You have been responsible for, or heavily involved in the planning of the many thousands of houses that Wokingham is currently in the position of having built in our area. You are now leading the latest local plan where even more houses could be coming, but the infrastructure to support these numbers of houses has not been delivered. When are we going to see plans to ensure our borough has the infrastructure it needs to support its current and new residents?
You have been responsible for, or heavily involved in the planning of the many thousands of houses that Wokingham is currently in the position of having built in our area. You are now leading the latest local plan where even more houses could be coming, but the infrastructure to support these numbers of houses has not been delivered. When are we going to see plans to ensure our Borough has the infrastructure it needs to support its current and new residents?
First of all I was not responsible for the actual numbers. I was involved in where they should go. The plan you are asking to see already exists and has been in the public domain and has been frequently publicised since 2010, it is the Core Strategy (also known as the Local Plan). This plan sets out how we would accommodate the homes, requiring us to build some 13,000 in the years from 2006 to 2026, by carefully planning, providing and securing the money from developers for hundreds of millions of pounds of new and improved infrastructure and facilities.
Some examples of what has been done, such as:
· We have the Bohunt Wokingham Secondary School at Arborfield Green which opened in September 2016.
· Montague Park Primary School at Montague Park in Wokingham also opened in 2016 and, again, this was very early in the Montague Park phase.
· Part-funded the new Wokingham Medical Centre in Wokingham.
· We helped secure early funding for the Shinfield Eastern Relief Road - this was actually built by a contractor on behalf of the University of Reading and had some well-publicised construction delays but the early funding has meant that, despite the problems, it was opened before many of the new homes in the area were occupied.
· The Arborfield Cross Relief Road, which will take traffic away from Arborfield Cross Village, now has full planning permission.
· Sections of the North and South Wokingham Distributor Roads have been built and we have recently signed a contract with Balfour Beatty to build our other sections of these as well as other major highways projects.
· We have given planning consent, as Norman has said earlier, to 183 ha of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace, or as I prefer to call them, country parks.
· We have bought Grays Fruit Farm, again as Norman has mentioned, to become a new sports hub.
· We will be rebuilding Bulmershe Sports Centre and the Carnival Pool and building a new swimming pool at Arborfield Green.
This massive infrastructure investment can be funded because we have been successful in getting financial contributions from developers, about £30,000 per new home at present and because we had a plan in place to deliver the improvements.
You are correct that we are overseeing a new plan – the Local Plan Update. We have been engaging with residents on this in recent years and will continue to do so in order to make sure future housing we are required to accommodate is also so well-served by new infrastructure.
I understand the basis of your question. Unfortunately infrastructure takes a while to build. We wish it could be delivered earlier but the important thing is, it will come. One new secondary school, seven new primary schools, a bridge over the M4, six major new roads, two railway bridges, country parks, new sports facilities at Grays Farm etc.
I just want to talk about housing as you mentioned that the objective is how they assessed housing need has been increasing over the past months and now stands at a figure near 900 a year. This has been due to the release of a significant part of the ability of the Wokingham Borough Council being able to say it had a five year land supply. In a number of cases government inspectors have said that the Council has used out of date information to support the argument put forward and therefore upheld a number of appeals. I now understand the Council carried out more updated assessments on the number of houses actually being started and completed in the Borough. However, should this information not have been updated many months ago and may have been able to give the important figures to the Inspector before they started raising different points? It comes across as someone who has bolted the stable door after the horse has already bolted.
In terms of that, we carry out each year an annual housing assessment. The last assessment was carried out in January 2016 and it is based on figures of household projections which come from the Office of National Statistics. Those figures give us a figure of 856 we had to build each year. Appeal Inspectors increased that to 894. They increased on the basis that if you increase the required housing the price will drop. The problem was that they were not even building at the original figure. The original plan which I referred to, early 2010, was actually very clearly end led which meant because we were building in four large locations, the Inspector who reviewed our plan and agreed with it, a plan at which our local MP spoke in support, and myself as Leader as I was then. The Inspector agreed that we would be delivering more houses towards the end of our plan. That has been shown to have been the case. Because we knew that was happening, I informed the Officers that I wanted an urgent review of the housing numbers carried out and we did that in November. It is normally carried out in April this year. We did it in November and we published that. The basis of that showed we did not have a 4.9 per year figure, we had a 6.78 year. We have had further good news because we have had a further update to the GL report and the report has given us, when we looked at the figures originally we were looking at 900, which you said, it now shows that we need to build on average on a five year basis, 801. Based on 801 we have a seven and a half year land supply. The problem that we have faced in the past is that the developers, and I would refer to them as carpet beggars, who are coming in taking advantage of a loophole in the law, were arguing that 4.9/5.1 was not enough, Appeal Inspectors were backing them, I believe incorrectly, and they were getting that through. They will have a much tougher fight but we will be fighting them. We will fight them all the way through the courts. We will not accept these inappropriate locations being pushed into these unsustainable locations. We are here to represent our residents and that we will continue to do.