Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Campaign fights threat of green belt development

CAMPAIGNERS are appealing for support to stop new homes being built on protected land.

More than 200 sites are being considered for inclusion in Wokingham Borough Council’s local plan, which will propose where new housing and business and leisure developments should be built over the next 20 years.

These include seven in Wargrave parish and five in Charvil.

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

Now it has launched a petition in the hope of securing a public debate at a council meeting.

More than 1,000 people have already signed a petition launched by another campaign group, Ruscombe Voice, 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, says that 1,500 signatures will be required to secure a debate before the local elections in May. He said: “The council will debate a petition if it has sufficient support and that makes it very public.

“I would like the signatures in two or three weeks — that would get us moving very quickly.”

He said he wanted the green belt issue dealth with quickly and to have Wargrave and Ruscombe taken off the list of preferred sites.

“The arguments we are putting forward give us a good chance of getting it chucked out,” he said.

“The law is on our side and I think if we get support and a good platform at council we will succeed.”

Councillor Halsall said the campaign wasn’t opposed to development but wanted it in the “right” places.

The council is currently taking legal advice on its five-year land supply, which it must be able to prove legally.

Several developers have already been granted planning permission after inspectors ruled the council could not prove it had the supply. Cllr Halsall said: “We are constantly on the back foot and losing appeals. Government policy dictates we must create a local plan.

“If we don’t produce one we’ll lose control completely and any developer can buy a bit of land and build houses as they wish.

“It’s very serious, not a frivolous threat. If we say nothing and do nothing it will happen.

“We want to protect agricultural land and provide the right homes in the right places for the right people.

“It’s not to prevent new development and new homes, we need those. We also need homes which those on median incomes can afford.”

The 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.

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 said:   “We have spent the last few months getting ourselves together.

“We’ve got finance and a website but, most importantly, we’ve got a planning agent and a barrister. We have set up our team and we are motoring.

“Our big battle will be at the inspection in public when we will roll out our barrister and our arguments. We are game to fight this.”

He said the whole campaign could cost as much as £150,000.

It had received money from Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe councils and donations from the public but more was needed.

Cllr Halsall said it was vital to protect the green belt near Wargrave and Charvil.

“The campaign will be won through solid legal planning arguments, not just making noise,” he said.

“We have to build houses and the easiest thing to do is to find big sites away from Wokingham but we are already overcrowded and the infrastructure can’t cope now.

“England is developed less than 10 per cent but Wokingham is 20 per cent and by 2036 this will be close to 30 per cent.

“The effect of this plan on the northern parishes would be to double the population.”

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

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