A 'pressure' to provide new homes in Wokingham and a 'desire' to protect the town's rural character has been discussed by the council's new leader.

Liberal Democrat councillor Stephen Conway told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “There’s a desire I share to preserve the character of our borough, which is small towns and countryside.”

With uncertainty surrounding government-imposed house-building targets, Cllr Conway said the council was “operating at the moment in the dark.” But he added he hopes to remind the government Wokingham has already exceeded the numbers previously demanded.

The government earlier this year said it would scrap plans for national housebuilding targets that had some councils in uproar. But, Cllr Conway said, “there are still centrally-imposed targets. They haven’t gone away.

“I’m hoping to secure the help of the borough’s MPs to lobby the government on what their plans are. We’re hopefully going to get some recognition of over provision in the previous local plans.”

Despite this, Cllr Conway said he also has to meet the challenge of providing sufficient numbers of homes.

“There are clearly lots of young people who would like to have properties of their own,” he said. “We also have a lot of people waiting on the council’s housing register for social rental.

“Half of the houses in Wokingham need to be affordable, and preferably social rental, to meet demand.”

He added: “Because we’re close to London and have pretty good transport links and because there’s been a lot of migration out of London in recent years, there’s a lot of pressure.”

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Cllr Conway’s opponent, Conservative group leader Pauline Jorgensen, said she believes this is why Wokingham Borough Council hasn’t yet published its long term plan for housing development.

The council last published a draft Local Plan — which sets out its vision for construction and development over at least 15 years — in November 2021, when the Conservatives where in charge.

But since the Liberal Democrats took over in May 2022, they haven’t published any changes or updates since.

Cllr Jorgensen said the plan “should have been progressed a lot faster.” She added that the Lib Dems “Stood in the elections promising no development in my area. Then they can’t fulfil all those promises. If they stick to the housing targets they’re going to disappoint somebody.

“My view is we need to get the numbers down. I think it’s really important to protect the countryside and the green gaps between settlements. It’s important to have good quality housing.”

But Cllr Conway said the Local Plan was progressing, with the council taking the time to make sure its amendments are correct following a required consultation on the first draft. If not, he said, the government could reject it and demand changes.

“We didn’t inherit an oven ready plan,” he said. “We inherited a plan that had just gone out to the first stage of consultation. It’s important that we put in the work now to try and get it right.”