The Wokingham Paper

Call for answers over Lower Earley’s very own Area 51


CALLING it Area DD makes it sound a little like Area 51 in America’s Nevada desert: a strange twilight zone that is rumoured to be a hotbed of alien activity.

Lower Earley residents who live next to the strip of scrubland say that they are in the dark about any kind of activity, extraterrestrial or otherwise, and add that the truth is out there, if only a public consultation would go ahead – but The Wokingham Paper can reveal that it has been cancelled.

Newly-elected Liberal Democrat councillors say they are now pushing for answers from Wokingham Borough Council.

When Lower Earley was built, Area DD – known in more friendly terms as Chalfont Copse – was mooted to eventually be built on. But over the past 35 years, it has been left alone and become a wildlife haven.

The land, part of Chalfont Park, backs on to the McDonald’s restaurant below and some residents feel that it should be left as nature intended.

Peter Wright, who lives close to the copse, said it is “a substantial haven for local wildlife”.

He added: “The trees and wild foliage provide a biodiversity to support our green environment”.

And Lorraine Hall, who also lives nearby, said: “To use a vital, public, natural green space for housing seems short sighted in light of the current national concerns relating to global warming.

“Area DD is a necessary green lung for wildlife and an important area for trees to play their part in combating the pollution in a built-up area of Lower Earley.”

Ms Hall added that she felt that any building on this land would have an impact on local infrastructure, which she feels is already struggling to cope with local demand.

The land is owned by Wokingham Borough Council, and it is understood that its wholly-owned company Wokingham Housing Limited would be the developers.

The Liberal Democrats said that the council had promised a public consultation last November and a public meeting on Thursday, July 4, but nothing had been confirmed.

Hillside Liberal Democrat councillor Caroline Smith said in a statement: “The Liberal Democrats have campaigned against development here for 35 years.

“For the last 18 months we have been demanding that Wokingham Borough Council conduct a proper consultation with all local residents; not just a few who live close to the woods.”

This area has been zoned for mixed development since the LE development brief in the 70s, it hasn’t been developed because of the difficulty of the site

Conservative councillor for Hillside, Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, said that the first proposal to develop the land was made in 2001, when the Liberal Democrats were in control of the borough council.

She added: “My position is I will support the residents in whatever they want. Personally I do not support development of this area and would like it to remain an informal green area for wildlife, we have little enough green left.

“It could do with a tidy up to remove litter though.”

And Cllr Jorgensen felt that her opposition were being disingenuous.

“They have consistently and intentionally tried to confuse and frighten residents by saying Tories plan to concrete over Chalfont Park,” she said.

“I have spent the last couple of weeks focussing on this question and talking to many of my local residents about their views, this has confirmed that the LD literature has succeeded in misleading them about where area DD is. I have also however received overwhelming support from these residents who have talked to me and also some who emailed me supporting my position that we don’t want DD developed.

“I have been working in the background with the Executive member to progress the argument that it should remain green space.”

Wokingham Borough Council executive member for finance and housing Cllr John Kaiser said: “We are cancelling the consultation on developing Area DD for potential development as it is no longer aligned with our current priorities and the new Executive’s emerging housing strategy.

“The council is also beefing up its commitment to combating climate change and improving air quality across the borough. Lower Earley is primarily urban in nature, and Area DD does at present act as a green lung for the surrounding area along with Chalfont Park. Therefore under our increased emphasis around climate change actions we plan to keep it that way.

“It is obvious from the communications I have seen and discussion on social media that this area is valued by residents and as such this has helped inform our decision.

“The council policy is to continue to look to deliver affordable housing for residents and as such we will continue to explore all possibilities as they present themselves. However, Area DD is not an easy site to develop and in line with my previous comment we have decided to remove it from our allocated site programme.”

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Gary cowan

Area DD. What a cop out. Cllr Jorgensen got it right when she said she would support whatever they want. By cancelling the consultation we will never know what residents want. Although combatting climate change and air quality are laudable which I support what about the rest of the Borough especially the green fields don’t they need the same protection. It’s a balancing act but this decision smells like a political decision by scared politicians. A residents consultation would have the correct Democratic option but residents sadly have lost that option.

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