You’ll have noticed changes to the Coblands site in the past couple of months, and even most recently last week. I’m not always aware of exactly what is going on at a detailed level, but I am aware of what strategically is being aimed for.
Rewind to 2012 when I was initially elected and some youngish people I met on the doorstep had all but given up any hope of achieving a foot on the property ladder unless the bank of mum and dad bailed them out or an inheritance conveniently landed. My own adult children fall into that category. My research at the time showed that in the old Brookwood ward less than 7% of the housing stock was one or two bedroom ‘starter homes’. Since then I’ve worked hard to try and create opportunities for 20 and 30 somethings that have a connection to Brookwood to remain in Brookwood or come back to Brookwood if that is what they wished to do.
The primary vehicle in achieving something was the Brookwood and Bridley Neighbourhood Forum (BBNF) as once fully operational with a Neighbourhood Plan gives an opportunity to alter the Neighbourhood Area in a way that more suits area residents and workers. See http://bbnf.org.uk for much more information on this.
The WBC SADPD from 2015 suggested an increase in the size of Five Acres and to develop housing on the Coblands site. Rightly, there was much opposition to the expansion of Five Acres and encouragement to develop Coblands if it ensured that it prevented an extension of Five Acres.
Early work done by the BBNF through consultation with residents of Brookwood and Bridley raised a number of concerns, of which these three, amongst others were key:
- Improve traffic flow through Brookwood Crossroads that benefited Brookwood rather than regional through traffic
- Restrict expansion at Five Acres
- If development occurs, try to maximise the availability of starter homes
Fast forward to now, and I’ve been working with the Council for the last couple of years, and its affordable housing delivery company, Thamesway to achieve the aim of increasing the number of starter homes and at the same time investigate the opportunities to meet other identified strategic aims.
When the Brookwood Farm development was granted permission, Cala Homes provided WBC with just under £7 million and asked WBC to provide 75 affordable homes at other locations in the Borough. I’ve done my best to present the case that that money should be spent in Brookwood as it could be used to deliver our strategic aims.
Thameswey has been quietly negotiating with the various owners of the land at Five Acres, Coblands and the houses immediately nearby to acquire their interests. Thameswey is now almost in a position to bring proposals forward and I have been given the opportunity to provide significant input into this.
I don’t know all the exact details, but I do expect a planning application to be submitted sometime in the next two to three months which aims to achieve the key strategic concerns listed above.
Positively engaging has enabled me to make it clear that I’m not going to support proposals unless it can be demonstrated that there can be an improvement to traffic flow at the crossroads, that Five Acres is physically limited in the size it can grow to and that, crucially, any affordable housing for rent and as many houses to buy as possible are initially ring-fenced for the youngish people that live and work in the Neighbourhood Area. In addition, some of the properties to buy should be marketed at a level which is around 20% below market value and will stay at that level. It’s this latter requirement which is challenging to deliver, however it has been achieved in other areas of the country and efforts are currently being made to work out how this can be achieved.
In the past week, some residents have commented to me that the access road to Five Acres has had concrete blocks dropped at the entrance. It’s taken me a few days to get to the bottom of it, but it appears that last week, there was a possible Traveller encroachment on to Coblands by Travellers totally unconnected to the residents at Five Acres. Travellers situated on the site at Coblands is as undesirable to the residents of Five Acres as it is to Brookwood and it is they who closed the access road and now all movements into Five Acres occur through the bungalow entrance.
With regards to movements on Five Acres, the primary event driving that is the enforcement action taken last year when the number of illegal pitches increased to intolerable levels. In readiness for a planning application, movements are also occurring shifting park homes around.
Finally my experience as a Councillor has shown me that one of the biggest risks is misinformation and the spreading of rumours which are not based on known facts. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact me first as the chances are I will either know what is going on or I will know who to ask to find out what is going on.