Two senior Eastleigh Lib Dems Councillors broke ranks at last week’s meeting of Eastleigh Council’s cabinet to speak out against the adoption of Boorley Green as a preferred option for 1400 new homes while at the same meeting the cabinet member for housing claimed the proposed housing was to meet the needs of local people and was not meant for “foreigners or people from Portsmouth”.
Deputy Mayor Rupert Kyrle and the Cabinet Member for Health Cathie Fraser backed the majority view of their Botley constituents by branding the Boorley Green as plan as “unsustainable”, contrary to the Lib Dem party line.
The cabinet had convened to discuss the findings of the recent borough wide household survey on development plans but also, it later transpired, to endorse its findings.
The proposed development is part of a larger plan to build almost 10,000 additional homes in the Borough.
Although the Council claim that 58,000 leaflets had been distributed at a cost of £13,000, only 1,786 ‘valid’ responses had been received – a response rate of 3.08% – with a narrow majority of 58 in favour of development at Boorley.
Several cabinet members expressed their disappointment with the level of response although Cllr Lousie Bloom (who used to work in marketing) judged a 3% response rate as a success.
Leader of the Council Keith House stressed that the consultation had been ‘consultative not quantitative’ and that despite the low response it had been a worthwhile exercise as comments submitted on the forms had provided valuable feedback.
He stressed it had been a snapshot of local opinion – not a referendum – and that some people had ‘got hold of the wrong end of the stick’
Disappointment with the planning survey was not confined to councillors.
A spokesman for developers who addressed the meeting thought the questionnaire had not gone far enough and should have included the option of alternative land around Boorley which would enable them to build even more houses.
This was later picked by Cllr Bloom as an indication of what could happen if developer aspirations were left unchecked.
Cllr Godfrey Olson, leader of the Conservative group, claimed the council had conducted a ‘Sham Survey’ and was creating a ‘false impression’ that public opinion was being fully considered “when it is inevitable that the councils preferred choice of option B will be the one that is adopted”.
Botley resident Mike Jarvey who is part of a working group that is trying to formulate a community led plan for the area asked the cabinet, unsuccessfully, not to proceed with the planning process until it had considered the results of the groups survey which had recieved a 14% response rate but the results which had not yet been collated.
Sue Grinham of the Botley Parish Action Group who had campaigned against the previous proposal to build 6000 houses in the Botley/Boorley area criticised the Cabinet for not fully explaining why the Allington Lane site was unsuitable and for failing to consider alternatives.
She told the cabinet that BPAG had conducted house to house inquires in Boorley which had shown that 97% of respondents were opposed to local development.
Prior to the meeting I had discussed the high level of response to the working party survey with one of the group members.
I asked why there had been such a high response to their survey and such a low response to the councils and if there was such a high level of opposition to the proposals why had only 100 householders responded to the council out of 2000 dwellings?
I was told they believed that not all the houses had received their leaflets; though I understand when this allegation was put to the EBC communications department they insisted all leaflets had been distributed properly.
Concerns are frequently expressed by locals that housing demand is being driven by immigrants and by social housing overspill from Portsmouth.
Cabinet member for housing Anne Winstanley seemed anxious to reassure residents that extra housing was needed solely to meet local demand by saying:
“It is not for foreigners, for other parts of the country or from other countries or even from Portsmouth”
This statement was met with a stunned silence followed by some nervous laughter.
Keith House has since explained in an email that affordable and social housing will be offered to those on the Eastleigh housing list other properties will be available on the open market.
It is likely though, that there are foreigners on the local housing list and it’s not clear how they, or ‘people from Portsmouth’ could legally be excluded from buying into local developments.
When both the councillors for Botley spoke out against the decision to progress development at Boorley it came as something of a surprise to objectors as both councillors had previously supported all options at full council.
Councillor Kryle – who is not a cabinet member- addressed the meeting from the public gallery with all the confidence of a man whose status within the local party hierarchy is sufficiently assured to allow him the luxury of voting as he pleases on issues of his own choosing (n.b just don’t make a habit of it).
Cllr Fraser’s performance was less assured and bordered on the apologetic at times as she reminded the cabinet that she had been an early supporter of the strategic gap in the area and made it clear it was her intention to defend it.
Both councillors branded the plan as unsustainable on infrastructure and environmental issues which earned them a round of applause from the gallery.
The sustainability issue is an important point as both Keith House and Anne Winstanley insisted that the localism bill was designed to allow more housing developments to be built and not less, and predicted that any opposition to council plans would be futile.
However earlier in the day the Minster for local Government Eric Pickles had written in The Guardian.
“It is simply not true to suggest that under our proposals it will be “almost impossible to resist development”. If it isn’t sustainable, it must not, and will not, happen”.
The cabinet with the exception of Cllr Fraser, voted to go forward with option B, Boorley Green and draft proposals will be drawn up for further discussion and consultation.
Those opposing development at Boorley on the grounds of sustainability will have to ensure they can persuade the planning inspectorate to agree with them.