Secretary of State (SoS), Eric Pickles, has said he is "minded to" approve plans for a 1,350-home development near Wokingham in Berkshire, subject to Natural England withdrawing its objections to the proposals.25 Oct 2012
Plans for the development include up to 1,200 homes as well as 150 units of specialist housing for elderly persons; a local centre to include a food store; a community building; a new school and public open space.
The University of Reading submitted plans to Wokingham Borough Council in July 2010 and later made an appeal for non-determination of the application by the Council. The application went to public inquiry and a planning inspector recommended the appeal was allowed. The appeal was then recovered by the SoS as it included proposals for residential developments over 150 units.
Pickles said in his decision letter (272-page / 1.32MB PDF) that, before reaching a final decision, he considered it necessary for statutory consultee Natural England to state whether it will withdraw its objections to the plans following proposed mitigation measures by the University to mitigate any effect on nearby Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area. Proposed mitigation measures include a planning obligation requiring the University to pay contributions to ensure the scheme does not conflict with the EU Habitats Directive.
Despite the application's absence of "comprehensive arrangements" for the delivery of infrastructure, Pickles said that "in all the key infrastructure areas, the Appellant's scheme provides the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs generated by the development." He said that the proposals would make a "significant contribution" to providing the strategic housing requirement, including affordable housing, in a manner consistent with the Council's Core Strategy policy.
Pickles said he would give Natural England until 19 November to make a submission about whether it would withdraw its objections. The appeal will then proceed to a final decision as soon as possible, he said.