Forming a new local plan - the council’s vision for where development should take place across the borough over a 15 year period – is a complicated and lengthy process. There needs to be more openness and honesty about what is and what is not possible.

The housing targets that the local plan must meet are set nationally. The government insists that councils calculate the number of new homes to be delivered by using the government’s own mathematical formula. 

When the Conservatives lost control of Wokingham Borough Council in May 2022, they left the new Liberal Democrat-led administration a draft local plan which committed the council to specific housing locations.

Once a site is in a draft local plan, there is a presumption that the land can be developed. Removing a site nearly always requires the agreement of landowners.

Despite identifying sites, the draft local plan was far from ready to go to the next stages of the process. 

Our officers are still working on viability calculations on the level of infrastructure contribution we can require of developers.

These are contributions towards things such as highways, school places and affordable housing, and are made as part of planning agreements. They are vital if we are to cope with the scale of new development that government is obliging us to take.

But these calculations need to satisfy a government-appointed planning inspector at a public enquiry.

We must therefore make sure that the new local plan is as good as it can be. It must be based on planning considerations only. If the inspector concludes that it has been influenced by political rather than planning arguments, he or she is likely to declare it ‘unsound.’

This would mean a long delay, during which the borough would be dangerously exposed to speculative planning applications. Even if refused locally these would probably be granted on appeal.

Now is the time for all borough councillors to take their responsibilities seriously and play the difficult hand that the planning system deals us with honesty and integrity.