A new petition against a possible 3,500 homes on greenbelt land aims to “head them off at the pass”.
The Campaign to Protect Rural Wokingham (CPRW) has launched the petition to fight the possible scheme for Ruscombe parish and parts of southern Wargrave.
They’re aiming for at least 1,500 signatures, the trigger point which compels Wokingham Borough Council to debate the petition.
They want the petition signed quickly so the debate will be before May’s borough council elections. More than 500 had signed earlier this week.
Campaign leader Councillor John Halsall said a top lawyer had advised “there is no planning merit [in the Ruscombe and Wargrave] scheme at all.”
Residents at meetings at Loddon Hall, Twyford last Saturday and on February 14 were urged to sign the petition. Another meeting was due as we went to press.
Cllr Halsall said a total of about 170 went to the first two recent meetings. He was disappointed with Saturday’s number of about 90. Around 1,000 people went to the September protest meetings.
Wokingham Borough Council is looking at 280 possible building sites in the borough. Three large ones were picked for master planning to see if the sites were suitable for development. The tender for the master planning was for £300,000 to £500,000.
The large schemes are at Ruscombe and Wargrave, 10,000 homes at Grazeley (Wokingham borough part) and 1,000 homes at Barkham Square. The council will select which of the 280 sites it prefers. It expects to ask the public in late summer or the autumn what they think of their choice.
Cllr Halsall told February 14’s meeting that the aim was to make sure Ruscombe and Wargrave were not on the preferred sites list in the first place. But he warned they could be added later.
He said the lawyer had said master planning Ruscombe as a suitable site for such large scale development was derisory.
Cllr Halsall added: “If we fail to cut it off at the pass, the battle will be [at an] inspection in public. Legal arguments are very expensive.”
He said parish councils and individuals had pledged financial help.
The campaign’s petition is headed: Petition to Wokingham Borough Council to protect the Borough’s Green Belt by rejecting changes to its existing Green Belt boundaries and policies.
It says the green belt can by law only be developed in exceptional circumstances. These were not present in Wokingham which had “considerable opportunity” to develop sites not in green belt. The green belt was just 16% of the borough.
It asks how the master planning spending can be justified. And it claims that large scale development at Ruscombe and Wargrave would be judged unsound by a Local Plan inspector because it was green belt. An unsound judgment would delay the Local Plan, meaning more council spending and problems finding building land.
It asks the council to stop work on looking at large scale development at Ruscombe and Wargrave as there was no likelihood of it being included in the Local Plan. This would minimise council time and money spent.
The campaign’s planning agent Andy Meader has written to the council’s growth delivery manager Ian Bellinger requesting that work is stopped on master planning for Ruscombe and Wargrave. This letter was being copied to all borough councillors.
And as we went to press, local MP Theresa May told The Wokingham Paper: “I have previously raised concerns on behalf of my residents regarding planning proposals in the Ruscombe area directly with Wokingham Borough Council and will of course continue to do so.
“At the election, the Government was clear that it is important that we build homes in the right places. National planning policy is clear that councils should only build on the Green Belt in exceptional circumstances.”
The Campaign’s petition is at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/protect-wokingham-borough-s-green-belt
Paper copies will be available.
CPRW details are at their website: cprwok.co.uk/ Donations and other support offers can also be made there.
Their Facebook page has more than 1,100 followers.