To receive any statements by the Leader of the Council, Executive Members, and Deputy Executive Members.
In accordance with Procedure Rule 4.2.23 the total time allocated to this item shall not exceed 20 minutes, and no Member shall speak for more than 5 minutes
David Lee, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Strategic Highways and Planning
I just want to mention a few things about planning which seems to be making all the running in the newspapers at the moment. Just to remind everybody that we are a planning authority and we must comply with the law which requires us to assess our future housing need and determine where this housing should go and ensure that we achieve the vital infrastructure. This is called establishing a Local Plan.
We are currently updating our existing Local Plan to take us up to 2036. The first stage in this review is to determine objectively our housing numbers which has been calculated at 856 per annum. A new national method from the Government which will be brought in formally in April potentially shows this needs to be 879. We then have to determine where these houses should go and we request landowners in the Borough to submit their proposed sites for consideration. We received 263 such sites. Our role now is to assess all these sites to arrive at a considered and professionally researched opinion as to the best sites to accommodate these numbers.
If we do not carry out such a robust assessment when our Plan is publicly examined we will lose arguments put forward by aggrieved landowners whose sites have not been approved, nor properly assessed. The research that we do will cover all aspects; are they near transport hubs, doctors’ surgeries, flood areas etc. including the impact on the countryside and Green Belt. We have commissioned Master Planners to help with this review and they will be starting with the three largest sites submitted; Grazeley, Barkham Square and Twyford. In terms of having pre agreed any of these, which we keep hearing we have, please note paragraph 3.23 of the tender document, taking as an example Twyford, if the sites are to be allocated a major part of the evidence base would be to justify why growth here i.e. the Green Belt, and not elsewhere in the Borough instead should take place. No decisions have been taken.
We are assessing sites which have been put forward by landowners in this Borough. In the case of Grazeley, this is a joint submission with Wokingham Council, Reading Council and West Berkshire Council. The logic behind this large application is an attempt to establish, with Government approval, a large site to protect as much as possible of our much valued countryside. Much has been said in the past about leaked documents and secret plans of this Authority. We have no secret plans nor have we identified where some 20,000 houses should go by 2036. What we are doing is to determine the best possible locations which causes the least damage. 20,000 houses will cause damage there is no doubt about that. We could use the approach of simply ignoring the law and leave all the decision making to opportunistic developers and a distant Planning Inspector from Bristol or work together to get the best for all our residents. This should not be a political football. We have to do this, we have to get the best for all our residents. We are Borough representatives here. We are not Parish councillors, we have to look after 168,000 residents. I fully intend to do my best for all residents. In my own Ward we have already suffered an extra 33% more units than required even under the current Plan and congestion in Wokingham town is getting near breaking point.
The only light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that five new bypasses are coming on-stream in the next few years. This was achieved by planning where the current batch of houses should go. Councillor Cowan, who is here tonight, was instrumental in achieving this much needed infrastructure for all our residents. So we have got the five new bypasses, a new secondary school and I think it is seven new primary schools and many country parks; one of which was damaged my question earlier to the Police. We can work together as a team of Town, Parish and Borough councillors and residents’ groups to do the same for this plan, or divide and try and protect our own patches and the developers will have won. By working together and establishing a robust Plan we will have minimised the damage and maximised the infrastructure. So please work together to achieve the best possible outcome for every resident and stop trying to make political gain.
Simon Weeks, Executive Member for Planning and Enforcement
Last Wednesday, Councillor David Lee and I had a meeting in Parliament with the Housing and Planning Minister, Alok Sharma. We drew his attention to the 13,000 new houses which already have planning permission across the Borough, many of which have yet to be built. Wokingham Borough Council’s responsibility is to develop a Local Plan for new homes and ensure that appropriate infrastructure is included prior to granting planning permission. We have already done this. Unfortunately developers are not building these permitted new homes at the rate that is meeting either local demand or government expectations. This situation is attracting speculative developers to submit applications to develop unsuitable and inappropriate applications. Such applications are likely to be refused by Wokingham if they are not compliant with our Local Plan, particularly as we currently have an adequate five year land supply. Developers then challenge our refusals at appeal and Planning Inspectors are sometimes persuaded that Wokingham is not providing sufficient homes, so they allow the appeal. This does not help address the shortfall in new homes at all. It simply adds further to the 13,000 permitted but unbuilt homes. It also contradicts and undermines the NPPF, which emphasises that planning decisions should be made at a local level by elected representatives. We explained that this situation was unsustainable and the Minister agreed to look at the detailed information we provided.
Chris Bowring, Executive Member for Highways and Transport
I am very keen to liaise effectively with Town and Parish Councils, and where possible and appropriate, to devolve powers to them. Two examples of devolution are taking place in Highways and Transport at the present time. At the request of Woodley Town Council we have been carrying out a 12 month experiment in Woodley using car park tariffs which differ from the rest of the Borough. Wokingham Borough Council’s concern in doing this was that the revenue from the car parks might fall because of the changed tariffs. From the data received so far this does not appear to have happened, although we will of course complete the 12 month period of the assessment. Should the Woodley tariffs become permanent I would encourage other towns and parishes to propose their own schemes should they so wish. I believe that Town and Parish councils are ultimately the local experts in many matters and a strong relationship between them and this Council can only be of benefit to both.
Next month too, Civil Parking Enforcement comes into force and again there is an element of devolution here whereby Town and Parish councils can purchase extra enforcement and comment on the suitability of enforcement in their area. Indeed one Parish Councillor asked me recently whether his Parish Council could run its own Civil Parking Enforcement. I’ve asked Officers to consider this idea, one which, at least to me, is an attractive one. Finally, can I remind the Members of the Civil Parking Enforcement presentation which takes place next Monday? I hope many councillors are able to attend.
Norman Jorgensen, Executive Member for Environment, Sports, Environmental Health, Leisure and Libraries
We had another successful Marvellous Festival on the weekend of the 29th and 30th July and despite some wet weather, numbers were roughly the same as last year.
Construction work on the California Greenway is practically complete and officers are now working on a lighting scheme for our section of the route. They are also working on designs for phase 2 of the California Greenway that will deliver the link to Nine Mile Ride equestrian.
Thirdly, the first phase of major improvements work commenced earlier this month at California Country Park in Finchampstead. The first phase will include an improved car park layout providing easier parking, a new canopy to provide an all-weather outdoor covered café seating area, and a new two-way road to give better vehicle access. We plan to keep disruption to a minimum and that the project will aim to be completed around Easter 2018. There will be further improvements planned to the park after that.
Turning to libraries, the number of children joining in the Summer Reading Challenge was 2,426 – this is about the same as last year. During that time we issued 109,457 Children’s books and stock; this was an 8% increase on the books issued last year. 375 new members joined because of the Summer Reading Challenge. Also, we held a number of events over the summer for children and 1,356 children attended 98 separate events. Finally on that the usage of our self-service kiosks continues to be positive, last week it was at 52% across our libraries.
The final topic I would like to raise is related to recycling. You will be aware from having read the agenda for the Executive meeting next week that there is a paper proposing the separate collection of food waste which if approved will significantly increase the amount of material we recycle in this Borough.
Richard Dolinski, Deputy Executive Member for Adults' Services, Health, Wellbeing and Housing
A week ago I was scanning through our local paper and I saw a quote from Councillor Croy who was actually calling for more council houses and I could not agree with him more. I am pleased to say that the number of affordable housing completions during 2016-17 was 212 and the number predicted to complete in 2017-18 is estimated at around 500. That is a make-up of both social housing and shared ownership.
Our other achievements and progress to date. The Council housing stock has successfully achieved a high standard of decency shown by 90% of the stock currently meeting the Decent Homes Standards; as I think one of our residents pointed out earlier on. Furthermore, there are regular stock condition surveys which enable the service to plan and monitor those that do fall out and require work needing to bring them back to standard.
New flatlets used for temporary accommodation at Foxwood site are now being developed and families will be moving in mid-September of this year. This will help towards achieving the goal of self-sufficiency for temporary accommodation.
The Tape Lane project has now been approved and work on decanting residents and temporary contracts has commenced.
The Gorse Ride regeneration project is developing and approval received from the Executive for Cockayne Court and Arnett Avenue bungalows to be demolished and the site to be redeveloped. A Project Manager has been appointed and will be progressing this scheme and we are actually very lucky to have this person, who is very, very highly qualified. 52 Reading Road, progress is continuing at a fast pace. The tender process for service support specifications is now underway and the tenders are due to be evaluated in October 2017.
Last two points. Ecomotive has been commissioned to undertake the follow on from the initial feasibility work carried out by John Broome Associates on potential self-build projects. This will commence in October 2017 and will complete by March 2018. Finally, Wokingham Borough Council in partnership with Housing Solutions, Thames Valley Housing and Bracknell Forest Homes run a successful Strive project with 20 people graduating from the course. Feedback showed that all graduates rated this course as either ‘excellent’ or ‘good.’
Stuart Munro, Executive Member for Business and Economic Development and Regeneration
Bit of good news. The third phase of the superfast broadband project is now underway after contracts were awarded to BT and Gigaclear. This will extend superfast coverage to more than 99.5% of properties in Berkshire by the end of 2019, making it one of the best served counties for superfast broadband across the UK, benefiting residents and businesses alike. In Wokingham coverage will reach 99.53% by the end of the third phase of the project; well up on the 90.4% in 2013 and 91.8% currently.