Thursday, 19 July 2018

Campaign against green belt development boosted

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to stop new homes being built on protected land near Wargrave and Charvil have forced Wokingham Borough Council to debate the issue.

A petition opposing some of the development sites put forward for inclusion in the council’s local plan has gathered more than 1,500 signatures, meaning it must now be discussed publicly by councillors.

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

The Campaign to Protect Rural Wokingham was launched earlier this year amid fears of the development of green belt land and the rural spaces between settlements.

Its online petition has gathered more than 1,500 signatures plus another 500 on a paper version. More than 1,000 people have signed a separate petition launched by Ruscombe Voice, another campaign group calling for the council to protect the green belt around the village.

John Halsall, who represents Wargrave, Remenham and Ruscombe on the council and supports the campaign, said he was happy to have secured so many signatures in just weeks and he was now checking their validity.

He said: “If we have the requisite number we will present it to the council and the issue will go on the agenda for a future meeting.”

Cllr Halsall said the campaign had received a boost with a proposed revision of the National Planning Policy Framework, government policy guidelines for planning authorities on applications.

He said: “Under the previous planning framework the case was hopeless. The second framework has gone out for consultation and reinforces the position of the green belt.

“Around 15 per cent of the borough is green belt and in order to build on that you have to first demonstrate that you’ve exhausted all other possibilities. Clearly, if 85 per cent of the borough is not green belt that’s a high hurdle to jump.

“The borough has 283 sites, of which some 10 are in the green belt. That means 273 are not in the green belt, which could amply supply the homes that need to be built.”

The council has also secured a five-year land supply, which it must be able to prove legally, after several developers were granted planning permission when inspectors ruled the council could not prove it had sufficient land.

Cllr Halsall said: “The borough has recalculated its five-year supply and has come up with just short of seven years, so it will no longer be vulnerable to appeals. All this is very hopeful and there’s also a lot of traction to what I’ve been proposing for some time: that the borough should redevelop sites and build upwards rather than constantly going for green fields, which leads to large estates and a huge amount of congestion.

“The borough and national positions have moved a lot and I hope we have done something to influence that.”

The campaign has appointed planning consultants Pegasus and barrister Christopher Katkowski QC to advise and represent it if the issue goes to a public inquiry.

Cllr Halsall says the whole campaign could cost as much as £150,000 and it has received money from Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe parish councils as well as donations from the public.

The borough council is expected to release its consultation on the preferred sites later this year ahead of a draft of the local plan, which will be consulted on next year.

For more information about the campaign, visit www.cprwok.co.uk

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