Wokingham Leader Threatens to Protest Naked at Westminister if Housing Numbers Not Reduced

Perhaps if as many leaders felt as passsionately about building to meet our needs

Wokingham Paper

WOKINGHAM council leader John Halsall has invited fellows councillors to protest naked in Westminster in a bid to get housing numbers in the borough reduced. 

And he was joined in the threat by independent councillor Jim Frewin, whose Shinfield ward has born much of the brunt of the new homes. 

Cllr Halsall said: “I was yesterday at the LGA pleading my case. I see each of our MPs once a week to plead my case.

“Currently it seems impossible to establish a dialogue with (the ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government).

“So, I may have to do something more vivid to gain the MHCLGs attention – maybe parading naked with a banner in Whitehall. I trust the opposition leaders and members will join me.”

The comments were made during a debate on whether the council should redouble their efforts to challenge the housing numbers being inflicted on Wokingham Borough by central government was made by the Liberal Democrats. 

It was held during a virtual meeting of Wokingham Borough Council on Thursday, July 23. 

Cllr Clive Jones introduced the motion, calking on senior government ministers to come to see the borough for themselves. 

“Wokingham over the last 20 years has taken more than its fair share of new houses.

However, more new homes are being forced upon us by the (Conservative) government.

The last few Council Leaders have told us, and I have no reason to disbelieve them, that they have been in many discussions with Ministers about getting the numbers reduced.

“Last year WBC also spent over £50,000 on a survey of ALL households in the Borough to get residents views on what was appropriate future development. This revealed that 95% of residents didn’t want lots more development … something that we already knew. But we hoped the confirmation of this might change the governments mind about numbers.

“It hasn’t, they aren’t listening and new housing numbers are still over 800 homes a year.”

He added: “We want to let residents have the opportunity to change the minds of the Ministers and civil servants. We want them to see for themselves the semi-rural nature of the borough that would be destroyed for ever if we have to accept the high number of new homes that they are forcing onto us.”

Seconding it, Cllr Cllr Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey said: “Whilst the North and West of England are crying out for more new homes the government seems to be only focusing on building new home is the South East.  

“Our levels of the Objectively Assessed Need (the OAN) has been kept high it has not taken into account the change in the economy caused by the delayed response to Covid-19 and the oncoming likely detrimental financial impact of the No-deal Brexit many in the ruling party want. “It is time to actually adjust housing numbers to prevent a continuous urban sprawl from London to Reading. This sprawl is putting extra pressure on the already stretched and poorly funded Wokingham Borough services for residents.”

She also warned: “If the current government removes some planning powers away from our council it won’t let us redesign Wokingham’s new homes and could allow developers not the council decide where and what they want to build.”

An amendment was suggested by Cllr Wayne Smith that noted that housing numbers were the results of policies of successive Labour, Lib Dem and Conservatives governments. 

He said that the council had tried to engage previous prime ministers to change the numbers. 

Cllr Halsall seconded and said that he had lived here 50 years and would have supported the original motion had it not just blamed the Conservative government. 

He said that he had written to the Prime Minister last week and threatened to protest naked in Westminster to draw attention to the plans. 

Cllr Jones said he would accept the amendment if it took out the references to the different governments. Cllr Smith suggested changing it to current and previous governments, which Cllr Jones accepted. 

Cllr Gary Cowan (Ind) called the Conservatives butchers for their housing polices and added that the north of the borough had been protected. 

Cllr Jim Frewin (Ind) said that the housing plans had meant that Shinfield parish had been trebled in size. 

“We have to do something – at this moment in time we are very close to destroying three communities. 

“Grazeley would be the biggest housing estate in Europe, we cannot allow that to happen”. 

He pledged to join Cllr Halsall in a naked protest. 

Cllr Andrew Mickleburgh (Lib Dem) said that “The UK government has acknowledged the potential for a green economic recovery from the pandemic – encapsulated in the slogan ‘build back better’. This must include all matters relating to housing. 

“There is a wonderful window of opportunity to respond to this. But the response in terms of housing must not be homogenised. 

“Local circumstances, needs and wishes vary. 

“Ministers and Civil Servants must visit Wokingham Borough and listen to our residents. The invitation to visit our borough must be sent with great urgency, as the potential harms if immediate action is not taken are very real, significant, and irreversible.”

Cllr Stephen Conway (Lib Dem) echoed this, saying: “Even before Brexit and Covid 19, the housing allocation greatly exceeded local needs.

“If we are to see a return to a regional policy that takes jobs to the workers in the north and midlands rather than obliging workers there to move south, then there will be even less need for over-development of our area.”

Cllr Andy Croy (Lab) said that the Heathrow expansion was related to housing expansion and said that Dominic Cummings must be invited – if he’s not coming, nothing would change. 

He also said that the election was fought on the Conservatives ripping up planning laws and that was what they were doing. 

Cllr Jones said he was “really, really, really very pleased” that senior politicians and civil servants were invited to the borough so they could see for themselves. 

He also called on those who had influence with Robert Jenrick to come and meet residents and “have a nice civilised chat”.

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