Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Opposed West Berkshire Council proposals to allocate sites for almost 2,100 homes on greenfield sites

Last night West Berkshire Council voted to consult on the allocation of "preferred option" sites for up to 2,088 homes across the district. In the eastern part of the district, that includes Theale, the sites add up to 815 homes. The sites around Theale would accommodate up to 313 homes.

I spoke against the proposal on the grounds that the Council's administration has not done anywhere near enough to allocate sites on brownfield, as opposed to greenfield, land. The following is the speech that I made:

Government and Council policies over the years have been aimed at protecting the countryside and restricting development within it. However, we are today being asked to approve the identification of sites for thousands of homes within the countryside, albeit for consultation.

Only today it is reported that the CPRE estimates that there is sufficient unused brownfield land across the country to supply seven years worth of housebuilding. It is likely that a similar situation exists here in West Berkshire.

There are many empty office blocks throughout the district, including large and modern ones that have never been occupied. I have been told that one large modern business park in the east of the district is 40% vacant.

The Government has made it easier to convert offices into housing and this is happening already in Newbury. Yet, no allowance for any further such conversions has been made in the housing targets.

The Council's own plans for the London Road Industrial Estate include 300 homes, yet they have not been allowed for in the housing targets. These would account for three-quarters of the proposed housing allocation for the Newbury/Thatcham area. The requirement for housing in the re-development also suggests that there is limited demand for employment land.

Many organisations, including this Council, are encouraging employees to work from home and to “hot desk”. This is reducing the demand for office space, as can be seen by the office space now occupied by this Council as compared to a few years ago.

This all goes to show that there is not the demand for office space as previously thought and that there is considerable scope for converting or re-developing existing offices for housing. There is also scope for re-allocating land allocated for employment to housing.

The Core Strategy says that the role, function and boundaries of the Protected Employment Sites will be reviewed through the Site Allocations and Delivery DPD. However, the required study into employment land requirements was started late and has not yet reported. Therefore, it has not been possible to review these areas to confirm that there could be re-allocation for housing.

In conclusion, nowhere near enough has been done to to identify the scope for re-allocating employment land to housing. The Council is therefore being asked to approve the allocation of far more housing in the countryside than is probably required.

For this reason, my colleagues and I will be voting against this resolution.

Alan Macro
Opposition Spokesman for Housing, Planning and IT
West Berkshire Council

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