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Wokingham has grown rapidly during the last 40 years. In the 1980s, it was the fastest growing town in Europe – an accolade we could have done without! Having developed too fast, one might hope for a period of consolidation, but that is not what the Council has in mind. The opening words of the Core Strategy vision are: "By 2026, this Core Strategy will deliver the development necessary to sustain the area's economic growth ...". Wokingham is already one of the more prosperous places to live. We aren't going to get richer. There are just going to be more people, crowded together, so their collective wealth will add up to some bureaucrat's desire for 'growth'. The developers will love it of course.
Development is like an addictive drug. Once you get hooked, you can't stop. You always hope that the next fix will make things better, but it never does. There might be a temporary relief, but then things get worse again. The only way to solve the problem of over-development is to kick the habit. It may be slow and painful, but at least you don't do more damage along the way.
If development proceeds on the southern edge of Wokingham, then there will be damage – the obliteration of the attractive stretch of countryside seen on the walks in this article.Why has the Council selected this area as the site for 2500 houses? One reason is that they would like to put a road there, and building lots of houses is a way to get the developer to help pay for the road.
The idea is simple. Wokingham is crowded, so build a bypass to take the traffic round it instead. Unfortunately it is too simple. That was the idea behind Wokingham's first bypass, the A329M, 30 years ago. But traffic always grows to fill the new capacity, especially if the road is bought at the cost of more houses with more cars, which will generate even more traffic. A lot of that traffic will come into the town, offsetting any benefit of some existing traffic going round the town. You can't 'build our way out of' the problems caused by previous over development.
Further development of Wokingham may increase its 'GDP', or the footfall in its shops and cafes, or the turnover of its estate agents. It might move it up a few league tables. But it will also kill what makes Wokingham an attractive place to live.
At one of the council run workshops, which attended, we were told that the town centre needed to be 'vibrant' so that people would 'stay for 4 hours rather than 20 minutes'. What a depressing thought that the town should be designed for people who can't stand more than a few hours of it. If you live here, like me, you are not thinking about what to do in Wokingham for the next hour, but day after day, for the next year or the next decade. Do we really want to turn Wokingham from a good place to live into a somewhere only fit for half a day's shopping and coffee sipping? Do we really want it to 'compete with' Reading and Bracknell?
Another sobering thought is that the council that makes planning decisions for Wokingham is not the town council, but the district council (which now misleadingly calls itself Wokingham Borough Council). Its area is a 15 mile long swathe of central Berkshire stretching from the border with Oxfordshire in the north (Remenham) to the border with Hampshire in the southwest (Swallowfield). Most of its councillors do not represent the inhabitants of Wokingham, and do not live in Wokingham. Will they see things through the eyes of its residents, or will they see it as somewhere to spend just a few hours between car parks?
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