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‘The devil is in the detail’: proposals to develop homes on Halls Farm area

Hall Farm
Hall Farm - Picture Geograph

THE COUNCIL is considering two different areas of the borough to develop, after plans for a 15,000 garden town in Grazeley were scrapped.

Wokingham Borough Council is looking at the area south of the M4 corridor between the villages of Shinfield, Arborfield and Sindlesham and an area of land within the existing south Wokingham major development.

It comes as the Ministry of Defence objected to the plans, due to the expansion of the Emergency Planning Zone For AWE Burghfield.

Last week, a High Court judge ruled against a developers consortium challenging the expansion of the emergency planning zone —meaning Grazeley is off the table.

Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement said: “The High Court decision reaffirms our need to look at other locations within the borough to meet our future housing and employment needs.”

Now, the borough council is masterplanning to test the potential for each site.

The new areas will be considered alongside others across the borough, to inform the future direction of the local plan. Consultation on a revised local plan is expected later this year.

The process will include a detailed look at the highways connections, as well as the environmental and flooding impacts. Infrastructure such as schools, community centres, parks and open spaces and sports facilities will also be considered.

The council said it will work with landowners, key stakeholders and the public to explore possibilities in the coming months.

Cllr Smith added: “The masterplanning process will allow us to look at the possibilities for the two sites and we will engage with residents as part of that process.

“We expect to have a revised draft local plan later this year. And of course residents will have the opportunity to tell us what they think.”

The University of Reading has confirmed it is in talks with the borough council over the new Local Plan.

Professor Robert Van de Noort, vice-chancellor of the university said they are in the “very first stages of discussion” for building on land around Hall Farm.

 “Any plans that lead to a change in the use of farming facilities and resources around Hall Farm would only occur alongside significant investment and improvement of academic and agricultural research and teaching capacity and facilities overall,” he said.

“We are only at the very first stages of discussion, but will ensure that students, staff and the wider community are engaged in the process. We are committed to working with and listening to others, particularly our partners and neighbours in Reading and Wokingham.”

He said the University of Reading is one of the world’s leading centres for the study of environment and climate change, and he hopes to reflect this by committing to reducing emissions and move towards a zero-carbon society.

 Cllr Clive Jones, the deputy leader of Wokingham Liberal Democrats, was pleased that the council was pushing ahead with its Local Plan Update.

“It was something we called for at the beginning of the year,” he said.

“We didn’t want it stalled because it could cause problems further down the line as we wouldn’t have a five-year-land supply.”

This, he feared, could lead to developers challenging the council over proposed developments in inappropriate places.

As to the proposal to develop around Hall Farm, instead of Grazeley, he said: “The council clearly needs to look at other sites, and find somewhere to build 4,000 homes relatively quickly.

“The question is are they just targeting the wider Shinfield area?

“I don’t know what is being planned, the university says they are in discussions.

“Although it sounds like a good proposal, the devil is in the detail.”

He also appealed for clarity after council leader Cllr John Halsall made comments earlier this month suggesting Grazeley wasn’t off the table, but now it appeared it was.

“The government says we have to build 785 homes every year in the borough. If we had successfully reduced this to 600, there wouldn’t be a need to find 4,000 homes quickly.”

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