Should we be alarmed at the number of new homes being built in Wokingham?
There is a recognised nation-wide demand for more houses, particularly in the South East.
Wokingham Borough Council has been charged with building 850 houses a year for the foreseeable future. For context, approximately 600 houses per annum were built between 2012 and 2017, so it is an increase, but not of vast proportions.
The debate is not whether it’s going to happen (it is), but whether we should be embracing the change.
Concerns around traffic congestion, erosion of the green belt and inadequate infrastructure have been well chronicled and absolutely need to be addressed, and looking at the investment in roads and on the M4, this seems to be happening.
Can Wokingham sustain a significantly increased population, and is there a case for arguing that its future growth is potentially beneficial?
American colleagues flying out of Heathrow frequently comment on all the green space they see as they fly away from London, and are mystified when I explain that we Brits recoil in horror at the prospect of more houses being built in our towns in the South East and troubling our green and pleasant land.
Nobody is advocating the construction of a concrete metropolis stretching from the Windsor to the Severn Bridge, but there is lots of space should we choose to develop it.
The population density of Wokingham Borough is a mere 921 people per square kilometre, barely a quarter of the density of Reading.
This compares very favourably with other broadly similar towns, such as for example, leafy prosperous Solihull with 1,200, and perhaps more surprisingly, is significantly lower than Cheltenham where the density is 2,500.
Wokingham Borough Council receives the lowest Central Government funding in the country, and the one thing that we can almost certainly agree on is that there is little or no appetite for significant Council Tax rises.
The construction and subsequent occupation of more houses directly leads to increased revenue to the Council to enable it to invest in areas that they may have struggled to fund in recent years.
A critical mass in terms of population also increases the viability of other privately run facilities, be they specialist shops, alternative sports facilities or even a thriving local newspaper!
Affordable houses are required for our young people- as a society, do we just accept that young people should live with their parents until well into their 30’s or do they simply need to move away?
There may be worries that an influx of new people can negatively impact on the very character of an area, destroying the very appeal that attracted them to come in the first place.
This should be manageable in that the new houses are being built gradually over an extended period of time allowing incremental changes to occur at a sensible pace.
Increased population can develop the area in unexpected ways. An influx of people from other places could result in greater diversity and may even lead to a more interesting and unpredictable political dynamic.
The local constituency is currently a rock solid safe seat, but changes in the population can change the status quo rather more quickly than some may expect, as we saw in several seats (but not Wokingham) in 2017.
We should have a sense of pride that developers are so keen to invest in the area, as they can see the demand from people that want to come and live here.
It is surely better to live in a place that people want to move to, rather than somewhere they cannot wait to escape from.
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Tony Johnson is away