Have your say on Wokingham’s local plan

As most of you will be aware, Wokingham Borough Council is putting together an update to its local plan.  A local plan is a strategic approach to new homes and infrastructure.  The council did consult previously on the local plan update (LPU), but the proposed garden village of Grazeley became unviable when AWE Burghfield expanded their emergency planning zone.  As such, new sites have been put forward to be considered for development, as well as sites that are to be classed as local green space. 

If you haven’t already done so, this is your opportunity to put in your views on the proposed development sites, green space sites, and more strategically about the approach to development.  Documentation and how to take part can be found here https://engage.wokingham.gov.uk/en-GB/projects/right-homes-right-places-local-plan.  You can also send in your comments to lpu@wokingham.gov.uk.  The deadline for submission is 24th January. 

I am putting in 2 submissions to the consultation in addition to a submission put in collectively by our Liberal Democrat group.  The first, which I have now submitted, is about the council’s approach to development considering climate change and the environment.  This submission was put together with the assistance of colleagues who have expertise in climate mitigation measures and reads as follows: 

  • The aspiration for new development to be carbon neutral is not bold enough.  We should be striving for carbon negative (climate positive) whereby more emissions are sequestered than produced. 
  • The LPU needs to include a plan for how it is going to sequester (through natural carbon capture) the emissions produced by the plan.  This must include not just the emissions produced by homes and transport (which should be minimal), but also the construction process.  The carbon capture plan should take account of the previous point and aspire to making the LPU carbon negative/climate positive.  
  • The council should commission a bespoke carbon assessment of spatial strategy options for new development to provide the necessary evidence in order to adopt a carbon negative/climate positive local plan. 
  • Flood plains must not be built on.  There also needs to be consideration for future areas of flooding.  As we suffer the effects of climate change which sadly are inevitable, more areas will flood, and the LPU must look far enough forward to understand what areas are likely to flood in the future and not build on those either.  We understand that a climate adaptation review has been commissioned as part of this process, so this is information that council should have access to. 
  • Permeable asphalt is now available, so the LPU should stipulate a ban on all non-permeable surfaces and soakaways should be installed rather than rainwater being channelled into drains. 
  • It is imperative that villages remain viable, and consideration should be given to a ‘Viable Village’ model, whereby local villages/parishes have the opportunity to articulate their priorities to ensure that a bottom-up approach is taken.  This would mean the emphasis is put onto what is needed to ensure the villages remain viable, with the infrastructure and facilities required that mean the majority of what those who live in the area need, can be reached quickly and easily.  This would reduce the need for private car journeys. 
  • The LPU needs to be future proofed for emerging technologies and the many advances that we will see, particularly in the green industry, during the life span of this LPU.  The currently adopted local plan fails in that carbon neutral requirements could not be added in any supplementary planning documents because the local plan did not provide anything to ‘hang it on.’  It is imperative this does not happen again, and provision is put in to mitigate against this. 
  • One of the future proof considerations is that of the emergence of transport as a service (TAAS).  With the introduction of autonomous vehicles, and the decrease in car ownership, new development needs to consider any requirements/infrastructure to support this inevitable change. 
  • No new development of any kind should be connected to the gas network.  The majority of carbon emissions from homes come from gas, yet there are a range of viable alternatives to be considered.  National Grid is in the process of off-loading their gas network which is a good indicator that this is not the future. 
  • Provision should be made in the LPU for the use of district heat networks where appropriate. 
  • A ‘fabric first’ approach to construction is imperative to reduce the demand for heating and cooling of properties.  There is little point in heating a leaky property. 
  • As well as stipulating the high level of insulation development has, sustainable construction materials (such as timber) and methods (such as modular) should be required. 
  • Where possible, homes should be orientated for solar gain, and all homes should have energy generation means installed as standard as well as EV charging points. 
  • All homes should have bicycle storage as standard. 
  • According to the Environment Agency, we are in an area of serious water stress.  This proposed LPU should be contingent on evidence demonstrating that a sustainable water supply can and will be provided.  If not, this should be used as grounds to reduce the housing quota to one that is sustainable.  
  • Domestic water demand must decrease in line with government requirements.  Therefore there must be provision in the plan to include technologies that allow this (such as rainwater/grey water recycling). 
  • If possible, the LPU should stipulate that new development and infrastructure is adopted by the local authority.  Having to pay both council tax and an ever-increasing service charge is a huge financial burden to our residents and to be avoided at all costs. 
  • The emphasis on moving about must follow the transport hierarchy whereby pedestrians and cyclists are prioritised.  Where new roads do need to be built, these must be built wide enough so that the various forms of transportation can be fully segregated to ensure safety.  This must consider newer forms of transport such as e-scooters which will become legal on the public highway in the near future.  Any sections that are for private vehicles should be narrow enough to limit speed. 
  • Any SANGs that are required must be fully accessible by foot and bicycle with safe, segregated facilities and safe, secure facilities to store bicycles in. 
  • Planning policy and development control functions need to address the accelerating loss of biodiversity, by producing a developing nature toolkit for developers and mandating a minimum 20% biodiversity net gain which must include provision for maintenance so that gains are not lost. 

The second submission I am close to finishing, and is focused on specific sites including local green spaces (LGS).  The consultation asks for reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with the proposed allocation for each site and if the commenter would like to, to suggest any changes.  There is only one proposed site allocation to development in Evendons ward: Millars Business Park (5WK030).  However, there are a number of other allocated sites that sit outside of the ward but have an impact on the ward and those that live within it.  The most notable ones are an extension to the South Wokingham Strategic Development Location (5WW030) for 835 dwellings (this is in addition to the 2,500 houses from the current local plan most of which are yet to be built), the current library site (5WK047) for 15 dwellings, Hall Farm strategic location between Winnersh, Arborfield and Shinfield for 4,500 dwellings and Rooks Nest Farm (5BA032-33) for 270 dwellings.  There are a range of other sites that would have an impact as well which I will be commenting on.  Sites can all be found in the consultation document which can be downloaded here, or can be found on the interactive map which can be found here.   

For anyone wishing to make comments on specific sites, some aspects to consider (and include in your comments where applicable) are:

  • Is the location brownfield or is it countryside;
  • Does the proposal maintain settlement separation or will it create urban sprawl;
  • How well connected is it to public transport links;
  • Is there safe walking and cycling infrastructure connecting it up to local facilities;
  • Is the proposed site likely to create an excessive number of private vehicles on the highways network;
  • How close is the site to local facilities such as schools, supermarkets, medical centres etc;
  • How close is the site to local employment;
  • Is the site likely to be impacted by flooding.

This is by no means an exclusive list, but hopefully provides some aspects to consider. 

There has been a vast improvement in the number of local green spaces proposed as part of the LPU.  I will also be submitting comments on each of the sites in and around Evendons ward which include Leslie Sears field, Viking field, Woosehill Meadows, Fox Hill, Waverley park and Elms Field.  There are some sites though that are not listed and as such, I will be submitting requests to make them local green spaces.  These include Chestnut Park, Woodcray, the land between Doles Lane, Blagrove Lane and Barkham Road, and the land in the Buttercups estate that is enveloped by Laurel Close and Evergreen Way. 

In order to be classed as local green space, the sites need to meet the requirements of paragraph 102 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which are:

  • In reasonably close proximity to the community it serves;
  • Demonstrably special to a local community and holds a particular local significance, for example because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value (including as a playing field), tranquillity or richness of its wildlife; and
  • Local in character and is not an extensive tract of land. 

I will be putting in comments that demonstrate these sites meet these requirements. 

For those that haven’t completed the consultation yet, but want to have their voices heard, please remember that you’ve got until 24th January.  Other areas you may wish to consider (which was included in the Lib Dem group response) include allocation of social housing, transport considerations, trees etc.  If you would like to discuss any aspect of this with me, do please get in touch at sarah.kerr@wokingham.gov.uk