Residents give Arborfield and Barkham Neighbourhood Plan their seal of approval

Residents of Arborfield and Barkham have given their seal of approval to a new neighbourhood plan with a landslide result. 

They took part in a referendum on proposals on Thursday, February 6. 

The number of people who voted yes was 1,164, compared to 72 who voted no. The turnout was 24% and the electorate was 5,173 in total. 

The result was announced by Wokingham Borough Council’s returning officer, Andrew Moulton, shortly after 11.10pm.  

The question they were asked was: ‘Do you want Wokingham Borough Council to use the Neighbourhood Plan for Arborfield & Newland and Barkham parishes to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?’

Their verdict now forms a Neighbourhood Plan that will be in place until 2036 and help feed into the Draft Local Plan Update that Wokingham Borough Council is preparing to demonstrate how it would cope with development in the same time frame. 

For Thursday’s referendum, two polling stations were set up, one in Arborfield Village Hall and the other in Barkham Village Hall. 

Once the polling stations closed at 10pm, the ballot boxed were brought to the council offices in Shute End for verification and counting. 

Laurence Heath, one the plan’s steering group members shared the joy felt by the parish councils over the plan being adopted by residents, saying that it showed the strength of feeling for local assets such as The Coombes.  

“We’re delighted,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work over many, many years. 

“At  times we wondered if we were going to get there, but we did in the end.”

He also praised his fellow steering group members. “We had a fantastic team working on it, and a lot of support from residents. I’m delighted that we actually got to a turnout approaching a quarter of the electorate. 

“More than 1,000 votes in our two fairly small parishes I think gives us a lot of support and a lot of credence to the plan. It demonstrates that local people actually are concerned to keep the identity and character of their local communities.”

Arborfield and Barkham Local Neighbourhood Plan
Members of the steering group of the Arborfield and Barkham Neighbourhood Plan after the result of the referendum was announced Picture: Phil Creighton for The Wokingham Paper

Mr Heath also said that by being put to a vote, the draft neighbourhood plan carries more weight: “It goes one step further,” he explained. 

“It’s also a message to the Local Plan Updates that are being done at the moment. 

“It’s a clear demonstration as to the various issues, not just the headline issues, but the various issues which actually matter to local people. They like the identity of the various villages – there are quite a few villages, it’s not just two.

“They care about their public open spaces. They care about some of the historical assets of the area, and the natural assets such as the Coombes, and this all I think helps give a message to the planners in Shute End here.

“These are things which need to be reflected in the Local Plan Update, and I think, to a great extent, the officers (at Wokingham Borough Council) have taken note of the direction of travel in what they’ve put together in the Draft Local Plan Update.”

The Neighbourhood Plan will help steer decisions made by Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee in years to come, including how to protect the countryside, open spaces such as The Junipers, local assets and flood risk management. 

In the plan, the parish councils have indentified locally valued natural and heritage assets and created development proposals to conserve and enhance them, including The Coombes and adjacent areas, the Rhododendron avenue along Bearwood Road and the Chestnut avenue off Church Lane, Arborfield.

And the plan also wants development in the area to focus on appropriate housing that takes account of existing residents growing older, younger age groups wishing to stay in the area and key workers. 

The Neighbourhood Plan can be read at www.arbarplan.com

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