Today I gave evidence to Mr Patrick Whitehead, the Inspector appointed to report on Wokingham Borough Council’s Managing Development Delivery plan (MDD). It was the closing day of his public enquiry. Mr David Lee, Leader of the Council, also made a statement.
I explained the national and local background to the Council decision to concentrate required new housing on four major sites. I argued that the Council had identified areas for substantial development, in excess of need and of the preferences of many local residents. They had done so on the understanding that if they co-operated with government in assisting new home development, they would be free to protect all the other green gaps, spaces and fields in the Borough from more building. It also offered the best prosepct of maximising developer financial contributions for public facilities.
I reminded the Enquiry that government policy under Labiour had required a large expansion of housing. The Coalition wished to see faster economic growth. They wish building and construction to assist this, after a period of sharp contraction in these trades.They also wish to see more homes built, to tackle a housing shortfall and to help arrest further rises in prices which make homes less affordable for many.
In order to bring about the susbtantial developments proposed there will need to be major additions to infrastructure. Much of this will need to be privately financed. The strategy rests on new building being concentrated in time and place to maximise the Section 106 monies made available by developers for public infrastructure. Were the Planning Inspectorate to allow extra developemnt elsewhere it would dilute the development in the chosen areas, undermine local decision making, and weaken the flow of Section 106 money.
The area will need additional schools and school places, expanded health capacity, and a revamped road system. In particular it needs bridges over the railway lines which cut the Borough in half and causes substantial traffic congestion at level crossings.
I supported the Council in seeking more parking spaces, both close to people’s homes and near town centres. I pointed out that the government does not wish high levels of social or affordable housing to be requirements which delay construction of private sector homes. WEe need to be realistic about how much developers can contribute given the reduced volumes and lower margins since the Credit Crunch. I also proposed that more of the social housing component should be in the form of affordable homes to buy, or shared ownership or self build. Ownership is generally preferred to renting by most people. I also supported the Council’s wish to have sensibly sized properties for families to live in, with minimum standards for space.