I have been consulting over whether local residents think building more homes at Grazeley is a good or bad idea. Both Wokingham Borough and West Berkshire Councils are attracted to the idea, but it has not been agreed as policy. I am writing a reminder today, as Wokingham Borough Council are making progress with their thinking and getting closer to making a decision.
They have consulted me. I explained that I have not yet completed my soundings with residents. I have also raised three main issues that need to be resolved before agreeing to any such a scheme.
The first is some on the Council think if they opt for a large settlement at Grazeley they will able to prevent developments elsewhere. Latest thinking from the Planning Inspectorate implies this might not be the case. If a Council opts for one major settlement and the build rate is too low in the view of the Planning Inspectors against the assumed need for homes, then they will grant planning permissions elsewhere as well. Whilst concentration of settlement may have the advantage of sparing other places and allowing substantial developer contributions for infrastructure at that place, it may also fall short of the building targets and require even more infrastructure than the developer contribution pays for.
The second issue is the provision of infrastructure. Junction 11 on the M4 is already very crowded even after the recent expansion of capacity, and capacity into Reading from the south fully used at peaks. A major settlement at Grazeley will need additional capacity for school places and GP services. Will any such scheme at Grazeley ensure the provision of sufficient additional capacity in transport and public services, and will this be put in before the homes are built?
The third issue is flood prevention. The low lying lands around the M4 absorb rainfall and run off water. Will action be taken to provide proper capacity to handle surface water and the foul water generated by many new homes?
I have suggested to the Council that they need to start by reviewing the demand side of the equation. The UK has needed many new homes in recent years because it has experienced very rapid inwards migration. 330,000 extra people a year coming here to live means the construction of a large city every year to keep pace. The government has said it intends to reduce this by two thirds or more. This needs to be factored in to any calculations about housing demand after 2020.