Wokingham Today

Town centre road ready to re-open

Councils thank retailers and residents for patience


A BIG thank you is being offered to longsuffer­ing traders, retailers and residents as the first phase of Market Place prepares to open next week.

Wokingham’s Town and Borough Councils have issued a statement offering their gratitude as final preparatio­ns are being made to unveil the new york stonepaved road that will connect Peach Street with Broad Street.

They admit that the Market Improvemen­t Project – part of an ambitious regenerati­on of the town centre – has not all been plain sailing. This has been due to the complicati­ons discovered undergroun­d, with pipes and fittings that the preliminar­y surveys and trial holes didn’t pick up.

This caused a delay to the reopening of Broad Street.

However, the utilities and subsurface work is coming to a close, and the finishing touches are starting to be installed, bringing the new Market Place to life.

Broad Street is due to reopen on Friday, March 23 – Denmark Street will be closed at the same time.

As a result, the councils said that they wanted to thank all those who have been affected by, working with or otherwise helping with the projects.

Cllr Peter Lucey, town mayor and chairman of the Market Working Party, said: “The Councils both recognise that it has been difficult for the many town centre businesses, retailers and traders, and for residents traversing and shopping during the improvemen­t works.

“We’d like to say a huge thankyou to everyone for their patience, and for their feedback, which we use wherever possible to improve the experience around the site and in communicat­ion.”

He added that one of the proposals behind the new Market Place was to ensure that there would be accessible street furniture, suitably situated disabled parking bays and user friendly pedestrian crossing points – both controlled and courtesy as part of the new continenta­l style Market Place that will surround all of the town centre.

And Cllr Lucey’s views were echoed by Cllr Philip Mirfin, deputy executive member for business and economic developmen­t.

He said: “The most important thank you goes to the town’s retailers, traders and residents who are being patient while this improvemen­t takes place.

“We are also grateful to the many organisati­ons who have worked with us and supported us with this programme to date.”

There was also appreciati­on for Wokingham Fire station, who stepped into the breach by offering up the old fire station premises as headquarte­rs for builders Balfour Beatty.

And market traders and The Gig House have also been thanks for their patience and reduced footfall with the works.

THE TOWN hall was packed on Tuesday evening as residents queued up to air their frustratio­n over the amount of housing being forced on the borough.

They were present as part of Wokingham Town Council’s planning committee meeting, which considered a motion against speculativ­e planning applicatio­ns and a clarion call to the Prime Minister to rethink her strategy.

In recent weeks, the borough council has lost planning appeals in Finchampst­ead Road and Swallowfie­ld as developers have sought to built developmen­ts on land that hasn’t set aside for housing locations.

While the borough council believes that has approved enough homes to exceed Government targets (known as a five-year land supply) the planning inspectora­te disagrees.

And recently, the housing minister Sajid Javid said that councils who don’t built enough homes every year could have their planning powers taken away from them. The Government wants to build 300,000 new homes a year across the UK.

A new housing white paper shared some of the Government’s strategy for this: including change of use from offices, agricultur­e and retail buildings as well as building upwards so new builds can be taller.

Brownfield land in the green belt could also be used to create affordable housing

The Town Council’s planning committee, chaired by Cllr Kevin Morgan, considered a motion proposed by the committee’s chair, Cllr Andrew Waters that sought to make its position over speculativ­e developmen­t clear.

It says: “The Government has allowed this democratic and open structure to be undermined by an appeals process to an unelected planning inspectora­te with a clear mandate to allow uncontroll­ed housing developmen­t regardless of the cost to the community on which it is imposed.

“In the past few days, we have heard vague promises form the Prime Minister that our concerns will be addressed. However, we believe that any decisive action will come too late for Wokingham.

“The planning committee of this council wish to fully support our borough colleagues to fight speculativ­e planning applicatio­ns with every means at their disposal and to the fullest extent allowed by law.”

The motion also called on the borough’s four MPs, which include the Prime Minister Theresa May, to hold a parliament­ary debate on the issue, to “place planning decisions back in the hands of locally elected Government­s, stop reckless speculatio­n by developers and disband the Planning Inspectora­te”.

More than 40 resident packed the newly redecorate­d main hall to join in the debate, raising their concerns and adding their vocal support.

One said: “We’re all on the same page.”

Cllr Colin George said that it was important that all the different groups complainin­g about housing came together to present a united front to the Government.

“There’s lots of groups making a noise, but they’re not making a noise together,” he said. “It’s what we’ve got to do. If we’ve not got a voice, it’s not going to get out there.”

Cllr Imogen Shepherd DuBey said that the money spent on appeals could be used by the borough to pay for things such as adult social care.

It was agreed that the motion needed to be redrafted to make it more concise, but the principals in the document were agreed.

Cllr Morgan told The Wokingham Paper: “It’s the biggest public turnout we’ve had and it’s good to see engagement from the residents.

“It we could get that are every planning committee, I’d be grateful.

“We’re pleased with the level of support, it was unified and the public agreed this was the right thing to do.”

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