Plan for new temporary accommodation at Grovelands Park

by Prue Bray on 22 December, 2020

The Grovelands planning application for temporary accommodation is 203439 on the council website.

The units are positioned almost exactly on the footprint of the existing temporary accommodation units. The biggest issue for most people is the double height. This is a mobile home site, and so any units have to be able to be moved. These new units are modular build. Each individual one is roughly the size of a mobile home. They will be lifted into position. One on top of another is still moveable therefore, so the view is that this can be permitted – although I can understand that people already living in Grovelands Park might not be delighted about it. They have made sure there are no windows facing the closest units, to avoid overlooking.

Another concern is fire safety. There are rules about how close mobile homes can be to each other in a mobile home park so that fire breaks are preserved. The council has checked their plans with Royal Berks Fire & Rescue Service, to make sure everything is ok. Also the materials are better quality than a mobile home with less risk of fire. Also the insulation etc is better. Remember that the units are in the same position as the existing units too, so there should not be any extra risk.

The planning application has been put together as carefully as possible to minimise the impact. This includes trying to minimise the impact of the construction. This will not be like the construction of the houses that were built behind the industrial units where lorry after lorry had to come in through the narrow roads in the mobile home park for months on end. These units are prefabricated, so they will come in on a truck and be lifted into place, much like a mobile home. There will be a bit more work, but not lorry loads of bricks day after day.

Existing residents have concerns about problems caused by people in the temporary accommodation. I don’t want to dismiss these concerns, even though the vast majority of people who have lived there in the past have been fine. We know there have been problems caused by a minority – anti-social behaviour, allegations about drug dealing and similar. Not all the problems are confined to the people in the temporary accommodation though. I don’t think anyone can promise there won’t be problems in the future, although it will be carefully policed. But the alternative to having the new units is not no units, it’s continuing with what is there already. So this is not really going to change anything in respect of potential ASB. As councillors we will continue to monitor and deal with problems.

And then there is the reason why the council want to do this. We have a growing problem with people losing their homes because they cannot afford to pay the rent in the private sector, because lower paid jobs simply don’t provide enough money to pay it, and benefit top-ups towards housing costs are pitiful in an area like this with high rents. And landlords are keen to maximise their income from rent, so it is all too common for people to lose their tenancy so that someone else can come in and pay a bit more. We don’t have enough council and housing association properties – which people can afford. The overwhelming majority of these people are not feckless, they aren’t scroungers, and they haven’t spent their rent money on gambling, alcohol and cigarettes. They just end up with nowhere to live because housing in the UK is skewed towards those with money, and there aren’t enough homes that are actually affordable for the majority of people.

When a family loses their home and they have a connection to Wokingham, the council has a duty to help find them somewhere to live. Often they will have to go into some form of temporary accommodation while a more permanent solution is found. The alternative to somewhere like Grovelands is usually bed and breakfast in Slough or Reading. Hugely expensive, very poor quality (because landlords don’t rush to offer B&B accommodation to people on benefits), very disruptive to the family – the children struggle to get to school. Having been uprooted and placed miles away, there are no local support networks, they lose access to their GP, have to travel further to work, and incur lots of extra costs because of not being able to cook for example. More units at Grovelands will save the council money but MUCH MORE IMPORTANT in my view, will provide a decent roof over their heads for people until they manage to get their future sorted out, people for whom the situation would be very bleak indeed without it.

And that’s why – acknowledging that there are legitimate concerns from existing residents – I support this planning application. It may not make my popular with some people whom it directly affects, but I believe that overall it is the right thing to do.

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