A Wokingham scout group’s plan for a new headquarters for more than 250 young people has been turned down by Wokingham Borough Council, writes Sue Corcoran.
1st Emmbrook Scout Group says it’s been rejected despite earlier encouragement from the council and overwhelming support from local residents and councillors.
The scout group wants to lease land for the HQ at the new 750 home Matthewsgreen development in Emmbrook. The group would raise their own funds to pay for the building.
There is huge demand for scouting places in Emmbrook. The group already has 160 Beaver, Cub and Scout members. There are 40 youngsters on a waiting list and 30 five years olds wanting to join in 2017.
Group Scout Leader Martin Wilson says the new homes will add an estimated 150 children to the list. Without a new HQ they would have little chance of becoming members. Their current Toutley Road base is “small, very old and has a precarious short term lease,” he said.
Wokingham Borough Council sent the group a letter rejecting their proposal to be leased the plot.
“The proposal in the form of a business case was considered by the Asset Review Programme Board and the rejection came as a big surprise to the scout group,” said Mr Wilson.
“The submission of the business case followed encouragement from the council and the scout group is now considering its response… There was certainly a strong implication from the council in their responses to the developers’ planning application that a site would be found.”
Newly elected Lib Dem Emmbrook Councillor Imogen Shepherd-Dubey said: “I’m completely disgusted about what has happened to the scouts. It’s appalling. They had early promises of a piece of land.
“It’s been suggested the scouts share the new community centre there but this completely misunderstands the time they need it for. Wokingham Borough Council have let them down. They were led to believe they were going to get a piece of land.
“They’re not asking for money, they just need a piece of land to build a bigger facility to support the new homes.
“I will be fighting for them. Youth organisations are being hammered all round Wokingham.”
Emmbrook Conservative councillor Philip Mirfin, who has been heavily involved in Scouting, said he had supported the Scouts’ plans since 2008. He had been very pleased when the council expressed support a few years ago.
“I am determined to get something sorted for the scouts. Their present HQ is bursting at the seams now.
“We will have a lot more children needing these [groups] to get them off the streets.”
He was exploring other sites with the council’s executive members.
“I am frustrated but not giving up,” he added.
Wokingham Borough Council said it had been in discussions with the 1st Emmbrook Scouts but officers decided that the land should remain open for all Matthewsgreen residents.
It added that the land could also flood.
Josie Wragg, Wokingham Borough Council’s assistant director customer and localities, said: “We understand the Scouts’ frustrations and we have tried to work with them – we even provided some help to them with their business case – but we have always been clear that it would be a formal council decision as to whether the land should be handed over and, even if it was, they would need planning consent.
“The sad truth is that the land they have asked for is unsuitable – it is floodplain and it is part of the green space provided for people moving on to Matthewsgreen – both of which would make it near impossible for the Scouts, or anybody else, to build on it.”