Objectors to Eastleigh Council’s local housing plan joined forces with the Aviary Residents Association to walk around the countryside of Stoneham Park on Saturday afternoon – land the Council have deemed suitable for the construction of 1300 new houses.
The walk, on what was a pleasantly sunny afternoon took the protestors over fields threatened by the bulldozers and grounds landscaped by capability Brown which would become hemmed in by a housing estate.
There was cross party support for the ramble with activists from the Conservative, Labour, Ukip and an independent standing shoulder to shoulder ‘save Stoneham Park’ posters. Liberal Democrats however were conspicuous by their absence but as all the councillors had unanimously voted in favour of trees,turf badger cettes and hedgerows being replaced by tarmac it was perhaps hardly surprising.
“Today we are going round the fields so people can see how big the development is going to be”
Said march organiser Pat Ford before the 30 strong party set out.
“It’s wicked that Eastleigh is going to lose so much of its history in one fell swoop where else in Eastleigh can you find countryside like this? Once you get into the fields you can’t hear any traffic – you are in the country.
“We are not nimbys. We realise houses have got to be built but we also realise that building 1300 houses will only get us 300 social houses if that.
“Are they really going to destroy all of this for the sake of 300 off the social housing list?”
She added that she had hoped some local area councillors might have joined the walk to take a look at the site for themselves – but none of the local area committee had turned up although leader of the conservative group veteran councillor Godfrey Olson was present as was former Labour councillor Brian Norgate.
Councillor Olson, as a former conservative council leader had originally presided over the purchase now under threat.
Brian Norgate said that during the 1990s all three parties in Eastleigh had signed an agreement not to build on the green strategic gap and now the Lib Dems had broken this agreement.
“If they break the agreement here then it opens up further gap land for development.”
Mr Norgate warned that all of the land on Stoneham Lane including the Wellington Sports Ground and Eastleigh Football club’s Silverlake stadium would be vulnerable.
The motivation was, he suggested, short term gain rather than housing provision.
Eastleigh councils strategy , claimed Mr Norgate, was to sell council owned land first for development. He predicted the council would net a million pounds for each of the 20 odd acres being made available.
As more mature members of the walking party (including this reporter) huffed and puffed over stile and dale while youngsters gaily skipped around, I was able to have a few words with Maria Hutchings – currently the Conservative Parliamentary Spokesperson for Eastleigh.
The former PPC who is also hotly tipped as the towns next MP should things go badly wrong for Chris Huhne in his forthcoming court case.
Isn’t the conservative government advocating house building as way of stimulating the economy? I wondered.
“Creating jobs is a priority and we need some more housing. However,not if the local infrastructure is unable to cope.” said Mrs Hutchings.
“Developments need to be sustainable. Where are the secondary schools coming from? How will local roads cope with all the extra traffic?”
“Stoneham Park is a greenfield area, historic and an area of natural beauty. If housing is needed it has to be on brownfield sites”
Mrs Hutchings also said that the Conservative led County Council, who own some of the land earmarked for development had indicated to her that they would not release land at Stoneham for wholesale development -a pledge they have already made in respect of County Council owned land in Woodhouse lane at Botley which had also figured in Eastleigh Borough Council’s local plan.
According to Mrs Hutchings Hampshire County Council believes Stoneham Park could take only 300 of 1300 Lib Dem-controlled Eastleigh Borough Council is proposing, primarily due to inadequate road infrastructure.
Local campaigner Sam Snook, who is standing as an independent in the borough Elections echoed Mrs Hutchings views regarding inadequate infrastructure but was also concerned that countryside he had played on as a child would disappear under housing and be lost to future generations.
Mr Snook was in his element, pointing out local features and recounting many stories involving tunnelling monks and the ghostly apparition known locally as the ‘Grey Lady.’
The Lib Dems who voted for the housing plan did so because they believe that there will be a strong local demand for housing in the near to medium future and the representatives from the political parties who took part in Saturday’s walk all agreed that there was a need for more local housing – but they all felt it should be elsewhere, on brown field sites – Mr Snook in particular has been vociferous in proposing the redeployment of empty warehousing on trading estate.
Only the Ukip supporters present thought there was no need for extra housing claiming that housing demand was being fuelled by migrant workers from the EU – a claim which has already been strongly denied by Lib Dems.
At the end of the walk Pat Ford said she thought it had been a success and urged participants to spread the news that Stoneham Park was a beautiful and unspoilt site that was worth saving.