Implications of the Grazeley Judgment
A new settlement at Grazeley in Berkshire has long been in the pipeline and in the last couple of years was brought back to life by Wokingham Borough Council, Reading Borough Council and West Berkshire District Council as a proposed new settlement of 15,000 homes south west of Reading.
The 3 Councils and landowners/promoters submitted an expression of interest in 2016 and a subsequent funding bid to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to assist infrastructure delivery for this Garden Settlement. However, this bid was unsuccessful, with the majority of the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) being allocated to areas with lower demand for homes (including the north of England) instead.
Wokingham’s Draft Allocation
Wokingham’s Spring 2020 Regulation 18 Local Plan Update consultation included a draft allocation for 10,000 homes for Wokingham at Grazeley (with a potential further 5,000 homes for West Berkshire). Although Reading Borough Council were involved in the proposals, their main considerations for Reading related to the infrastructure, services and connectivity to Reading rather than housing delivery.
The draft Local Plan Update anticipated that Grazeley could deliver 3,750 homes by 2036. Wokingham noted that they were confident that the infrastructure could be forward funded even without the HIF.
New Emergency Planning Regulations
In May 2019 new Regulations came into force, imposing requirements for local authorities to plan for emergencies which have a low likelihood of occurring but would have a high impact if they did. These changes were a direct response to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan which required the evacuation of everyone within 12 miles of a nuclear plant due to an emergency.
In response to these Regulations, in March 2020 West Berkshire District Council reviewed the Detailed Emergency Planning Zone (DEPZ) around the Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment and made the decision to increase the DEPZ by over 1500m. This extended area covered much of the land earmarked for the new settlement at Grazeley.
The High Court Challenge
The landowners and promoters challenged West Berkshire’s decision to expand the DEPZ in the High Court. On 2 February 2021 the High Court judgment was issued, confirming that the challenge had failed. The Honorable Mrs Justice Thornton noted in her judgement that ‘the Claimants' case fails to grapple properly, or at all, with the true significance in public safety terms of the designation process. Nor does it show any proper understanding of the national security issues arising from the information which underlies the decision. The claim is motivated entirely by the Claimants' private proprietary interests in the development of its site.’
Implications for Spatial Strategy
West Berkshire undertook a Local Plan Review Regulation 18 consultation in December 2020. This consultation confirmed that the Council had pulled away from Grazeley due to the uncertainties and no strategic allocation within this area was proposed. Wokingham’s Spring 2020 consultation proposed that the majority of it’s housing need would be met by Grazeley. However, following the High Court judgement the Council have confirmed that they are now looking at alternatives to Grazeley.
The Council previously undertook a number of Growth Scenario Reports and masterplan exercises as part of their evidence base, but ultimately discounted these sites in favour of Grazeley, a position which will now be questioned.
Additional masterplanning is being undertaken in relation to 2 more areas; just south of the M4 corridor between the villages of Shinfield, Arborfield and Sindlesham and land within the existing South Wokingham Strategic Development Location. These new masterplan areas will then be considered, alongside others, meaning that a whole new spatial strategy approach will need to be considered by the Council.
Wokingham’s current Local Plan allocated 4 key strategic sites of between 3,500 and 1,500 homes. However, as is often the case with strategic sites, these were initially slow to deliver due to significant infrastructure requirements. These strategic sites are now being built out and providing a consistent number of completions, meaning that the Council can rely on their delivery for the early part of the new plan period. However, to ensure consistent rates of delivery for the whole of the new Plan period, Wokingham are likely to need to consider a range of sites; from small and medium sites that can deliver in the short term, to large strategic allocations for later in the plan period.
Housing in Wokingham is highly political and the location of allocations to replace Grazeley are likely to become a key aspect of local election campaigns.
Boyer’s Wokingham office has extensive experience of site promotion with Wokingham Borough. If you have any sites you would like to discuss please do contact us 01344 753 220 firstname.lastname@example.org.