Theresa May against 25,000 new homes for borough

Houses being constructed

THE FORMER Prime Minister has expressed concern over the government’s plans to dump more than 1,600 new homes every year on Wokingham borough.

Theresa May, whose Maidenhead constituency includes Sonning, Twyford and Wargrave, has responded to concerns of residents in Hurst, over fears that the village will have to take a possible 5,000 new builds.

The government has said Wokingham borough should build 1,600 new homes a year for around 15 years. That’s more than double the previous figure of around 700. The aim is for 300,000 new homes a year in the UK.

Last week, council leader Cllr John Halsall said: “We’ve had 10,000 new homes in the borough in the last 10 years. Now the government want us to more than double that – they want us to build 25,000 new homes in the next 15 years. That would be like building two new towns the size of Wokingham every 15 years.”

This week, Mrs May aired her fears.

“As a country, we need to build more homes – but they need to be in the right place,” she told Wokingham.Today.

“The Government is committed to levelling up across the country. That should mean not just economic development and infrastructure like roads and railways, but housing too.

“I share the concerns of residents about the proposed new targets for the borough which are too high.

“Indeed, I question the whole new approach to housing numbers which would also have an adverse effect on the rest of the Maidenhead constituency and other areas here in the South East.”

Mrs May said that she had “pressed” housing minister Robert Jenrick on the issue.

“I have been working with Wokingham Borough Council to ensure the Government understands the impact such numbers would have locally,” she added.

“Let’s ensure the homes we need are built in the right places and reflect the Government’s aim of levelling up across the country.”

Her concerns are also shared by Reading East MP Matt Rodda, who said: “The Government’s proposals are a developer’s charter, which will threaten the countryside and could lead to more luxury flats in towns.

“It is almost the opposite of what we actually need, which is making better use of brownfield, affordable homes to buy and rent, family homes and protection for our countryside and historic buildings.”

And last week, members of the Hurst Village Society told residents how they could be fighting a huge battle to stop possibly 5,000 new homes being built on its green fields.

Banners have been erected, urging residents to Save Our Village by joining the fight. Hundreds of leaflets have been delivered to homes.

Hurst villagers fear thousands of the new homes could end up in their rural parish which acts as a large green lung of fields in the middle of the borough.

They’ve been pouring emails onto their MP Theresa May, complaining about the new proposed 1,630 target figure, ahead of the deadline for responses, which is October 1.

On Wednesday, September 23, Hurst Village Society held a virtual, online meeting for residents to update them on the campaign.

Society chair Wayne Smith, who is also Wokingham borough’s Hurst councillor, told them: “Hurst people have been lobbying and writing to Theresa May. There have been a lot of contacts from the village.”

He urged everyone who hadn’t already written to Mrs May about the proposed 1,630 new homes a year to do so by Thursday, October 1.

Speaking as chair and not as parish councillor, Mr Smith said Hurst, Wokingham borough’s largest parish covering two-and-a-half square miles, was particularly at risk.

Wokingham, Shinfield, Arborfield and Barkham had already taken quite a lot of housing. Wargrave, Ruscombe and Remenham were mostly protected because much of their land is designated as green belt. Hurst was left vulnerable.

In the village society’s letter to Mrs May, Mr Smith and society president Annette Drake said that the large Grazeley Garden Village building scheme was now unlikely to happen.

There was no doubt that one of the areas Wokingham Borough Council would seriously consider to help make up for that loss was Hurst. This could be for a minimum of 250 homes, but to fulfil the government’s demands for homes about 5,000 was more likely.

They challenged the method used to work out the 1,630 figure, saying that if the method was approved “Hurst will be vulnerable to losing a substantial area of countryside to housing.”

This would harm Hurst parish and also residents of Woodley, Wokingham and Bracknell who saw Hurst as a “green gap between settlements and somewhere to visit and enjoy the views and countryside.”

If the area was lost to development “Hurst will end up as yet another vast housing estate merging with the neighbouring urban towns,” they added.

They said Wokingham had dutifully built 10,000 homes in the last 15 years, but that was at a great cost to the community.

Roads were choked with traffic, doctors’ surgeries couldn’t cope with appointments unless they were three or four weeks in advance and stations had insufficient parking.

“The health and social well-being of the community you represent is already suffering and will suffer further should this unreasonable increase in new housing take place,” they told Mrs May.

They asked her to challenge Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick over how the target figure was worked out, so the calculating method was changed or dismissed.

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