£80,000 spent on public consultation over Elms Field

Published: 11 Dec 2013 16:301 comment

CONTROVERSIAL plans to build over parts of Elms Field in Wokingham have cost almost £100,000 in communication fees.

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Wokingham Borough Council revealed it has £99,847 on communication for the project during the last three years.

The staggering spend was revealed at a hot-tempered extraordinary council meeting held on Wednesday (December 4).

About 400 people packed into St. Crispin’s school, London Road, to grill councillors over the plans to build a superstore and housing over parts of the park.

The meeting was triggered by a petition to save the land - spearheaded by the Lib Dems.

However Cllr Anthony Pollock, executive member for finance said £80,000 had been spent on two public consultation exercises.

Yet the overwhelming message from the ruling Conservative party was: ‘if we do not regenerate this town, it will die’.

Cllr Alistair Corrie, executive member for regeneration, said: “We don’t accept that our plans are destroying Elms Field.”

The councillors were booed, heckled and a few chants of ‘shame on you’ were heard, with Mayor Cllr UllaKarin Clark having to restore order on a number of occasions.

Cllr Philip Mirfin, the incoming executive member for regeneration, said: “Our plans greatly improve the open space within the town.”

Councillors debated the petition after answering residents questions - which was extended twice to an hour and a half - but was still not sufficient to hear all 61 people wished to ask.

The £95m regeneration of the town centre - of which Elms Field development costs £32m and Peach Place costs £23m - was criticised by residents, with Jeremy Allison asking: “Will the current council’s legacy be turning Wokingham into Bracknell?”

Ms Christine Artus asked: “What basis does the council believe that having a supermarket on Elms Field will be good for the future of Wokingham?” Some, however, supported the development, with Mr Mark Walton enquiring: “If we don’t proceed what opportunities will be lost?”

A motion was passed which would not stop or delay the process, after the Lib Dems suggested a three month pause, but all were encouraged to take part in the consultation, now extended to Friday January 3 2014.

Wayne Barron, 40, from Gipsy Lane, who set up the facebook group ‘Keep Elms Field Green’, commented on the meeting, saying: “I’m speechless, I can’t believe there’s so many people against the development but they’re still going through with it.”

His wife, Anne, 39, said: “Most people are up for regeneration but not at this cost. I don’t think people got the answers they wanted tonight.”

Cllr Rob Stanton said: “It was a very important meeting, we will go through the minutes and take on board some of these issues. People came here tonight to express their views; it’s a democracy.”

Cllr Corrie added: “We’ve asked people for comments, we wouldn’t ask just to ignore them. Smaller details could be tweaked, I look forward to seeing what changes people want to make.”

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