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Battle with Taylor Wimpey 2.0

by Prue Bray on 7 December, 2017

Some of you may remember that back in the Summer of 2013 Taylor Wimpey put in a bid to build rather a lot of houses on the land behind Maidensfield and Woodward Close in Winnersh.   We fought them off.  Well, they’re back.  And it’s time for battle to be rejoined.

About a week ago, a letter from Taylor Wimpey started landing on the door mats of people living around Maidensfield.  It gave them until tomorrow to respond to a “consultation” on their plans for a spookily similar scheme to the one they proposed 4 1/2 years ago.

So why, having been rejected once, are they trying again?  Why now?  And will they succeed this time?

It’s all about national planning policy and how it affects Wokingham Borough.

Here’s what’s supposed to happen.  Councils have to assess the long term (around 20 years) need for housing in their area, and then they have to plan where to put it.  When the council has identified where to put the housing, developers then submit planning applications.  The council makes sure the details of the applications fit what’s needed and are acceptable, and grant planning permission.  Then the developers build the houses, at a rate which keeps pace with the assessed need for each block of 5 years.

What actually happens in practice is something quite different.  The council assesses the long term need, and then has to plan where to put those houses.  In areas where there is a lot of pressure for new homes (like Wokingham, where there are jobs, near London), developers want to build more homes because they are more likely to be able to sell them and they will make more profit.  So they push for higher numbers.  They submit planning applications, which the council approves.  But the developers don’t actually build all the houses they have permission to build, for all sorts of reasons – cash flow, lower sales than expected, poor weather, competition for tradesmen, unexpected complications with a site.  And also because not building all of them opens up other opportunities for them.

The council has to keep the rate of  housing completions level with the assessed figure for what needs to be built over 5 years.  If houses are being built at a lower rate, developers argue this will mean a projected shortfall.  And to make that shortfall up, the council has to grant more planning permissions in order to get enough houses built. These arguments take place at planning appeals, and Inspectors make rulings which the council then is subject to.

In Wokingham’s case, planning permission for roughly 13,000 houses has been granted, against a figure that started off at around 856 houses a year.  So you would think 13,000 was comfortably more than 5 years’ supply.  Unfortunately, because developers have not built at that rate, the houses they haven’t built are being added on to the total, together with a contingency (which in Wokingham’s case looks like 20% at the moment) and the council are effectively forced to grant more planning permissions on less suitable sites.  This increases the required annual build rate, and thus increases the gap between what’s being built and what is required to be built.  So the next planning appeal will up the figure that needs to be built even higher.   One might almost say the fewer houses developers build, the more they get permission to build.

The council has almost no control over the build rate, yet it is the council – and residents – who are being punished.  No credit is given to the council for having granted planning permission, and no penalty is given to developers who don’t then go on and build the houses.

Finally, the government has recognised this as an issue, after councils up and down the land have been vociferously complaining.  In the Autumn Budget, Philip Hammond announced that Oliver Letwin would be looking at it, with a view to reporting in the Spring.

Taylor Wimpey have started on the process of submitted their planning application now because now is their window of opportunity.  The council is updating its plans for housing (known as the Local Plan Update: read more here http://www.wokingham.gov.uk/planning/planning-policy/local-plan-update/ ).  The land on which Taylor Wimpey wish to build is being looked at by the council, who are unlikely to just roll over and give Taylor Wimpey whatever they want.  Taylor Wimpey will therefore submit a planning application.  If it is refused (as it was before), Taylor Wimpey can appeal.  At the appeal they will do what other developers are doing, and claim that the lack of a 5 year land supply means this site has to be granted permission.  And hope they win – which they might if the Inspector takes the view that the lack of 5 yer land supply overrides the harm that the development would do.   Taylor Wimpey need to get this under way before Oliver Letwin reports, because if his conclusion is that unimplemented planning permissions should be taken into account in the future, their chance of getting planning permission will be dramatically reduced.

This “consultation” is part of the pre-planning process, and Taylor Wimpey will be hoping that people will support the idea that we need housing locally, so that they can use that to argue there is support for them to build in this specific location when they submit the planning application.  There will be a 3 week formal public consultation on the planning application when it does get submitted.

Finally, a word on the need for housing.  No-one in Wokingham is arguing that there should be no development at all.  We need houses people can afford to rent or buy.  Just to insert a political note, the Lib Dems have recently published our ideas for what should happen locally which you can read more about in our current Focus in Winnersh and around the Borough, called “Homes for Local People”.  I have some sympathy for the local Conservatives, and we are working with them on this particular issue.  However, my sympathy only extends a certain amont, as the current difficulties Wokingham Borough faces are the fault of the government which local Conservatives campaigned to elect and they continue to belong to the same political party and to support them.   So they can’t really argue it is absolutely nothing to do with them, now can they?

But back to Taylor Wimpey.  It is up to residents whether or not they wish to respond to Taylor Wimpey’s letter..  If you want to post comments, the link is:  https://www.taylorwimpey.co.uk/winnersh

And if you want to see the full letter, here it is:  TW – Winnersh Resident Letter finished

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