The future of Stoneham Park was very much on the agenda as local candidates took to the hustings at the Pavilion on the Park on Monday evening to play ‘pass the hot potato.’
The hustings for Eastleigh South ward formed part of the annual general meeting of the Aviary Residents association.
Only the Labour candidate – former Eastleigh South Councillor Peter Luffman and the Conservative candidate Cindy George attended while the Lib Dem, Darshan Mann was unable to so do due to work commitments and it would appear that the Ukip candidate Chris Greenwood, for some reason had not been invited – possibly because he had only recently been selected.
There was no shortage of politicos in the 25 strong audiences with two former councillors, two serving county councillors, the leader of the conservative group and a parliamentary spokesperson not to mention a full time party worker in attendance. An impressive turnout for a residents association meeting and the fact they were nearly all conservative show how seriously the party is taking the local elections and are hoping to use them as a springboard for a potential by-election campaign should Eastleigh’s MP Chris Huhne be forced to resign.
However for the second year running no sitting ward councillor attended the AGM with Councillor Bicknell sending apologies that he was working.
Both candidates were challenged from the outset to declare their position on the proposed 13000 house development on Stoneham Park.
Cindy George, a Magpie lane resident, said she was ‘appalled’ residents had not been properly consulted with “an early opportunity to object” adding that councillors should address residents needs first – not councillors “wants”.
Peter Luffman for Labour drew on his experience as a past ward councillor and a serving parish member to point out how Eastleigh had previously clashed with the county council on their plans for the site.
Cllr Luffman claimed that between 1996 -2001 over £200,000 had been spent on improvements to the parkland to restore it to Capability Brown’s original design which included the replanting of slow maturing British hardwood trees. Now EBC were threatening the park which Cllr Luffman described as a site of national importance
Supporting Mr Luffman a Labour activist accused the council of “overriding rules on development assessment” and that lack of adequate scrutiny were “good grounds to fight this proposal.”
A local resident interjected to say although he had attended the first public meeting into the Stoneham Park proposal s he had received very little further information on the subject – a situation he thought was partly due to *cough* having “no decent local paper.”
Residents association chairman Pete Ford explained that a further public meeting had been cancelled as councillors and council officers had declined to attend – no Lib Dem councillors had attended the recent walk organised by the save Stoneham park group either.
This prompted Maria Hutchings – looking and sounding every inch the next Conservative Prospective Parliamentary candidate – to tell residents:
“You have been wholly let down by your representatives. How can you vote for a councillor who doesn’t want to turn up to your meetings?”
However one Lib Dem county councillor did attend this meeting. Senior Lib Dem Alan Broadhurst was a late arrival coming straight from a council cabinet meeting to assume the role of ‘Aunt Sally’ for the evening.
Pressed on why the EBC had not chosen the Allington Lane site Cllr Broadhurst went into the history of the planning proposals for the site as a Major Development Area seven years ago.
He described how the council had originally been forced into considering the area which is bordered by Hedge End, West End and Fair Oak but as impact assessments progressed it became obvious that the site was unsuitable and there were good reasons for not going ahead.
Allington Lane was the ‘least worst’ option said Cllr Broadhurst
“We were always against it, always felt it wrong. Those reasons remain.”
This last statement led Cllr Grajewski – to observe:
“If the council know the Allington Lane site is unsuitable then why did they propose it as an option in their consultation?”
Cllr Broadhurst also came under pressure from Conservative County Councillor Colin Davidovitz who asked him how he could reconcile his previous championing of Stoneham Park as a vital part of the strategic green gap with his more recent endorsement of plans for its development.
‘It’s not perfect’ conceded Cllr Broadhurst.
Cllr Broadhurst’s reminisces of the Allington MDA raised the faint prospect that Stoneham Park might also fail to stand up to scrutiny and Cllr Davidovitz certainly raised expectations telling the meeting that Hampshire County Council -who have a landowning interest in the area – had carried its own viability assessment and had come to the conclusion that the proposed Stoneham area would not sustain any more than 300 houses.
Furthermore the County Council would be presenting their findings to the planning inspector and Cllr Davidovitz fully expected that the inspector would agree with them.
This noticeably raised spirits and a local resident murmured:
“Three hundred houses – well, not so bad!!”
The candidates were also asked how much housing they thought would be acceptable in the immediate area and both replied that some social housing would be needed.
Perhaps if the Ukip candidate had been present he might have argued that the need for extra housing in the South East was being driven by demand from the recent influx of EU workers into the region but this potentially embarrassing line of argument had been avoided.
Cindy George – a Winchester University student – said she was opposed to the development because “big developments don’t look nice” if this response seemed a little weak then she was lot stronger on describing her local priorities speaking with conviction on the problems and nuisance of ASB – although the local PSCO Ben Housley had already told the meeting that nearly all categories of crime had been falling in the area, only 24 hours earlier a gang of youths had badly beaten a man just yards away from where the meeting was taking place.
Cllr Luffman seemed to think development in Eastleigh South could proceed at a more organic pace utilising Brownfield sites – like the recent development in Velmore – to deliver 50 -80 houses a year.
Among local issues he would pursue would be the re-siting of bus shelters along Nightingale Avenue.
With politicians outnumbering residents it’s difficult to assess how the candidates fared, but it’s clear that if voters in Eastleigh South are against development in Stoneham, it is only the Lib Dems that stand opposed to them.
Ironically, not even the Lib Dems know just how many votes they could lose over Stoneham Park as an opportunity for residents to vote on the issue had not been included in the consultation.