Agenda item

Statement from the Leader of Council


The Leader of Council made the following statement:


Good evening and welcome to the first Executive meeting of the municipal year.


We are now in the sixteenth month of Covid, and things are now inexorably returning to normal.


We are also a year away from the horrific murders of James Furlong, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and David Wails in Forbury Gardens Reading.


Please join me in a moment’s silence for them and for those who have died during this dreadful pandemic in Wokingham, the UK, and all around the world, and those who have suffered not just the effect of the virus itself, but the problems which have accompanied it.


As you are aware we have had an increase in Corona cases of the delta variety. We responded with surge testing and surge vaccinations. A truly magnificent effort mounted at very short notice, and all credit to our Officers. As of lunchtime today we have had 3,288 jabs done at Bulmershe, 17,544 PCR tests, including residents, schools and businesses, which have resulted in 46 positive cases who were people without symptoms. These individuals are now isolating. 14,441 doors were knocked on in four wards and 1,000 vulnerable adults supported with testing. 33 families were visited by Children’s Services? and 931 businesses contacted. Case rates peaked at 96.4 on the 7th June and is now down to 74.8 on the 18th June. It is difficult to know what the rates would have been if we not undertaken all this work but the upward trajectory we were on was alarming to say the least; so without doubt it made a significant impact.


Since the last Executive we have had local elections and they were a demonstration of our residents’ faith in this Conservative administration. Our majority has stayed the same, despite the opposition’s confident predictions of no overall control.


We won a larger share of the vote than any other party and our share went up!  So how does the expression go “..aaaah….Conservatives are winning here! “


I am delighted to see that we are now not only the healthiest local authority but also the most prosperous, having for a long time been one of the most desirable places to live. This is despite being the lowest funded with the lowest level of deprivation. A huge testament to this administration but not a moment for complacency. Whilst I am Leader of the Council, the Executive will strive every day to make this Borough the greatest, safest and happiest place to live, work and bring up a family.


This is a wonderful Borough with a great future. We have some of the finest Officers and Directors, well led by the Chief Executive.


We have a huge, ambitious and detailed programme to deliver for our residents and I wish to highlight just one in this preamble, the local plan.


I imagine the flawed but persistent public criticism of our finances was to ensure that on gaining control the opposition could disingenuously claim that magically our finances had been instantaneously fixed. Let me repeat there is nothing to fix!  Our finances are strong, transparent and in rude health as you will see later on this evening.


I am a great believer in democracy which needs to have an administration, an opposition and a free press.


Ideally, the administration must:

·       have a track record of delivering;

·       be solid in a crisis, like the pandemic;

·       be stable;

·       have a great plan for the future;

·       be experienced and professional,


We are blessed in having such an administration.


The opposition does not have to have, nor does it have any of these attributes; they can look both ways at the same time.  We are blessed in having such an opposition.


We are also blessed in having a vibrant press.


Some roles are semi-judicial. Recently Members appear to have taken a political stance rather than a judicial one.  Members of the Planning Committee must decide. This will not please everybody and may not please anybody, but they need to do so. Abstentions on party lines make a mockery of the process much to the distain of the public.


Nationally, both the Liberal Democrats and the Tories committed to building 300,000 homes per year in their 2019 manifestos. It is disingenuous to pretend that this is a new Conservative policy. The Labour Party committed to “regenerate housing” and building one million new homes, which is more or less the same as the other parties.


There is a consensus within the Borough Council that whilst we note Parliament’s apparently settled view the minimum of these new homes should be in Wokingham Borough consistent with our need to provide more affordable housing and social housing.


There is no conflict between the climate emergency agenda and the housing agenda, we must do both.


The administration has recently published it’s housing and its 1-4-5 plus 100 strategies. We also worked very hard last year to successfully dissuade the Government from a housing number which would have been more than 1,600 per annum to a more reasonable number between 600-800. We are still working on whittling down this number.


Being the healthiest and most prosperous local authority, with the lowest deprivation and great schools is a great success; a testament to nineteen years of Conservative administration. However, there is a downside which is that it is a very desirable place to live. I doubt that there is a square inch of the Borough which does not have a developer’s option on it. To counter the threat of unrestrained speculative development, we cannot just say we won’t allow it as this position will be overturned.


We must have a current local plan which conforms to the criteria of the time. We will be presenting one in the Autumn. We will engage in a “community-led approach, putting local residents at the heart of the system where residents are taken notice of and listened to, not taken for granted or even worse simply ignored and certainly not a free for all for landowners and developers.”; I quote.


Opposition to this plan will be support for unrestricted development, which is entirely irresponsible and will be a developer’s charter. Local authorities who have taken a different view (mostly Lib Dems) have found that their planning decisions have been taken out of their local authority hands and placed with the MHCLG and speculative development has been permitted by the planning inspectorate in the absence of a local plan.


Failure to develop a local plan as the opposition suggest will ensure that decisions are not made by local residents and communities but by developers, the planning inspectorate and the MHCLG.


WBC’s opposition Leader will ensure “that homes will be dumped near you”.