The University of Reading wants to encourage lively academic debate over its involvement in plans to build 4,500 homes south of the town.

In November, the Wokingham Local Plan update was revealed, as the borough council conducted a review of the plan.

The update was partly triggered by the collapse of an ambitious proposal to build a 15,000 home ‘garden town’ in Grazeley.

The biggest change in the update was the proposal to build a 4,500 home ‘garden village’ in the Loddon Valley, with part of the new settlement being built on land owned by the  University of Reading.

The university has so far welcomed the proposal, in part due to its proximity with the Thames Valley Science Park which it owns.

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But there are questions over whether the new settlement fits in with the environmental concerns of the university’s leading academics.

Tom Oliver, professor of Applied Ecology, focuses his research on loss of biodiversity. There are worries that biodiversity, trees and green space would all be lost if the ‘garden village’ goes ahead as the area it will be located on is currently made up of fields.

Reading Chronicle: A satellite image of the Loddon Valley Strategic Development Location (SDL). Credit: Google MapsA satellite image of the Loddon Valley Strategic Development Location (SDL). Credit: Google Maps

While he said he couldn’t comment explicitly on the garden village plan, Professor Oliver did say: “It is vitally important to protect our declining national biodiversity because it underpins the capability for our children to be healthy and to prosper.

“The degradation of UK and global biodiversity through a billion small cuts must be stopped.

“Approaches to restore plants and animals that are lost though development, known as biodiversity offsetting, must be robust.

“The degree to which such approaches restore biodiversity (leading to the desired ‘net gain’), versus hastening its decline, fundamentally depends on how well such schemes are regulated, implemented, enforced and evaluated.

“Places to live should not replace vital biodiversity but instead be closely surrounded by thriving nature that supports the physical and mental health of people.”

Reading Chronicle: Professor Tom Oliver. Credit: University of ReadingProfessor Tom Oliver. Credit: University of Reading

The university itself wants to encourage lively debate about the garden village proposal.

A spokesperson for the university said: “Environmental sustainability is a core principle of the University of Reading strategy and is of fundamental value to our community.

“We have some of the leading experts in the world studying the environment, including in climate change, wildlife, habitats and land use.

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“We are also one of the ‘greenest’ universities in the country, with ambitious and award-winning plans to make all our operations net zero by 2030.

“We agree with those who are seeking to highlight the importance of sustainable development that fits in with society’s need to become carbon net zero.

“We also recognise the need to improve habitats and species biodiversity, prevent pollution of soil, air and water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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“These aims can be met alongside sustainable, well-designed development for housing and employment.

“We look forward to continue working with Wokingham Borough Council as it progresses its Local Plan Update.

“The University strongly supports all its academics whose job is to study, teach and speak independently about issues on which they have often world-leading expertise.”