Friday, 30 October 2020

Minister agrees to visit after council leader’s criticism

THE Housing Secretary has agreed to visit Wokingham to discuss concerns about changes to national planning policy.

Robert Jenrick accepted an invitation from John Halsall, leader of the borough council, at a virtual meeting.

It came after Councillor Halsall criticised a government White Paper which he claims means the borough would have to accept more than 1,600 homes each year, double the current amount.

Cllr Halsall said: “I am delighted that, finally, I seem to have broken through and had a long, productive conversation with Mr Jenrick. However, that’s only the end of the beginning and it is important that, now he is aware of the issue, he becomes aware of the strength of the feeling in the borough.

“Mr Jenrick listened to my concerns, which is very important because I have been finding it hard.”

Councillor Halsall, who represents Wargrave, Remenham and Ruscombe ward, has said it is unfair that the borough would have to accept so much development.

He said: “Adding a new town the size of Woodley and Earley combined into the borough every 15 years is just incomprehensible.

“We have put up with government-imposed housing targets for too long. I have gone to Westminster, as have previous council leaders, to ask for a fairer allocation on housing and got nothing back.

“Last year, we asked our residents if they thought the then Government-imposed housing target of 800 was too many and had an overwhelming response. We thought that would strengthen our hand but now the Government is proposing to double that. We need our residents to step up and tell the Government that they need to rethink this.

“We have created a petition to sign and are asking everyone to write to their MPs and to the Secretary of State. We all need to make our voices heard.” Since 2006, nearly 10,000 new homes have been built in Wokingham borough, an average of 700 each year. 

In 2017, the Government committed to build 300,000 new homes every year and now ministers have devised a new formula after falling short of the target. The White Paper is designed to ensure this figure is achieved.

Cllr Halsall said: “We agree with the objective to provide everyone with a home but the obligations in the White Paper are entirely on local authorities and the benefits are entirely with developers. Three-quarters of all local authorities will be expected to build substantially more new homes than currently.”

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