“ We dont want any more Houses ” residents on the aviary estate told councillors last week after over 100 people crammed into St Francis church hall to express frank views on proposals to build 1300 new houses nearby.
Councillor Chris Thomas, the Lib Dem Chairman of Eastleigh Area Committee was given a torrid time by residents, some of whom heckled him as he tried to explain the lengthy planning and consultation process the council was enmbarking upon.
Cllr Thomas commenced by telling the audience that the 9,400 new homes the council wanted to build in the Borough were to satisfy the demand from Eastleigh residents – but by the end of the evening some doubt had been cast on this assertion.
After five minutes questions were already being shouted from the floor – why had aviary residents not had choice in the council survey? The Stoneham Lane site – which residents chairmen Peter Ford warned would be twice the size of the existing Aviary estate – was included in all the scenarios described by the leaflet distributed throughout the borough.
“We didn’t have a choice, we couldn’t object” complained one frustrated resident.
“That leaflet was just a starter for ten” replied Cllr Thomas adding “ the houses have got to go somewhere.”
“Are all these houses for the indigenous population” one man demanded loudly
“Are they social housing?” demanded another.
“No they’re for immigrants!” shouted a man at the back.
“Immigrants is just a nonsense I’m afraid”, stated councillor Thomas.
“There aren’t huge numbers of immigrants in Eastleigh.”
Unfortunately, this statement was met by a gale of laughter.
“There’s a few in Southampton that’s only a couple miles away”chuckled the indigenous heckler.
“You walk down Eastleigh High Street – you’ll see ’em” shouted another.
“No comment. I’m not getting into the immigration issue.” Replied Cllr Thomas closing down any further discussion on the topic.
Although Chris Thomas is a seasoned councillor and skilled debater whose stature is such he can naturally dominate any meeting, he soon found himself struggling against live-wire local resident Rigel Jenman who as a former Green party activist is no stranger to public speaking himself.
Mr Jenman made repeated interjections demanding that Cllr Thomas justify the need for extra 9,000 houses in the Borough.
“Why do we need to build more houses” he asked loudly.
“For all the immigrants” responded a now familiar voice at back.
“Because the EU tells us to” shouted a wag.
“I don’t believe we need more houses” Mr Jenman said.
“You bring people into the area to bring your revenue up” he accused the councillor,
“Build lots of houses – the cash rolls in”
“Have you heard about the new homes bonus?” He then asked the meeting.
“They get their council tax again. The government gives the council additional money – simply because they built houses – It’s a strategy for increasing revenue”
“The government borrows too much and owes so much interest the only way to pay it back is to increase the size of the economy – and the only way to do that is to build houses.”
“Eastleigh has to build houses to increase its revenue. Otherwise there are going to be redundancies at the council. They are simply trying to protect their own jobs. That’s what PUSH says. That’s what SEEDA says.”
“It’s a policy of ‘driven economic growth’”
“The only way the government can get out of the debt nightmare is to increase the economy – build houses – but the only money that increases it is the debt people take on to buy the houses “
“So it’s ‘funny’ money.”
“I think we’ll let it lie there” said Cllr Thomas hopefully, but Rigel Jenman continued, telling the meeting:
“If you want to talk about where the houses go you’re wasting your time”
“If you want to go to their consultation your wasting your time as well”
“They spent £230,000 on a fluoride consultation – 70% said they didn’t want it – it happened anyway.”
“Don’t waste your time on a consultation” he advised,
“Just get to the root of it…”
“We don’t want any more houses!”
Mr Jenman had started off to claps and cheers, but his peroration had been delivered to cries of ‘shut up’ and ‘get out’ from a section of the audience, possibly Mr Thomas’s supporters alarmed at the sight of the local Lib Dem hard man being slowly forced onto the ropes under a barrage of forthright opinion.
Things calmed down considerably after Mr Jenman (who said he had chickens to roost) left the meeting.
“Thing is” he explained gesturing towards Cllr Thomas as he walked away “He is waffling on and wasting my time” – which was completely unfair as Cllr Thomas had not been able to get a word in edgeways for at least five minutes.
Not everyone was against housing:
“I understand People have got to live somewhere and people have a right to decent housing “ one resident declared
“But…. what about Schooling, doctors, traffic, parking?”
Councillor Thomas tried to reassure people by saying:
“At the moment we are a long way from anything being built over there”
“We don’t want it! Build them somewhere else!” someone shouted in reply.
“Have they started building the Hotel at Rose Bowl yet” inquired one woman
“Why can’t we put the houses on the Rose Bowl then? Sod the cricket!”
“That man (Jenman) was completely right “observed another one of the locals “we don’t need any more houses”.
“Is it true that you will be bringing people up from Portsmouth to Eastleigh?” someone demanded.
“It is not true there are large numbers of people from Portsmouth in Eastleigh” insisted Cllr Thomas -thereby earning his second laugh of the evening.
“Why is it just a place for Eastleigh people? What’s stopping people from all over the country coming here?” asked one gentleman.
“Nothing will stop them buying private property – because that’s just the way of the market” responded the councillor.
“So they are not just for Eastleigh people then?”
Councillor Thomas explained that by allowing private housing, social housing could also be built at a ratio of between 20% – 30%.
Which means out of the development of 1,300 houses on the Stoneham Lane/Chesnut Avenue site between 260 – 390 homes would be offered to the 6,100 local people on Eastleigh’s housing list and the rest, the majority of up to 1,040 homes, would be offered to outsiders.
You could almost hear the sound of a penny dropping.
Although Cllr Thomas had started the evening by saying the housing was vital to meet local need – only a fraction would be reserved for needy locals.
It hardly tied up with the cabinet member for housing’s statement to cabinet that the housing was “not for foreigners, not for people from other parts of the country or people from Portsmouth”
It was soon Cllr Paul Bicknell’s turn to face the firing squad.
There was no PA system and as he couldn’t project his voice as well as Cllr Thomas, people soon gave up trying to listen and started their own discussions – discussions that continued outside well after the meeting had ended.
Cllr Bicknell did make the point – in response to requests from the floor for councillors to state whether or not they were in favour of the development – that councillors cannot announce their voting intentions in advance of planning meetings.
However the good news is the localism bill will change that particular piece of legislation, so councillors will no longer be bound by it and will at last, have to get off the fence.
(It should be in place in time for the May elections!!)
Although I could no longer hear the Councillor I could see him sawing his arms around as he fended off questions from all directions like Horatio defending the bridge.
At the end of the meeting Rigel Jenman returned from tucking up his chickens and told me he thought the best way forward for objectors would be to stand as candidates in the forthcoming council elections on an anti development ticket – not something Conservatives or existing Independents will want to hear.
He also described the consultation and planning process as a process by which the councils and planners ‘manufacture consent’.
As the meeting broke up I was speaking to a Councillor when a woman approached us.
“Can I ask question?”
“I have not been in the area long. Could you tell me what is the problem with people from Portsmouth?”
“…it’s just a football rivalry thing”
“Umm…right” she said walking away looking puzzled.
See also John Edwards Blog: The spirit of Churchill lives on