Wokingham Times, 17 April

I was pleased the Borough Council withdrew the original plans for Wokingham Town Centre and Elms Field. They consulted widely, and there were worries expressed about the amount of development and the extent of change planned for Elms Field in particular. They need to alter them in the light of public views, which is what they are now doing.

There is plenty of support for Town Centre redevelopment, and agreement to building on brownfield sites, which includes the site next to Elms field created by knocking down the old offices. The Lib Dems who have been critics of the Council scheme themselves want to see new investment in the Town Centre, accept building on land that has been developed before, and want to make profit on property improvements for the taxpayer, just as the Conservative group wish to do. There is perhaps more common ground than the parties admit in the run up to a Council election.

The Lib Dems want to commit to an investment of £30 million , where the Conservative have proposed a substantially higher sum. They fear too much Council debt. I think the answer to this disagreement will come from the private sector, who will decide how much property they want to buy or rent and how large a redevelopment they will help finance. There is no need to build up large debts as the Lib Dems fear. The Lib Dems seem to want to limit the scale of the investment to keep more public sector control , whereas the Conservatives are happier to welcome in more private sector money and accept the Council cannot own all of it.

Any development of the differing sites in Wokingham will be phased. The Council can complete one area, sell all or part to private sector investors on long leases or freehold and then move on to the redevelopment of the next part. One of the big possible investments is in a food store to the east of Elms Field. This should only go ahead if a large food chain wishes to sign a contract to use it. If it does the finance can easily be raised from the private sector. If it does not want to, there is no point in building a large food store. We should know soon whether this is wanted.

Both parties agree with some extra housing adjacent to Elms Field, though the numbers, design and scale are still under discussion.

I think we will end up with a better plan thanks to public responses to the consultation, and through the usual process of local political disagreements over the details. It is important that the final plan is ambitious enough to provide an expanding Wokingham with the shops and other central facilities we are going to need for the future.