Battle of Elms Field: Defeat for protestors
August 01, 2007
Elms Field has been laid bare for development after councillors agreed to seize the area despite hundreds of objections.
Councillors voted in favour of the appropriation of the land last Thursday as angry protestors looked on.
The takeover of the area was unpopular with many townsfolk, attracting 892 letters of objection.
Wokingham Borough Council can now legally develop the 11 acres of land, which includes tennis courts and a children’s park, into an area for housing, leisure and business.
Campaigners, including The Wokingham Society, Wokingham Town Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG) and Wokingham History Group, have been fighting an impassioned battle to save the Elms Field site from development, fearing the loss of green open space.
David Tinker, chairman of The Wokingham Society, said: “I think the meeting last Thursday was a bad day for local party politics.
“I think Wokingham has been let down badly and it was like a flock of sheep in a farmyard – everybody followed the leader meekly.
“What’s worrying is it appears the main reason for the takeover was to boost borough finances.
“Elms Field has been sacrificed in an unsatisfactory manner.”
Cllr Malcolm Armstrong compared the regeneration of Elms Field to the birth of an “ugly baby”.
However, Wokingham Chamber of Commerce has welcomed the step towards development.
Mark Ashwell, president of the group, said: “The important thing is all the key stakeholders are now signed up to the fact that something needs to be done to attract people to live, socialise and shop in the town.
“The gateway proposals are a start and I look forward to being part of the debate moving forwards.”
The appropriation of the land has been seeped in controversy, with two members of the
decision-making executive – council leader Cllr Frank Browne and Cllr Chris Edmunds – and two Tory councillors – Cllr Debbie Lewis and Cllr Matthew Deegan – announcing a personal interest in the development of Elms Field, but still voting on the appropriation.
Cllr Chris Bowring, champion for town centres, spoke of the “capital receipt” the development would bring to improve roads and schools.
Cllr Bowring said: “We have received feedback, some critical, suggesting that this is solely a money-making scheme.
“We’re aiming to increase the town centre’s vitality and secure its future prosperity. To do this, the scheme does have to be financially viable.”
The public can comment on the six potential developments for the site, which are on show at the council’s Shute End offices, until August 10.
Tomorrow (Thursday) the developers will be available to explain their proposals between 4pm and 8pm.
And on Saturday councillors and officers will be on hand between 9am and 1pm.
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