Wokingham is becoming ‘a town for only the rich’ a councillor has warned – after a new development was approved with no ‘affordable’ housing.

Plans to build a new 60-flat development on Market Place in the town centre were approved by Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee on Wednesday February 14. But some of its members criticised the project for designating none of those flats as ‘affordable.’

Councillor Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey said: “As someone who grew up in affordable housing, I really think it’s a horrible idea that we don’t have any affordable housing in this development.”

She added that allowing such developments could help make Wokingham ‘a town for only the rich, not for the average earners or the poor.’

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Property company Devonshire Metro wants to demolish 19-21 Market Place and build 60 flats, three new shopping units and a public square.

The current building is occupied by branches of the Robert Dyas homeware shop and Lloyds bank.

Architect firm Architecture Initiative says the development would ‘revive’ an ‘under-used’ patch of Wokingham town centre.

But a ‘viability assessment’ submitted by developers said they couldn’t profit from the project if any of the flats were reserved for ‘affordable housing.’

Council planning rules say developments of at least 15 homes in a ‘major development location’ such as Wokingham town should include at least 30 per cent affordable housing.

This could mean those homes would be rented as social housing, rented or sold at 80 per cent of market rates, or sold through schemes such as ‘shared ownership.’

But laws say developers don’t have to do this if they can provide a ‘viability assessment’ showing construction costs mean they wouldn’t make a profit without charging full market rates. This then has to be approved by an independent financial consultant.

The approval of the Market Place development comes after another block of town centre flats – on Latimer Road near the train station – were approved in January, also without affordable housing.

Speaking at the February meeting councillor and committee member Wayne Smith said he agreed with councillor Shepherd-DuBey, but that the council is bound by law.

He said: “I’ve banged on at this committee about affordable housing and got nowhere. I agree with you 100 per cent but the process is the process and unless it’s changed in law we can’t do anything about it.”

Council planning officers recommended that the development be approved, arguing that the ‘benefits’ of the new development ‘outweigh the inability to deliver affordable housing.’

A legal agreement says there should also be a ‘viability review’ when the project is completed ‘to confirm the situation has not changed.’

Councillors on the committee voted to approve the application with six in favour and three against.