There is a thin line between planning and politics, and it has been suggested that underlying tensions between the two are largely responsible for bringing on the housing crisis of recent years, writes Tom Looker, director of the new design team in Pegasus Group’s Bracknell office.
Planning authorities up and down the country all have their own stories to tell – and perhaps none more so than here in Wokingham, where the battle lines are firmly drawn.
Wokingham Borough Council’s recent decision to undertake a ‘special consultation’ asking residents whether they support the Government’s ‘inflicted’ future housing numbers for the Borough, is a political response to a longstanding concern held by the Council.
The leader of the Council issued a statement expressing frustration at the housing numbers and claiming that residents are saying ‘enough is enough’ – a stance supported by the Council.
Time will tell whether it is simply a political gimmick to influence voting at the upcoming local elections, or whether it does have a more fundamental impact on the Borough’s ability to influence the number of houses introduced over the mid to long-term future.
The potential for a moratorium to be applied by the Council on certain forms of housing development has been mooted, which alongside likely delays to the emerging Local Plan process could lead to a ‘planning by appeal’ environment.
Such a scenario would be somewhat ironic as decision making would effectively be left to Central Government, which is precisely what the Council are attempting to resist through the proposed consultation.
The Council has, however, identified a number of sites in the Borough that in the years ahead will accommodate some of the new housing requirements.
The South Wokingham Strategic Development Location (SDL) is one of four SDLs in Wokingham Borough identified in the adopted Core Strategy, providing a major opportunity to deliver an infrastructure-rich and high-quality urban extension to Wokingham town.
Capable of accommodating around 2,500 new dwellings, the objective is not simply to meet housing targets but to plan for the long-term delivery of sustainable urban communities and to avoid the need for piecemeal small-scale housing development, which may harm the character of well-established communities.
Pegasus Group has undertaken the master-planning, landscape design, landscape and visual, and heritage services for Phase 2 of the project, covering approximately 1,700 dwellings, a new primary school, local centre, green infrastructure and Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). A planning application has now been submitted.
As South Wokingham Strategic Development Location has long been allocated for development, there is an acceptance that this site will come forward. Stakeholders are however still very interested in the impacts of the development and ensuring that the necessary on and off-site infrastructure improvements are in place within the town.
Pegasus Group is pleased to be involved in such an exciting, major development and has seen first-hand that there is an appetite for the delivery of new homes – particularly when they come as part of thoughtfully designed and well-planned new communities.
Despite the Council’s recent comments, the need for new homes is as real in Wokingham as it is across the rest of the country. In attempting to appease both the planners and the politicians, Pegasus will ensure that it continues to deliver the very best, most sustainable environments possible.
Pegasus Group has more than 290 skilled and experienced staff operating from 12 offices across the UK. The company’s services span the entire project process from site finding, acquisition and planning through to design and delivery, specialising in planning, design, environment, economics and heritage.