The Pressures of the Local Plan – Part 3 in a series on the Local Plan by Cllr John Halsall, Leader of Wokingham Borough Conservatives
In part 2, I explained that the Council has a requirement to produce a new Local Plan to decide where new housing, infrastructure and services need to be located over the coming decades. I acknowledged that there are some people who argue that we should just not put together a Plan. This week, I want to set out what would happen if we refused to meet our obligations and produce a new Local Plan.
First of all, it makes it much harder for us to stop planning applications which we think are inappropriate in Wokingham Borough. If we reject an application, and a developer takes it to appeal, we are likely to lose because it will be argued that we don’t have an up-to-date Local Plan. This leaves us at the mercy of housebuilders who aren’t interested in where residents or their elected councillors believe that new homes should go.
But it can be even more serious, as a recent example just to the north of our Borough demonstrates. South Oxfordshire District Council, which borders Wokingham Borough along the Thames, had a change in political control a couple of years’ ago, with a Liberal Democrat and Green Party coalition.
The new Lib Dem-Green administration decided that they were going to scrap the draft Local Plan put together by the Conservatives. The Government, seeing that this would leave South Oxfordshire without a Local Plan, stepped in to stop the Council just halting the work on planning for new development. Indeed, the Housing Secretary was so concerned that the Lib Dems and Greens would spend years putting together a different Plan which wouldn’t be approved by the Planning Inspector, and there were open discussions about whether the Government would take over drafting a Local Plan, or hand it to a responsible local authority such as Oxfordshire County Council.
South Oxfordshire’s refusal to be realistic and sensible meant that it came very close to losing control over planning for new homes. The unwillingness of the Lib Dems and Greens to recognise that there is a need for affordable housing almost robbed their residents of a voice in deciding the future of development.
As it happens, South Oxfordshire backed down, and went ahead with producing a new, deliverable Local Plan. In December of last year, the Council adopted the new Plan, securing their position against developers up to 2035.
I hope this makes it very clear that doing nothing is not an option. Instead, the Conservative administration of your Borough Council which I lead will do the right thing. We will draft a Plan together with our residents that delivers on the needs of our communities. In my next column, I will explain in more detail what we’re hoping to achieve.