A version of this article first appeared in Wokingham Today on October 1st
Berkshire has a lot to offer. Rolling countryside; the rivers Thames, Kennet and Loddon; attractive towns and villages with interesting historic buildings, yet at the same time is within easy reach of London and many other parts of the country.
I am proud to represent our community and want to protect our local environment, both our countryside and open spaces as well as our attractive local towns and villages.I believe that we need to conserve our environment to protect wildlife and tackle the climate crisis and to stand up for residents to ensure that they have green space and are protected from pollution.
I am, therefore, concerned about the changes to the current planning rules being proposed by the Government which could have a damaging effect on the environment and ultimately would harm the quality of life for local people.
My biggest concern is the proposal to increase the number of houses which would need to be built in Wokingham borough to meet the Government’s new Standard Model.
According to well-respected Planning consultants, Lichfields, under the proposed new “Standard Model”, Wokingham borough would have to find space for an additional 1,635 houses each year.
Reducing the allocation of housing to nothing more than a Government algorithm undermines the very fabric of local control and fails to recognise that while parts of the UK want to protect their greenbelt, others are crying out for their former industrial sites to be redeveloped.
There is plenty of brownfield land available in many parts of the country which could be redeveloped, allowing the Government to meet its national housebuilding target while promoting regeneration in some of the most deprived parts of the UK.
Adding 1,635 houses each year in Wokingham borough would cause significant problems for our community, both in terms of the loss of green land and the knock-on effect of more traffic and therefore greater levels of air pollution and increased pressure on vital services, like schools and doctors’ surgeries.
These are problems residents already experience in areas like Woodley and Earley, where there has been a lot of development.
To add insult to injury, the Government’s long-term plan is to deregulate the planning system, making it easier for developers to build what they like.
Again, no local control, just a series of big developers whose motivation will be not what a community needs but how much profit they can make.
The Government has failed to promote the right mixture of housing.
Too many new builds in Berkshire are executive housing and flats.
There seems to be a limited supply of family housing, particularly affordable homes to buy and rent – and that includes not building enough council houses.
No system is perfect, however the current planning system has helped reduce unsuitable development, protect green spaces and encouraged development in keeping with existing towns and villages.
This is a proud legacy of the Atlee Government’s 1948 Town and Country Planning Act.
In Parliament this week, I opposed the new rules that would allow two-storey extensions to be added to residential buildings without the need for planning permission – this is another idea from the government.
But the plans go further than more houses and fewer protections. It places our greenfields at risk, it gives developers the upper hand and it takes away the voices of local communities.
The Planning for the Future White Paper sets ambitious national targets but it completely fails to recognise that local people should be able to shape their own communities and not simply be at the mercy of a one-size-fits-all approach Government and profit-hungry developers.