“Enough is enough” – that’s the message from Wokingham Borough Council leader Julian McGhee-Sumner (Con, Wescott) in response to the government’s insistence tens of thousands of homes are built in the borough.
Speaking to all the borough’s councillors, he announced plans to issue a consultation which will ask residents whether they support ‘government inflicted housing numbers in a simple yes or no manner’.
He said: “We have reached that crossroads where ‘enough is enough’ and we have to find a different way to convince the government to be more reasonable and today I am announcing what I plan to do and I am looking for support from residents and councillors, regardless of their party allegiance, for my proposals.
“I know many residents will comment that we ignore consultation responses but this is very different. We want as many residents to respond so we can go back to the government to say to them – ‘look, all these residents cannot be wrong’ – you have to do something about these overly high housing numbers. The more responses we get the stronger the argument.”
The leader had said the council was planning to conduct a referendum on the issue, but legal advisers suggested this would be an illegal move.
According to Cllr McGhee-Sumner, the council has approved applications for more than 8,100 houses in recent years with another 2,000 planned, meaning houses in the borough are being built at twice the required rate.
Furious residents from Shinfield and Barkham have let the council know about their anger at overdevelopment in the area in recent months, with thousands of disgruntled locals signing petitions demanding action against plans.
And the leader outlined his hopes to build on this momentum so residents and the council could come together and present a unified response to the government.
He continued: “Imagine a consultation that had 25,000 responses or even 50,000 responses agreeing with us that the housing numbers are too large. The power of that strength of feeling must help us in our ambition to get the numbers reduced by the government.
“When I took on this role of leader I said I would do things differently. I hope everyone will agree that this move is a bold and strong move to put our residents centre stage on this battle to get the government to be more reasonable in their demands on us to build more and more and more houses.
“If we can come together, residents and all councillors with a single aim to get the government to listen we just might get some movement. If we do not work together it is highly unlikely we will get anywhere. I cannot guarantee we will be successful but we will try with all our strength to get the government to listen and change the numbers.”
The consultation could cost the council up to £30,000, but Cllr McGhee-Sumner justified this expense as it represented just a fraction of what planning appeals can cost the authority.
Opposition leader Cllr Lindsay Ferris (Lib Dem, Twyford) got behind the plans.
He said the government’s housing numbers will ‘destroy our area – it will be ruined’ and told the leader ‘we will support you’.
The leader announced the consultation will be posted after the local elections, which will be held on May 2.