Housing numbers for Wokingham

I am pleased to report the government has listened to the arguments I and other MPs put to allow more local decision taking on the crucial issue of how much housing development an area can accept and sustain. They have agreed to drop mandatory top down down targets, leaving local Planning authorities including Wokingham Borough free to make decisions about how much housing to include in a proper effective local plan. The government will issue guidance of how much housing they think is needed, but accept that this may need modifying in the light of local circumstances, local opinion  and environmental issues. They have also proposed ending the five year supply of land requirement where there is an up to date plan in place, and propose ways to encourage the build out of existing permissions instead of seeking more.

Below is the position as set out by the Secretary of State in a recent letter to me

 

THE LEVELLING UP AND REGENERATION BILL: PLANNING AND LOCAL
CONTROL IN ENGLAND
Since returning to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, I have listened
to the powerful representations made by colleagues about the ways the current planning system
is not working and must be improved. I recognise that at the heart of concerns is a principled
desire to make the system work better for our local communities and constituents. I fully agree
and share this goal.
Whatever we do at a national level, politics is always local and there is no area that
demonstrates this more than planning. Through reforms made by Conservative-led
governments since 2010, we have a locally-led planning system – for instance, by scrapping
policies like top-down regional targets that built nothing but resentment – and introducing
neighbourhood planning.
COMMUNITY CONTROL
Too often I hear from communities that they are not getting a proper say in protecting the
landscapes and natural environment they cherish, nor can they build the homes they want, in
the places that are most suitable, with the right access to public services. To address these
concerns, including those raised by members signing amendments NC21 and NC24 relating to
housing targets, 5-year land supply, and the presumption in favour of sustainable development,
I will consult on the following.
First, while I will retain a method for calculating local housing need figures, I will consult on
changes. I recognise that there is no truly ‘objective’ way of calculating how many homes are
needed in an area, but I do believe that the plan-making process for housing has to start with a
number. This number should, however, be an advisory starting point, a guide that is not
mandatory. It will be up to local authorities, working with their communities, to determine
how many homes can actually be built, taking into account what should be protected in each
area – be that our precious Green Belt or national parks, the character or an area, or heritage
assets. It will also be up to them to increase the proportion of affordable housing if they wish.
My changes will instruct the Planning Inspectorate that they should no longer override sensible
local decision making, which is sensitive to and reflects local constraints and concerns. Overall
this amounts to a rebalancing of the relationship between local councils and the Planning
Inspectorate, and will give local communities a greater say in what is built in their
neighbourhood. For example, when assessing a local plan, the following will have to be taken
into account:
• Genuine constraints: local planning authorities will be able to plan for fewer houses if
building is constrained by important factors such as national parks, heritage restrictions,
and areas of high flood risk.
• Green Belt: further clarifying our approach to date in the National Planning Policy
Framework and the Localism Act, we will be clear that local planning authorities are not
expected to review the Green Belt to deliver housing. This is in line with commitments
made by the Prime Minister in the Summer.
• Character: local authorities will not be expected to build developments at densities that
would be wholly out of character with existing areas or which would lead to a significant
change of character, for example, new blocks of high-rise flats which are entirely
inappropriate in a low-rise neighbourhood. While more homes are needed in many existing
urban areas, we must pursue ‘gentle densities’ as championed by the Building Better,

As the Prime Minister committed in the Summer, I will also review how the ‘soundness’ test
for reviewing plans at examination is operated by the Planning Inspectorate. I will ensure that
plans no longer have to be ‘justified’, meaning that there will be a lower bar for assessment,
and authorities will no longer have to provide disproportionate amounts of evidence to argue
their case.
The effect of these changes will be to make absolutely clear that Local Housing Need
should always be a starting point – but no more than that – and importantly, that areas
will not be expected to meet this need where they are subject to genuine constraints.
Inspectors will therefore be required to take a more reasonable approach to authorities that have
come forward with plans that take account of the concerns of the local community, by taking a
more pragmatic approach at examination which fully reflects this updated policy.
LOCAL PLANS
I want to change the system on the rolling five-year land supply. We will end the obligation on
local authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of land for housing where their plans are
up-to-date. Therefore for authorities with a local plan, or where authorities are benefitting from
transitional arrangements, the presumption in favour of sustainable development and the ‘tilted
balance’ will typically not apply in relation to issues affecting land supply. I also want to
consult on dropping the requirement for a 20% buffer to be added for both plan making and
decision making – which otherwise effectively means that local authorities need to identify six
years of supply rather than five. In addition, I want to recognise that some areas have
historically overdelivered on housing – but they are not rewarded for this. My plan will
therefore allow local planning authorities to take this into account when preparing a new local
plan, lowering the number of houses they need to plan for.
Places with existing plans will benefit from the changes above, as they will be free of five-year
land supply obligations provided that plan is up to date.
Communities will therefore have a much more powerful incentive to get involved in drawing
up local plans. Only four-in-ten local authorities have up to date local plans and I am
determined to change this. They can protect the important landscapes they cherish, direct
homes to the places they want, and adopt design codes to secure the houses they want to see.
Once a plan is in place, these changes mean that they will no longer be exposed to speculative
developments on which they have less of a say. To give further assurance to colleagues who
have signed amendment NC27 on community appeals, I will increase community protections
afforded by a neighbourhood plan against developer appeals – increasing those protections
from two years to five years. The power of local and neighbourhood plans will be enhanced by
the Bill; and this will be underpinned further through this commitment. Adopting a plan will
be the best form of community action – and protection.

BUILD OUT
I strongly agree with the intent of amendments NC 28, 29, and 30 that seek to ensure developers
build out the developments for which they already have planning permission. We need to hold
developers to account so that desperately needed new homes are built, and I already have a
significant package of measures in the Bill to do this, including public reporting and declining
new planning applications on a site if developers are failing to build out. I will consult on two
further measures:
i) on allowing local planning authorities to refuse planning applications from developers
who have built slowly in the past; and
ii) on making sure that local authorities who permission land are not punished under the
housing delivery test when it is developers who are not building.

l

Additional Government Support for the Homeless and those at risk of homelessness

I have received the letter below from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The Government recognises the additional pressures people are facing with the cost of living and appreciates that some vulnerable households may find themselves at greater risk of homelessness, requiring additional support.

It has announced an additional £50 million that will be made available to local authorities in England in 2022/23 through a top-up to the Homelessness Prevention Grant. The additional funding will support local authorities to help prevent vulnerable households from becoming homeless.  The extra £50 million will build on the £316 million in funding already available to local authorities through the Homelessness Prevention Grant for 2022/23, bringing total spend through that grant to £366 million.

This winter, Wokingham Council will be receiving an additional £74, 884 and West Berkshire Council will receive an additional £42,344 which will top up the Homelessness Prevention Grant already in place.

 

 

Dear Colleague

Support for homelessness pressures over winter
The Government understands the pressures people are facing with the cost of living and has taken decisive action to support households. This includes the Energy Price Guarantee, to support households with their energy bills over the winter, and a further £37 billion of support for the cost of living this year. At Autumn Statement the Chancellor also unveiled £26 billion of support to protect the most vulnerable households in 2023/24.

We recognise that some vulnerable households may find themselves at risk of homelessness and may need additional support. We want to make sure councils are able to respond effectively to support households and prevent homelessness.

Homelessness Prevention Grant – Winter 2022 financial support

We are therefore announcing an additional £50 million that will be made available to local authorities in England in 2022/23 through a top-up to the Homelessness Prevention Grant. The additional funding will support local authorities to help prevent vulnerable households from becoming homeless. Local authorities will target this funding to those who need it most to manage local homelessness pressures.

The details of individual local authority allocations are attached at Annex A.

This additional £50 million investment builds on the £316 million in funding already available to local authorities through the Homelessness Prevention Grant for 2022/23, bringing total spend through that grant to £366 million. This is part of £2 billion of Government funding to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years.

We remain committed to the manifesto commitments and this additional funding demonstrates our commitment to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

With every good wish,

Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

 

Meeting with Citizens Advice Bureau

I met the Chief of the local CAB today.

He briefed me on a survey they have done about the cost of living issues.

I explained I had done a lot on this. The decisions to uprate benefits and pensions by the full high inflation rate would help people, as did the direct cash support to deal with the immediate problem

I pointed out the Welfare Secretary of State is currently consulting on how more people with no job can be helped to take one of the 1.3 million jobs still available. I offered to bring any proposals they might have to the Minister’s attention.

Meeting with Chancellor of Reading University

The new Chancellor of Reading University invited me in for talks about the future of the University and his plans as Chancellor. I will not presume to summarise his thoughts as he is still consulting on the best approach.

In response to his ideas I made the following points

1. As a past entrepreneur he should play to his strengths. He  could encourage more spin out businesses from Reading research. He could work in partnership with more local companies. Business can bring money, practical challenges and experience to add to University research equipment  and staff insights. He could build on Reading’s strengths in food science, land management and meteorology. The theme of encouraging more film and entertainment businesses to locate  here could be reinforced.

2. He could increase University engagement in the local area with more joint use of facilities, more open lectures, more courses tailored to local skills needed.

3. He could fund raise especially through stronger past alumni groups to build a larger Endowment fund.

 

I also pointed out that as a specialist academy for farming and land management the University should not sell off all its farms for housing development.

My Meeting with the Minister Responsible for Probate

I met Mike Freer, the Minister responsible for Probate, following several constituents’ case of delay in processing applications. The Minister confirmed that the office had been taking many months to determine a range of probate cases, and he was working with officials to shorten delays and improve processes. He agreed we should expect a better service. He promised to review personally a couple of cases that are still outstanding for Wokingham constituents.

My Visit to M2M Pharmaceutical’s New Site Opening at Winnersh Triangle

I was the guest of honour at the opening of the new premises for M2M, an expanding small business undertaking contract scientific research. Now based at Winnersh Triangle, the company specialises in particle analysis for use in the pharmaceutical industry. In my speech I praised them for their work and growth so far and wished the seven employees well in developing new clients and new ideas that will help in the fight against disease.

Natwest Reply Regarding the Closure of the Wokingham Branch

I have received the following reply from NatWest in response to my letter about the closure of the Wokingham branch in February 2023.

They have set out the measures they are initiating to assist customers who prefer not to use online banking.  NatWest has also confirmed that everyday banking services can be transacted at local Post Offices.

 

More money for Wokingham health and social services

The government has allocated an additional £334,658 to Wokingham and £417,415 to West Berkshire Councils to help with the social care costs of people being discharged from hospital. The Berkshire West, Oxford and Buckinghamshire Integrated Care Board will receive £7.7 million to facilitate the timely release of patients from hospital.

This is part of a concerted government drive to free more hospital beds to allow prompter treatment for those on the waiting list. Some patients are having to stay in hospital for longer after their treatment owing to difficulties in providing the social support for them to be discharged safely.

I have been making this case with other MPs to do more to cut waiting lists and waiting times and to ensure safe care for people after their operations.

Lunch Club with Sir Edward Leigh

On Friday Wokingham Conservatives welcomed Sir Edward Leigh MP to lunch. Sir Edward gave a talk on the Autumn Statement and the need for Conservative values in the months ahead. He stressed the need to keep taxes lower, to allow people to keep more of the rewards for their work, their investments and their savings. He urged the Home Secretary to take the measures necessary to stop people trafficking across the Channel.

I gave a vote of thanks and updated members on my work representing Wokingham.