Sunday, 05 April 2020

Villagers concerned about prospect of 160 homes

RESIDENTS of Charvil are concerned about the village being allocated 160 new homes.

Wokingham Borough Council’s draft local plan earmarks land east of Park View Drive North for 85 homes and land west of Park Lane for another 75.

The document, which predicts the borough’s housing needs for the next 16 years, identifies Charvil as a “limited development location”, which means it has most of the key services but not as many as larger settlements.

The council is currently carrying out public consultation on the plan.

Concerns were raised at a meeting of Charvil Parish Council’s planning committee, which was attended by borough council leader John Halsall to answer questions.

Residents said the developments would cause more congestion and the village’s services were insufficient.

Councillor Jane Hartley, who chaired the meeting, said: “We were given to understand that Charvil wouldn’t have any significant developments. The borough councillors have said on more than one occasion they didn’t think they were looking towards Charvil.

“I think that is one of the reasons why there has been some concern locally.

“I think that has fuelled some disappointment — if not anger — when these two sites were nominated.

“I’m not saying that any promises were broken and I don’t think they were trying to mislead, but it has been met with significant disappointment.”

Cllr Hartley said she was not personally against development in the village but wanted reassurance on the suitability of sites.

Residents have suggested the land at Park View Drive North may be unsuitable as parts of it flooded following the recent heavy rain. The land west of Park Lane was already earmarked for development after Hicks Developments, of Woodley, was granted planning permission for 25 homes in 2016.

The borough council refused to grant consent, saying development would “make the countryside appear substantially more urbanised” and “unacceptably erode its rural verdant character” but the company appealed and won.

Cllr Hartley said residents accepted more houses were needed but wanted to ensure there was “healthy growth” in the area. They were concerned about the impact on the road network.

She explained: “The feeling is not a complete blanket no, but whether due consideration has been given to infrastructure.

“It is a difficult balance because it is not a question of never building new houses — it is about whether it is the right thing in the right place.

“Some residents and even parish councillors raised the subject of affordable housing because we want to know what that actually means.

“The car ownership in the parish is one of the highest in the area, which would indicate it is a reasonably affluent place, but I don’t think we need a whole lot more.

“If the traffic increases and the roads become more congested, it will just encourage people to go elsewhere.”

Cllr Hartley said the parish council would draft its own neighbourhood plan — ideally in the next two years — which would complement the borough council’s ambitions.

She said: “We have a really strong community in Charvil. We expect our local plan to feed into what the borough does rather than being completely contrary.

“The idea of the neighbourhood plan is to get a consensus from residents. It is a much more structured way of making it work.”

The borough council has earmarked 15,000 homes for Grazeley, which represents the bulk of the housing need, pending a £252million bid to the Government.

Councillor Halsall, who represents Wargrave on the council, said the draft local plan was designed to prevent development in the green belt and make affordable housing a priority.

He said there was pressure from the Government to deliver houses at the same time the borough council was trying to protect land.

Cllr Halsall said: “We have a borough where there is very little land protected. The only land we have is the green belt in the northern parishes.

“Believe me when I say every single field which is lost is a tragedy. In Wokingham, we have housing estates going up that are shoddy because people are building too fast.

“With our local plan, we want to bring some control back. The original thoughts were to have 6,000 homes in Twyford and the surrounding regions and that has been whittled down to one site in Twyford and two in Charvil.

“I think the sites both have their own merits and problems and that is why we are having a consultation. The two sites were discussed with the parish council, which favoured them at the time.”

He said he had attended many meetings across the borough and felt residents were “really tired” of development but said there was a danger of upsetting the Government by refusing to accept more homes. “We are a local authority, not God or the Government,” he said.

“We are obliged to do what central government tells us to do. We can negotiate with the Government but it is a very one-sided negotiation. If it was something I was able to control, I would go for a lower figure but houses have to go somewhere.

“The majority of criticism about the sites in Charvil is that it will create more congestion on the A4 and it needs more facilities. Charvil does not have many shops as it is and that has been a common problem.”

He said the borough council was working on a new digital system for traffic lights to ease congestion.

He added: “It is a massive project with cutting-edge technology but it is not going to solve the problem because we have a finite number of roads and there is a vast concentration of vehicles here.

“The only way to solve the problem is more investment by central government and that is not happening at the moment. The Government needs to give local residents control over the road network.”

Cllr Halsall referred to the case of South Oxfordshire District Council, which has been prevented by the Government from taking action on its local plan after it threatened to scrap its existing document and produce a new one with fewer homes allocated.

He said: “Their planning process has been arrested and it is a lesson to all of us that if you try to push back too much you find yourself in special measures.

“The key message at the moment is this is just a consultation. Nothing is final and I would urge everyone to take part in the consultation.”

The council’s consultation ends on March 20. To take part, visit bit.ly/37LpGY0

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