MP launches fight to pro­tect green space

CAM­PAIGN: ‘Spec­u­la­tive devel­op­ers harm­ing bor­ough’

The Wokingham Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By PHIL CREIGHTON [email protected]­ing­ham­pa­per.co.uk

ONE OF the bor­ough’s four MPs has lent his sup­port to the bor­ough coun­cil’s ef­forts to pro­tect a green space from be­ing de­vel­oped.

If it goes ahead, a field in front of Sand Martins golf club on Fin­champ­stead Road would be turned into 80 homes – and re­move a green gap be­tween Barkham and Fin­champ­stead.

The bor­ough coun­cil’s plan­ning com­mit­tee turned down the plans in April, and last De­cem­ber the coun­cil lost an ap­peal to cre­ate a SANG (Suit­able Al­ter­na­tive Nat­u­ral Greenspace) that the ap­pli­cant, Glad­mans, had pro­posed to be built next to the homes.

Glad­mans is ap­peal­ing against the homes re­fusal, some­thing that Dr Lee says could cost Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil more than £100,000 to de­fend in the courts.

Ear­lier this week, Brack­nell MP Dr Phillip Lee – whose con­stituency in­cludes parts of Fin­champ­stead and Wok­ing­ham With­out – met with Con­ser­va­tive ward coun­cil­lors at the pro­posed site.

The coun­cil­lors – Dan Sargeant and Charles Mar­getts – say that the pro­pos­als would be out of char­ac­ter for the neigh­bour­hood and would be un­sus­tain­able. They also ar­gue that the coun­cil is al­ready meet­ing gov­ern­ment hous­ing tar­gets across the bor­ough and there­fore there is no need to use this site.

Af­ter the meet­ing, Dr Lee said: “I do not nor­mally be­come in­volved in plan­ning mat­ters, as they are rightly the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the lo­cal coun­cil.

“How­ever, in this case, we have a coun­cil that has made a de­ci­sion lo­cally, based on pub­lished poli­cies and with a suf­fi­cient land­bank to meet the gov­ern­ment’s five-year re­quire­ment, be­ing chal­lenged on a spec­u­la­tive ba­sis by a com­pany that boasts it is con­fi­dent it can achieve a plan­ning win for its landown­ers in 90% of cases.

“This is a mat­ter of lo­cal democ­racy and I am pas­sion­ate in my be­lief that lo­cal coun­cils who play by the rules, as does WBC, should not have their de­ci­sions sec­ondguessed by a non-elected gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

When the plan­ning in­spec­torate ruled last De­cem­ber on the SANG ap­pli­ca­tion, it noted that the pro­posal had to be con­sid­ered sep­a­rately to the 80 homes plan: “the ma­te­rial con­sid­er­a­tions of that scheme should be con­sid­ered sep­a­rately” the re­port noted.

It added: “In re­spect of con­cerns re­lat­ing to the ero­sion of the gap be­tween set­tle­ments, the pro­posal would re­tain the site as an open habi­tat, and there­fore I con­sider that it would main­tain the gap be­tween set­tle­ments.”

Res­i­dents have also been cam­paign­ing against pro­posed de­vel­op­ments in the area, with sim­i­lar schemes ap­plied for in Spencers Wood, against the cur­rent lo­cal plan rec­om­men­da­tions.

This is some­thing that Dr Lee would like to see re­solved.

He said: “Un­der the cur­rent ar­range­ments, spec­u­la­tive land pro­mot­ers have a huge ad­van­tage. Coun­cils are in the in­con­gru­ous position that they need to spend con­sid­er­able amounts of lo­cal tax­pay­ers’ money de­fend­ing their de­ci­sions, and that is money that, for the most part can­not be re­cov­ered – win or lose. On the other hand, any costs in­curred by the pro­mot­ers can sim­ply be split and added to price of any houses built at the site.

“That is wrong and needs to be changed. I would like to see a change in the reg­u­la­tions such that all costs – the coun­cil’s and the devel­oper’s – are met in full, what­ever the out­come, by the devel­oper. That, at least will go some way to­wards cre­at­ing a more level play­ing field and en­sur­ing that lo­cal de­ci­sions re­ally are taken lo­cally.”

Cllr Mar­getts de­fended the coun­cil’s ac­tions on hous­ing.

He ac­knowl­edged that houses had to be built but said: “There is a need for more hous­ing in the bor­ough. It is im­por­tant it is pro­vided in ar­eas where there is the ap­pro­pri­ate in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port it.

“Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil is hit­ting the cen­tral gov­ern­ment tar­get for hous­ing de­liv­ery and can show over seven years land sup­ply when the gov­ern­ment re­quires it to show five.

“WBC re­fused this ap­pli­ca­tion on the ba­sis that it would lead to the loss of the last green gap be­tween Fin­champ­stead and Wok­ing­ham, is out of char­ac­ter with the sur­round­ing ar­eas, has no pub­lic trans­port links, is to­tally un­sus­tain­able and that the gov­ern­ment tar­get for hous­ing is be­ing met else­where in the bor­ough and there­fore de­vel­op­ment on this site is not nec­es­sary.

“Lo­cal peo­ple elect lo­cal politi­cians to make de­ci­sions on their be­half. It is not un­demo­cratic that Glad­mans should try to over turn this de­ci­sion by ap­peal­ing to the plan­ning in­spec­torate in Bris­tol when WBC is meet­ing the cen­tral gov­ern­ment tar­get for hous­ing de­liv­ery and there­fore should be able to de­ter­mine this at a lo­cal level.

“It will cost WBC around £100,000 of tax­pay­ers money to de­fend this ap­peal which could be spent on fur­ther pub­lic ser­vices rather than fight­ing of land spec­u­la­tors. I wel­come and am grate­ful for the sup­port of Dr Phillip Lee on this is­sue.”

And Cllr Sargeant, who was elected in May, added: “WBC de­liv­ers the hous­ing re­quired of it by cen­tral gov­ern­ment through the Lo­cal Plan, which en­sures it is done in a sus­tain­able and demo­cratic way. This ap­pli­ca­tion is not sus­tain­able and was rightly re­jected.

“Fight­ing this ap­peal will cost the Coun­cil around £100K and the de­ci­sion will be taken by the Plan­ning In­spec­torate, rather than by ac­count­able lo­cal politi­cians. It is a wholly unreasonable sys­tem that is cost­ing Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough res­i­dents.”

Dr Phillip Lee met with coun­cil­lors Charles Mar­getts (left) and Daniel Sargeant at the site of a pro­posed hous­ing de­vel­op­ment

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