District might be forced to build over more greenfield sites
The council recently admitted it had no idea how many homes would be built in the district despite the rubber stamping of its Core Strategy document which details the plan from now until 2026.
The initial number was 10,500 homes however Government-appointed inspector Simon Emerson recently told the council to take new revised planning laws and the 2011 population census into account during his scrutiny of the Core Strategy.
For all the local outcry over waste firm Grundon’s attempt to build an incinerator inside the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty it could ultimately be houses which encroach on the site should a genuine need be identified.
Mr Emerson said that the original figure should be used as a baseline number with no upper ceiling, as it was not a justified sum which took long term planning into account.
During his assessment of the Core Strategy, Mr Emerson’s highlighted the council’s recognition that greenfield allocations will be needed adjoining Newbury, Thatcham and Theale, to meet housing provision.
It could be three years before the final total is known, as the council must undertake a lengthy Strategic Housing Market Assessment.
This will assess current need and force the council to build more homes given the increased population of the district over the last 10 years.
The first release of data from the 2011 census figures revealed that West Berkshire’s population has grown by 9,000 in the last decade; the large majority of which being those aged 40 to retirement age and beyond.
Worryingly for the council, the number of those aged 20 to 35, has dropped.
A spokeswoman for West Berkshire Council, Peta Stoddard-Crompton, said: “Whilst the 10,500 is likely to be the floor for the housing numbers, the results from the 2011 census will form the basis for a review of the housing numbers in conjunction with other evidence.
“The number will be reviewed through the process set out by councillor Chopping. Until that work has been done in partnership with adjoining authorities, we do not know what the future housing number will be.
“If this indicates that housing provision within the district needs to be greater than currently planned, a review of the scale of housing provision in the Core Strategy will then be undertaken.”
West Berkshire is not alone in coming under pressure from Eric Pickles’ Planning Inspectorate.
Last year Mr Emerson ordered Bath and North East Somerset Councils and South Oxfordshire district council to allocate more space for thousands more homes.
South Oxfordshire was also told to earmark more land in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which should be protected from development, for hundreds of homes.
Elsewhere Castle Point borough council, in Essex, was also made to free up large areas of Green Belt land.