Wokingham Labour welcomes any initiative that could possibly reduce the current level of overdevelopment.
This new consultation, however, is an expensive pre-election gimmick which gives the illusion of action and which will have no impact at all. It will, however, give the Tories something to put on their local election leaflets.
The problems of overdevelopment are only too obvious to those of us who use the local roads, schools and healthcare facilities.
Even our choices for a walk in the local countryside are slowly being reduced to a selection of fenced off floodplains that developers can’t make use of. And these generally require the use of a boat rather than walking boots for a portion of the year.
We are assured that “every mechanism will be engaged to get the maximum return” on this consultation.
Why hasn’t this “return” already been realised?
The Conservative Leader of Wokingham Borough Council says they have been putting their opposition to Government for many years, “but they are not listening”.
This should be surprising on several levels.
The current local plan, which agreed to the level of development you see around you right now, was written by, and voted through by, Wokingham Conservatives.
And consideration must be given to the facts that their party has been in Government for nine years, three out of four of the Borough’s MPs are Conservatives and one of them has been Prime Minister for the last three years.
So, if this isn’t enough influence to change the Government’s mind, why would this “referendum by post” make any difference?
Since planning legislation was overhauled in 2012, governments have created a planning climate overwhelmingly favourable to developers and continually urged them to build more, build bigger and build faster – while allowing them to hoard land and house prices to inflate.
National planning legislation is a developers charter. And that isn’t changing.
The 2017 Conservative manifesto talked of “freeing up land” to make it easier for developers.
This is why the Government has, just this week, congratulated WBC on its plan to build 15,000 houses in Grazeley.
The current planning framework (NPPF), issued just last year, says that the Government wants to: “explore … the potential for planning freedoms and flexibilities … where this would facilitate an increase in the amount of housing that can be delivered”.
This has resulted in several Government consultations around the idea of allowing developers to build major housing schemes, such as converting offices or building extra floors of apartments on existing buildings without even having to apply for planning permission.
This will not only give us no say in whether these developments go ahead, it will also deprive us of essential infrastructure funding that goes along with those developments.
So, this is not a Government that is open to slowing development and increasing your say – it is moving in precisely the opposite direction in pushing for further planning deregulation.
The current system is overwhelmingly biased towards developers, towards building even more and towards removing local people from the decision making process.
The present Government has created a planning system that does things TO communities rather than FOR them.
Our planning system needs to be reformed to remove the bias towards developers and give control back to local communities. Nothing else will deliver the development we need, rather than what developers need.
We certainly don’t need multiple large developments of four and five bedroom homes with virtually no affordable or council housing.
This new consultation will not change that. Like every other WBC consultation since the year dot, we already know the answer and we also know we will be ignored.
The Conservative Leader of WBC also told us that the last three leaders of the council had met with the Prime Minister and had been ignored each time. It will clearly take more than a costly consultation to make our Prime Minister and our Government take us seriously.
If you want to send a message the Government can’t ignore, it’s not about putting a tick in a box, it’s about putting an X in one.
Removing Tory councillors – and especially those Tories with unwanted developments in their wards – will send a message that even Theresa May will find hard to ignore.
Cllr Carl Doran is the Labour member for Bulmershe & Whitegates on Wokingham Borough Council