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Pickles grants consent for first phase of Wokingham "mini-town"

Secretary of State Eric Pickles has approved the first phase of a residential development in Warren House Lane, north of Wokingham. 19 Jul 2012

The approval has been granted for a 274-home development which overrules a Wokingham Borough Council decision in 2011 and signals the start of a 1,500-home "mini-town". The first phase will include the new homes, a community centre, primary school and recreational facilities.

Developer Crest Nicholson launched an appeal last year, following Wokingham Borough Council's failure to determine the application. A public inquiry was held in November over the proposed development, which is located at Kentwood Farm and split into three sites. The Council must decide before the end of August whether to launch a legal challenge to the decision, in the High Court.  The site is allocated for housing in Wokingham's Core Strategy and at inquiry it was noted that there was a shortfall in housing land supply in the area.

The Secretary of State's decision letter (109-page / 910KB PDF) observed that as of 1 April the Council did not have a five year housing land supply and the absence of this meant that "the need for a start to the development of the Strategic Development Locations is a matter of considerable weight”. He concluded that "at the present time, Wokingham’s policies for the supply of housing are not up-to-date”.

Before deciding on the site's application, the Council was seeking to achieve a legally binding framework between all the relevant landowners and developers to ensure the correct infrastructure, services and facilities were properly planned across the North West SDL as a whole.

The Secretary of State considered this approach but concluded that the Council was setting the test too high, and that a binding commitment was not necessary. He also considered that that the development would deliver its fair proportion of the necessary and directly related infrastructure.

"This decision is one in a growing series of decisions by Inspectors and the Secretary of State, following the publishing of the NPPF in March," said planning law expert Iain Gilbey of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.  "These decisions will continue to be made, during the transitional period whilst local authorities seek to update their policy frameworks and developers seek to exploit those authorities' failure to maintain the 5 year land supply required by the NPPF."

Local news service Get Wokingham reported that Councillor Keith Baker, executive member for highways and planning at the Council, had said: “We are not overly happy with the decision. The Secretary of State’s ruling has both good and bad things in it. We are looking to see if there are grounds for a judicial review which would be very costly but there are some key principles here.”

 “We believe we had made a good argument that we would meet the supply by 2026. Because of the recession our developers are not doing as much as they want to do and so we are falling behind. We are not significantly behind though and we will catch up," he said, according to the report.