Wokingham Today

£750 million plan to build 15,000 homes in Grazeley

- By PHIL CREIGHTON news@wokinghamp­aper.co.uk

FEARS have been raised over council borrowing levels if a £750 million scheme to bring 15,000 homes to Grazeley goes ahead.

Last night, Wokingham Borough Council said that its plans to build a new market town on the village has been approved by the Ministry of Housing, Communitie­s and Local Government and will go on the successful applicatio­ns.

The applicatio­n, in partnershi­p with West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council, is a £300million funding bid for infrastruc­ture to support a potential garden settlement at Grazeley.

The applicatio­n was submitted on the basis of 15,000 homes being built in the village.

In a statement, Wokingham Borough Council said that this is the maximum currently envisaged, and if that number of homes were built there would need to be a £750 million investment in appropriat­e infrastruc­ture.

This could include an improved M4 junction, dual carriagewa­y on the A33, a possible new railway station in the settlement, as well as the schools, community, sporting and health facilities that would be required. The council said that the shortfall between the bid and the total needed would come from the developers, not the taxpayer.

The bid was submitted in parallel (and without prejudice) to the strategic planning process that will decide how the homes, transport, schools, shops, health, sports and community facilities and other infrastruc­ture needed in Wokingham Borough should be provided over the next 20 years.

However, in 1998, John Redwood planted an oak tree in Grazeley’s village green – behind the village hall – as a symbol of the campaign against an earlier scheme which proposed 2,500. Conservati­ves fought the proposal and the tree was a symbolic gesture to say that the area would never be built on.

The plaque next to the tree, which is still in situ, reads: “May the birds which rest in my branches always sing out over the green fields of Berkshire”.

Wokingham Borough Council’s executive member for strategic planning and transport and deputy leader Cllr David Lee said: “The first thing to point out is that, while this is potentiall­y important news, nothing has been decided yet in terms of the housing number we will be obliged to provide up to 2036.

Cllr Lee continued: “We do not have a final figure from the Government (because they are still deciding the method by which this will be set) and we certainly do not yet know where we will allow homes to be built – because we are still working on and consulting over our Local Plan Update.

“The importance of this bid is that, if the Local Plan Update – after all the consultati­on still to be done on it – points to Grazeley as the right location for large-scale housing, we will need massive infrastruc­ture investment to make it work. That is why we have asked for such a large sum; so we would be ready, if necessary, to plan and deliver infrastruc­ture early in any developmen­t.”

However, the scheme has critics.

Cllr Gary Cowan, the independen­t councillor for Arbrorfiel­d, said: “I’m disappoint­ed but not surprised by the secrecy. Grazeley will not stop other developers submitting land for developmen­t all over the Borough in the draft local plan. Inspectors will think the same way.

“In reality nothing has changed except the housing numbers may go up by 15,000. A government minister recently said allocated housing its numbers are minimums and there are no maximums.”

And Cllr Lindsay Ferris, the Liberal Democrat leader on Wokingham Borough Council, condemned the secrecy over the plans.

“If this is what is happening in Grazeley, what will happen to Ruscombe? Other areas need to be worried. Don’t trust them, don’t trust them one little bit.”

And fellow Lib Dem councillor Clive Jones warned: “They will get £300 million in infrastruc­ture, there will be a £450 million shortfall. It will land on the doorstep of council tax payers.

“The council already has £150 million of dangerous debt. Where will they get another £450 million from?”

He also felt that had the scheme not been leaked to the press in 2016, this would be the first that residents of Grazeley would know about the plans.

“It’s clear that Wokingham Borough Council don’t give a fig about John Redwood’s views on Grazeley – or even an acorn.

“He planted that tree in 1998 saying there wouldn’t be any developmen­t in Grazeley.

“In 1998, it was plans for 2,500 homes. Now 20 years on, in 2018, it’s 15,000 homes.”

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