character and impose unacceptable pressures on already overstretched facilities.

“While it is accepted that some form of additional housing is required, we consider that the numbers proposed are wholly inconsistent with genuine ‘sustainability’ and would change the character and the maintenance of the borough in its current form.

“The northern parishes are therefore united in requesting you to take into account these serious concerns and to provide the necessary support to prevent the character of this area from being irretrievably harmed.”

The letter also expressed concerns about building on flood plains around the River Thames and River Loddon, saying that government guidelines advised against this.

A public consultation on the local plan is due to be held next year, with a draft document expected before May 2019.

For more information, visit the Campaign to Protect Rural Wokingham page on Facebook.

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