Local Plan Update, why does it matter to me?
Everyone cares about where they live and how they get to work, schools, shops health services and leisure activities. Many people will object to specific planning applications when they are presented for consultation because of the impact those proposed developments will have on their lives.
Building new houses has many tangible and intangible impacts on existing residents. Some of these impacts are mitigated by placing requirements on developers to fund or provide additional capacity to compensate for the growth in population. For example, the 3,500 new houses already approved for building in the Civil Parish of Shinfield may require up to 700 new primary school places to be available by 2026. This will be achieved by developers funding expansion of existing schools and provision of 2 new primary schools. Another tangible impact is that there are more people moving around and trying to get to work. To mitigate the impact of up to 7000 additional vehicle movements in the rush hours, developers have funded road improvements such as the Shinfield Eastern Relief Rd.
More intangible to the existing residents, and indeed those new residents that have arrived before the whole building programme is complete, is the impact of roadworks, construction vehicle movements, dust and noise and loss of direct access to calm, quiet, relatively empty countryside.
However, objecting to a specific planning application is probably too late to prevent development. To manage the scale and location of development requires early engagement with the planning system.
The planning system
The planning system includes key elements which equip planning officers and planning committees to deal with planning applications.
It has been government policy to build more houses for many years. Planning for development of new housing has been in existence for many years. However, in 2005 it became mandatory for local authorities such as Wokingham Borough Council to plan how to meet housing delivery targets determined by central government which resulted in the Wokingham’s Core Strategy (2009). This document stipulated how the housing target would be met by 2026. The Core Strategy identified areas for development and specific land for development such as the South of M4 (Shinfield, Spencer’s Wood and Three Mile Cross) and Arborfield Strategic Development Locations (SDLs).
The Core Strategy process began in 2007 and identified sites for development; some of which have only just, in 2018, received planning permission and been developed. Other sites will continue to seek planning permission and the overall building programme continues to 2026.
If a planning application for a site already included in the Core Strategy is brought forward it is very unlikely to be rejected. We are 12 years on from when those sites were selected.
In 2011 new legislation required the local authorities such as Wokingham to continue to develop and update the strategic plan based on locally determined housing targets.
The Local Plan Update will identify the scale of housing growth, land for the housing and infrastructure to support the housing growth. The infrastructure includes roads, buses, schools, health centers, parks, shops and places of employment.
The Core Strategy and Local Plan development process includes three stages of public consultation on: 1) the issues facing the borough, 2) the options and preferred solution to deliver growth and 3) the detailed Submission Local Plan to be voted on by the electorate and subject to Examination in Public by a government inspector who tests the plan and resolves outstanding objections by listening to representations from interested parties. Once the plan is approved by the inspectorate, the borough council votes to adopt it’s plan.
Then landowners will present planning applications which should only be rejected where they don’t fit with the Local Plan provided that the Local Plan is delivering it’s housing target year on year.
Which stage are we at now?
We are in the second phase of public engagement which is seeking views on scale of development and location of development. The consultation asks 31 questions to identify how to deliver growth. Of these, 11 cover general development issues, although slanted to supporting a major new community at Grazeley and 20 cover 4 development principles in each of 5 areas of the borough. The call for sites in 2017/18 identified over 250 sites for development in the borough and over 30 in Shinfield Parish alone.
The consultation is designed to place development in Shinfield Parish and specifically at Grazeley. The location is assumed to have access to the M4, a railway station and south Reading employment. However, currently 80% of residents work elsewhere and 80% of local employees are from elsewhere. The proposition does provide convincing evidence that travel needs can either be reduced or met.
The Shinfield proposition assumes that focusing development in Shinfield will reduce development pressures elsewhere although there is no evidence to support this proposition.
The key challenges at the current time are:
- Do we need all this housing? – The National Audit office is already challenging the need for so many houses.
- For any level of housing development can Wokingham implement the right infrastructure at the right time including updating services to existing residents? – This has not been achieved in the past.
- Will the new Local Plan control and restrict development? – There is no evidence other land owners will not wish to develop their sites as well.
- Will we be able to maintain the separate identities of our towns and villages or will we have a continuum of development across the whole borough which subsumes these local identities? – Evidence in Woodley, Erleigh and Lower Earley suggests a loss of separation and identity.
- Will we be able to develop transport infrastructure to make travelling between home and work acceptable? – The evidence is poor when considering that Wokingham have not proposed a North Woodley station on the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) and will not try to raise train services at Winnersh Triangle to 4 per hour or more to allow better access to the businesses and as rail head for Lower Earley, Shinfield and Arborfield.
Essentially the whole direction of travel can only work if residents are (i) willing to undergo a huge change of lifestyle from semi-rural to dense suburban but without all the benefits of access to services that highly urbanized areas have and that (ii) the connectivity of the development areas, both housing and employment, is at least as good as a major urban area such as Reading to make car use less necessary.
Elsewhere on this website you will find our answers to the Local Plan Update questionnaire.
Andrew Grimes MSc, MRICS
Chair of SOS Save our villages.