CONTROVERSIAL plans to build affordable homes have been approved by planning committee despite strong objections by neighbours.

A majority of councillors at a virtual planning meeting on August 12 (Wednesday) voted for plans to build 46 flats and houses at Wensley Road.

This would involve Reading Borough Council (RBC) demolishing 29 garages, cutting 275 trees, reducing public open space in the area by 60 per cent, removal of play facilities, and increased density of development.

The plans include:

  • 26 three-bed houses
  • Two four-bed houses
  • Ten two-bed flats
  • Eight one-bed flats
  • Play areas and outdoor gyms
  • Private gardens
  • Parking in the area will increase to 230 spaces

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An updated report stated all 46 units will now become affordable housing, producing net zero carbon emissions onsite, and the applicant will plant an additional 95 trees – taking the total to 279 net gain – which officers concluded this outweighs the damages caused to the area.

The applicant also added leaseholders who own one or two garages will have a replacement within the Coley area.

Residents strongly opposed the plans because of the significant loss of public open spaces, loss of biodiversity, and the overpopulation in the area which could lead to traffic concerns.

A petition was set up – which garnered over 600 signatures – against the properties being built on the Coley Estate and were asking RBC to build somewhere else as they are not against affordable housing – but think this site is unsuitable for this development.

Urging members to vote for the application, councillor John Ennis (Labour: Southcote), lead member for housing, said: “We are in the midst of a national housing crisis – which has engulfed this country for a decade or more.

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“There is a significant demand locally as well where a successful economy has increased the prices of housing whilst many are being left behind.

“We currently have 3,417 households on the register, and we have over 150 statutory homeless households in temporary accommodation, individuals that have been made homeless during the lockdown.

“It’s going to get tougher and we know that’s going to get tougher, so every opportunity we got, we’re going to build 100 per cent affordable homes.”

Although acknowledging the need and praising the plans to provide 100 per cent affordable provisions, some councillors voted against the flats over concerns of the loss of open space, existing biodiversity, and overcrowdings in the area in a post-Covid-19 world.

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Speaking against the plans, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, councillor Ricky Duveen (Tilehurst), said the plans should ‘go back to the drawing board’.

He said: “The barrage of objections haven’t really been taken into consideration the way it should’ve been.

“Nobody would like to see a reduction of 60 per cent of public amenities space around their homes and what we’re asking of local residents is, I believe, rather too much to bear.

“Yes, we do have a desperate need for affordable new housing in Reading – but not at the expense of limiting public open space that is so precious to local residents.”

The deputy leader of RBC, councillor Tony Page (Labour: Abbey) said he was ‘shocked by Cllr Duveen’s stance’ and called him a ‘hypocrite’ for claiming there isn’t enough affordable housing in Reading at every committee – but will vote against this application.

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Councillors criticised an ecological survey on bats being carried out in the winter where residents claim the bats can be seen May to Autumn time where the development will significantly harm their roosting/migrating habitat.

A condition was added to the plans for an additional survey to be carried in the summertime to place bat boxes at the best possible locations.

Six councillors voted for and four were against.