Councillors have signed off on plans to launch a consultation asking residents for their thoughts on housing developments in the borough - a move which could cost the authority up to £80,000. 

The proposals originated from Cllr Julian McGhee-Sumner’s administration but the former leader lost his council seat at the 2019 local elections.

However, new boss John Halsall confirmed the plans were still set to go ahead last week and the council's top team voted through proposals in two separate committees on Thursday, May 30.

Councillors label 'nonsense' and a'waste of time' consultation after expense revealed to be £50,000 more than expected

At the meeting, councillor Pauline Jorgensen said: “It is very important we start to stand up for residents in terms of the number of houses planned.”

Overdevelopment has been a contentious issue in Wokingham borough for a number of years now, and councillors have been embroiled in fierce debates over excessive building in Shinfield and Barkham in the last twelve months.

In March, controversial plans to build a ‘garden town’ with 15,000 homes popping up in Grazeley moved a step forward after the government earmarked hundreds of thousands of pounds to explore the proposals. 

But now the council wants to gauge residents’ views on ‘government imposed housing numbers’ in order to “engage with the Government to get them to be more reasonable regarding expected development levels going forward.”

Residents will be sent a postcard or letter with a freepost response included if they want to send back a hard copy response, but a link to a website with the online survey will also be attached if people wish to submit their answer online.

The survey is set to ask: ‘Do you support the government imposed housing numbers?’

Answers available to respondents will simply be ‘yes’ or ‘no’, which will allow for “a more detailed understanding of responses from each part of the borough.”

According to a council report, the consultation will take place in summer 2019, with exact dates to be confirmed. 

It is expected to cost the authority between £45,000 and £80,000 despite original estimates suggesting it would set WBC back £30,000. 

The government’s planning policies require the council to assess how many houses it needs to build each year using a standardised formula.

Currently, it is estimated 804 new homes are needed each year but the council argues this exceeds what the borough has accommodated previously and is also said to be up to 50 per cent higher than the average growth in the number of households.

A Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) report claimed the authority’s current approach to house building is meeting the needs of the area but also suggested its strategy is being undermined by successful appeals from housing developers granted external permission to build homes “outside areas where development is planned”.

The report read: “Government policy on housebuilding is to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s. The standard method is designed to drive this level, however in doing so it takes no account of local context or the strategic impacts of doing so.

“Notwithstanding this record in delivery, planning appeals have been allowed for developments in locations which are outside areas where development is planned. In effect, communities are having to accept additional development coming forward in an unplanned manner. It is not acceptable for the plan-led system to be undermined in this way.”

At two consecutive meetings, Liberal Democrats Lindsay Ferris and Prue Bray sat with Tories Bill Soane, John Kaiser and Wayne Smith in the latter to form a special committee after plans were approved by the executive first. 

The Lib Dems quizzed planning boss Wayne Smith on the logistics of the move, with Cllr Bray discussing her worries over the wording of the question.

She suggested the wording should reflect whether residents think the housing numbers are too high or too low, rather than whether they agree with them, as this could lead to the government refusing to take action if the question is ambiguous. 

A number of councillors sitting from the back of the room also asked if there was a bettter way of ensuring residents did not vote twice than through using a unique reference number attached to each postcard sent to households. 

Cllr Gregor Murray suggested using residents’ polling card numbers but officers quashed this suggestion as this vote does not constitute an election. 

Lib Dem leader Lindsay Ferris asked what happens if the eventual cost if over £80,000, to which deputy chief executive Graham Ebers said the authority would have to look at finding money from other budgets in other departments. 

Councillors sitting on the special committee voted through the proposals unanimously after agreeing a Lib Dem amendment which asked officers to inform leaders of all parties of any changes made to the consultation before it is finalised.

The consultation was approved on Thursday, May 30.