Huge amounts of money and projects in Wokingham and the surrounding area have been given the go ahead at a crucial meeting.

At a full council meeting yesterday (Thursday, February 17), Wokingham Borough councillors were asked to approve hundreds of millions of pounds of spending and cost policies for residents.

This included the council’s £265 million three year capital strategy, £428 million in borrowing for 2022/23 in its treasury management strategy and confirming that the council has enough funding for its medium term financial plan.

Conservative councillors sang the praises of the measures, whereas opposition members questioned elements of it.

Councillor John Halsall, the leader of the council (Conservative, Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe) said: “the tragedy in life is not in failure but in complacency.

“I have sought to reinvigorate everything we do, and we have.. Notwithstanding the pressures of covid, we are financially stable.

“This didn’t happen by accident, but by the achievement of officers and members throughout the 20 years of Conservative administration.”

READ MORE: Wokingham Borough to agree council tax policy and reductions for residents

Later in the meeting, councillor Parry Batth hailed investments past, present and future in leisure facilities, including the completed £14.5 million project to upgrade Bulmershe Leisure Centre in Woodley, the £2.4 million of investment in Dinton Pastures, including its new activity centre, and the ongoing £23 million Carnival Hub project in Wokingham.

But serious questions were raised by the opposition over the sums for some of the council’s projects.

Councillor Sarah Kerr (Liberal Democrats, Evendons) queried how funding for the council’s solar farm in Barkham will be managed.

She questioned the discrepancy between the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan last year set out £18 million of funding for solar farms split over three years, and the £20 million of funding it reserved for Barkham solar farm alone in September last year.

Cllr Kerr said:  “How on Earth is a member of the public supposed to understand what this council is doing with its finances?”

READ MORE: Barkham solar farm given ultimate approval by council in contentious vote

Fellow Liberal Democrat Prue Bray, representative for Winnersh, expressed concern about the cost implications of the delay to the opening of the Oak  Tree Academy in Winnersh, a 150 place special educational needs (SEND) school.

The school was meant to open this September, but the project has been delayed due to contractors demanding an extra £500,000 to build the school.

Councillors debated the budget policies for one and a half hours.

The councillors were asked to approve the council’s budget policies in the following four areas:

  1. The Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Budget for 2022/23.
  2. The Capital Programme and Strategy 2022/23.
  3. The Treasury Management Strategy 2022-25
  4. The Medium Term Financial Plan 2022-25, including the Revenue Budget Submission 2022/23

Ultimately, all four budget proposals were approved.

Important changes in the HRA include an increase of 4.10 per cent on council house rents, garage rents to be increased by 3.8 per cent, and Shared Equity Rents to go up by 4.86 per cent, all to be enacted in April this year.

However, charges of £9.50 per night per room in sheltered rooms for vulnerable people remains unchanged.